Normally at this time of year, they like to be peering at the night sky, the older woman expertly directing her younger companion to the constellations that shine so brightly above Balmoral Castle in late summer.
They are rare moments of tranquillity for the Queen and her long-standing dresser and confidante Angela Kelly, who has her own telescope.
This August, however, stargazing into the inky darkness has not provided the distraction of previous years. Not only has the coronavirus severely disrupted the royal holiday, but the Queen’s break has also been overshadowed by the saga of Prince Harry’s exit from the Royal Family – or at least the one-sided version of it provided by the authors of Finding Freedom.
The latest twist in the ongoing fallout from that new book now places the Queen and Miss Kelly side by side in an unedifying and frankly petty squabble over who said what and to whom about the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding tiara.
Two days ago, it was reported that Prince Harry had raised his voice with the Queen after a row with Miss Kelly over which tiara Meghan would wear when the couple wed.
Two days ago, it was reported that Prince Harry had raised his voice with the Queen after a row with Angela Kelly, her personal adviser, curator and in-house designer, over which tiara Meghan would wear when the couple wed
In an interview, Finding Freedom’s Omid Scobie claimed that Harry had called his grandmother and said: ‘I don’t know what the hell is going on. This woman needs to make this work for my future wife.’
Twenty four hours later, however, a source close to Harry claimed that allegations he had ‘yelled’ at his 94-year-old grandmother were ‘totally untrue, and completely ridiculous’, as was the suggestion he had used coarse language.
Intriguingly, despite the robustness of the denial which risks denting Scobie’s reputation as the Sussexes’ number one media cheerleader, it does leave one question about the exchanges unsaid: did Harry refer to the Queen’s closest female aide as ‘this woman’?
The source who dismissed Scobie’s claims of Harry speaking disrespectfully to the Queen made no mention of Miss Kelly in the rebuttal. That will leave many people wondering whether Prince Harry was not just displaying the same cold snobbishness he was said to have accused his brother Prince William, but also a flagrant hypocrisy.
For in their book Scobie and his co-author Carolyn Durand claim that, in the early days of his romance with Meghan, Harry reacted with fury after William cautioned him not to rush things with ‘this girl’. As they put it: ‘In those last two words, “this girl”, Harry heard the tone of snobbishness that was anathema to his approach to the world.’
The latest twist in the ongoing fallout from that new book now places the Queen and Miss Kelly side by side in an unedifying and frankly petty squabble over who said what and to whom about the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding tiara
If this was the trigger which led to the rift between the once so-close brothers, how then should we classify Harry’s use of the words ‘this woman’ in describing the Queen’s gatekeeper?
Doesn’t it also illustrate a degree of aloof snobbery, looking down on someone, a mere servant, without using their name? Unlike Prince William, Angela Kelly was in no position to defend herself.
She may have a reputation for toughness among Palace below-stairs staff – it was they who dubbed her AK-47, an amusing play on her initials and the firepower of the Soviet-era assault rifle – but this time she could not answer back. It is hard to believe that Harry, who used to have a reputation for being kind and courteous to royal servants, did not know that.
He must also be fully aware that both his father Prince Charles and mother Princess Diana had fiery tempers which, on occasion, they both lost at times with staff who depended on them for their livelihoods. Whatever the truth of this undignified situation – and make no mistake there was some kind of encounter between the sixth in line to the throne and the Queen’s right-hand woman – it placed the Queen in an unenviable position.
She adores her grandson but she is also hugely reliant on the divorced daughter of a Liverpool docks crane driver. And she certainly does not approve of family members raising their voices at the people who work for them, often for long hours and low wages, whatever the provocation.
While Buckingham Palace has quite rightly remained loftily above the fray, the contretemps does shine a spotlight on the remarkable relationship between our monarch and her closest female domestic aide.
It is one which has moved from that of mistress and servant to that of one where they exchange confidences.
Over the years, Angela has revolutionised the Queen’s wardrobe with vibrant colours and more modern designs.
Along the way it has led to an unbreakable companionship between two very different women, one brought up in a palace and the other one of six children raised in a two-up, two-down in the back streets of Liverpool.
It has reached a level of trust where Angela has been permitted to write two books about the Queen – with a third understood to be on the way – that makes her position inside the hierarchical world of Buckingham Palace almost impregnable.
All of which makes stories of the row between Harry and Miss Kelly all the more baffling. This week Angela is, as usual, at the Queen’s side in Scotland, having spent most of lockdown with her at Windsor Castle.
These days she is not just the Queen’s senior dresser but also her dressmaker and curator.
During lockdown she not only attended to the Queen’s clothes – for all those Zoom conferences and TV appearances – but also to her hair. With her regular hairdresser unable to visit, Angela would supervise the Queen’s wash and blow-dry.
It is 26 years since Angela arrived at the Palace after being invited to apply for a junior post as an assistant dresser.
A source close to Harry claimed that allegations he had ‘yelled’ at his 94-year-old grandmother were ‘totally untrue, and completely ridiculous’, as was the suggestion he had used coarse language
A former driver with the Women’s Royal Army Corps, she first met the Queen – and apparently hit it off with her – while employed as housekeeper to the British ambassador in Berlin when the embassy hosted a royal visit.
Such was her determination to get the palace job that Angela sold her washing machine in order to buy what she thought would be an appropriate outfit for the interview – ‘a crisp clean blouse with navy spots and a long skirt’.
It was that attention to detail which would later endear her to the Queen.
Yet back then, nobody could have imagined that within remarkably few years she would rise to become a figure of major influence in palace life.
As she boldly put it in her book, The Other Side Of The Coin: ‘I now know that my tendency to be forthright was a breath of fresh air for many of my colleagues, but it took me quite some time to learn the right approach when it came to expressing myself.’
In the same section, she acknowledges her AK-47 nickname ‘as a compliment’. Of the jealousies among other staff that have arisen with her rise, she has quipped: ‘I don’t have any more room for knives in my back.’
Might this abruptness been apparent to Prince Harry the day he asked Angela about tiaras for his bride to be ahead of their 2018 wedding? But while both have hair-trigger tempers, even Angela’s detractors – and there are any number of them among Palace staff – do not believe she would have been deliberately obstructive to the Queen’s grandson.
For in fact Angela was following the Queen’s orders. She had instructed Angela to provide a selection of tiaras which had been whittled down to three.
According to an intimate source, Harry and Meghan asked about another tiara which was not on the shortlist. ‘They probably Googled it and thought it was one they would like,’ says the source.
But its provenance was uncertain and the couple were encouraged to choose one of three the Queen and Miss Kelly had selected.
According to Scobie’s version of events, Meghan didn’t get to try the tiara on with her hairdresser until a few days before the wedding. ‘Harry felt that there were those within the institution that would stop at nothing to make Meghan’s life difficult,’ he said.
What happened next is subject of keen debate.
Some say Harry shouted at Angela, perhaps emboldened by his knowledge that she is not one of Prince Charles’s favourite members of staff, someone whom he believes has been indulged. One insider says this was reported back to the Queen, who asked Harry to come and see her – rather than him calling his grandmother, as Scobie has asserted.
Was this when he referred to Miss Kelly as ‘this woman’?
Whatever the truth, the Queen will want to draw a line under this matter as fast as possible and Harry will likely be aware that dragging his grandmother into this trifling row was an error.
As for Angela Kelly, there will be the satisfaction that the Queen always backs her, even if she sometimes rolls her eyes while doing so.
But imagine the kind of book she could one day write.