Not so many years ago Michael Fawcett was supplementing his meagre royal income by doing a Saturday job in a menswear shop.
So imagine what must be going through the mind of the man who joined Buckingham Palace at 17 as a junior footman, as it emerges he has been made a director of Prince Charles’s private company, A. G. Carrick Ltd.
This isn’t something that happens to palace footmen. However high they rise in the Royal Household, they spend their lives below stairs.
Michael Fawcett joined Buckingham Palace at 17 as a junior footman and has now been made a director of Prince Charles’s private company, A.G. Carrick Ltd
But this is just the latest instalment in the Fawcett saga, the story of a servant who manages to have one foot upstairs and another downstairs.
Who else but Michael Fawcett would dare ape his royal master’s style with such faux-aristocratic flair?
The similar silk ties, the bespoke shirts, the precise two inches of handkerchief peeping out of his breast pocket, not to mention the spit-and-polish shoes that shine with his ambition. He also fiddles with his cuffs just like his royal boss.
Michael Fawcett even has a portrait of himself hanging on the wall of his home by the distinguished portraitist Peter Kuhfeld, 65, whose other commissions have included William and Harry as small boys and a huge canvas of the scene inside Westminster Abbey at William and Kate’s wedding. ‘Michael’s a friend,’ explains the artist.
Michael Fawcett joins the board of A. G. Carrick, the company Charles set up to sell mementoes such as £65 cushions bearing the words ‘God Save the Queen’ and similarly priced toy stuffed corgis at his Highgrove shop
And now he joins the board of A. G. Carrick, the company Charles set up to sell mementoes such as £65 cushions bearing the words ‘God Save the Queen’ and similarly priced toy stuffed corgis at his Highgrove shop. This is no corner store — the company made more than £4 million in 2016, all handed to his charities.
As for its name, this is a combination of the Prince’s middle names Arthur George and one of his titles, Earl of Carrick. It’s also how Charles signs his watercolours.
For Fawcett, 54, it is impossible to underestimate the significance of the appointment.
It signals that 14 years after resigning from palace employment and going it alone as an events organiser, he is closer than ever to the Prince. No wonder those around Charles consider Fawcett’s rise and rise to be far from over.
Such is their bond of trust that for some it is hard to remember that they are master and servant.
‘I would say a knighthood one of these days is definitely on the cards,’ says one close figure. ‘Though not before Charles is King.
‘“Sir Michael Fawcett”? — well, why not? It has a certain ring to it and Michael loves honours, very keen.’
It would mean, of course, that his spirited wife Debbie, a former palace housemaid who later worked for Prince Philip, would become Lady Fawcett.
Long-standing courtiers remember how thrilled Fawcett was when he received his first honour from the Prince, being appointed an MVO (Member of the Victorian Order) in the 2000 New Year’s honours.
Close: Such is their bond of trust that for some it is hard to remember that they are master and servant. Pictured: Michael Fawcett, during a garden party at the Palace of Holyrood house in Edinburgh, Tuesday June 1, 2004
His pleasure was heightened by the fact that MVOs were not, as a rule, given to servants, but reserved for members of the household.
Older retainers below stairs recall stories of how Fawcett was, fairly or not, known as ‘a bit of a Billy Liar’ when he arrived at the palace straight out of catering college and said to be prone to embellishing his modest background.
The boy from Bexley, Kent, apparently talked of his millionaire accountant father and how he would one day inherit substantial property in Central London.
Whether those tales were true or not, his father was, in fact, a company cashier and his mother Joan, who died when he was young, a district nurse.
Then there was his name. For a while fellow staff thought his name was Michael Buxton-Fawcett, very grand sounding. Buxton was his mother’s maiden name.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, fellow members of staff took to calling the young footman ‘Sir Michael’. Or was it presciently, for who could have foreseen such an elevated future for Fawcett?
His adoptive brother Mark has recalled how one day Michael arrived home from his job at Buckingham Palace in a state of high excitement. ‘Charles wants me on his team because he says he likes me,’ Mark recalled him saying.
It was 1981 and the Prince was leaving Buckingham Palace to set up home with Diana in Kensington Palace. ‘Another time he described sitting in a palace kitchen with Princess Diana eating yoghurt together. Dad was so proud of him,’ Mark added.
One can understand the young Diana being comfortable in Fawcett’s company as they were roughly the same age — he was a year younger than she was.
She and the assistant valet would often spend hours chatting together and Fawcett would sometimes give her little gifts of things such as Floris soap. But their friendship could not survive the fracturing of the Wales’s marriage.
Fawcett gave his allegiance to the Prince and Diana always believed that through his below-stairs network, he kept Charles informed of her activities.
So angry and upset was the Princess that when she and Charles formally parted in December 1992 the first thing she did was to have the locks changed on the door to their Kensington Palace apartment — not to keep out her husband, but to keep out Michael Fawcett.
Long after their separation, Diana still badgered the Prince to get rid of Fawcett on the grounds, as she saw it, that he was a malign influence.
Never was there such a hopeless cause. Fawcett, by now promoted to valet, was already far more than the servant mockingly referred to as the figure who squeezed the toothpaste onto his master’s brush — it did happen, but in fairness this was only when the Prince had badly broken his right arm playing polo.
Their bond of trust had given the boy from Bexley extraordinary influence. He was already in charge of the Prince’s social engagements, demonstrating a natural flair for organising lavish soirees and dinner parties, particularly pleasing Charles with his stylish table decorations.
And he was soon promoted from manservant to personal assistant, a position that would ultimately elevate his pay and perks to around £100,000 a year.
There was one other factor in his favour: Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles — inevitably, you may think — taking the opposing view to the Princess about him.
In fact, at first Camilla could see just how much the Prince depended on him. Then she, too, began to rely on him, especially through her transition from mistress to Duchess of Cornwall.
Crucially, it was Camilla who intervened when three key members of staff went to the Prince in 1998 to complain about Fawcett’s overbearing and bullying manner.
Fawcett offered his resignation, leaving the Prince in tears. It was Camilla who stepped in and persuaded Charles to refuse to accept his resignation.
Five years later, however, Fawcett was offering his resignation again, and this time the Prince had no alternative but to accept it.
This followed an internal inquiry conducted by Charles’s then private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, into the shabby goings-on in the Prince’s household. In the resulting report, complaints by subordinate staff that Fawcett was a powerful and bullying figure were listed.
Prince Charles with Princess Diana and Michael Fawcett as they leave hospital following an operation on Charles’s broken arm in 1990
Central to Sir Michael’s inquiries was the practice of the Prince relying on Fawcett to flog on his behalf for cash many of the gifts with which he was showered but didn’t want. In shining its uncomfortable light on the arrangement, the report also served to illustrate just how much the Prince trusted and relied on Fawcett.
In resigning, Fawcett took the flak from Charles, a move which endeared him even more to the heir to the throne, who had privately declared: ‘I can manage without just about anyone, except for Michael.’
And the Prince duly rewarded him not only with £500,000 severance pay, but with an unfaltering loyalty that exists to this day. When Fawcett founded Premier Mode, his events company, Charles became the principal client, relying on Michael to organise everything from Camilla’s birthday parties to lavish fundraisers.
It was Michael who organised the wedding party at Windsor Castle when Charles and Camilla married in April, 2005. Earlier, he had collaborated with Camilla in overseeing the renovations of the Prince’s Scottish retreat, Birkhall, former home of the Queen Mother.
And who but Michael could oversee and run Prince Charles’s pet project, Dumfries House, the 18th-century Palladian mansion in Ayrshire saved for the nation with the help of £20 million borrowed from one of the Prince’s charities.
As executive director, Fawcett has turned the great house that used to be the home of the Marquess of Bute from what was originally seen as a costly white elephant into a popular venue for corporate events and weddings.
As ever, his ability as someone who, according to Charles, ‘gets things done’ has added to his store of princely gratitude.
Meanwhile, the trust set up to run Dumfries House paid Fawcett and his company, based at Hampton, Middlesex, a whopping £248,000 last year.
One is entitled to ask: what would Prince Charles do without him?
With the opening of the Judi Dench film Victoria & Abdul, courtiers have been amusingly comparing relationships of contemporary royals and ‘servants’.
In addition to Fawcett and Prince Charles, there is also the Queen’s closeness to her senior dresser, Angela Kelly, the daughter of a Liverpool crane driver, now promoted, like Fawcett, to personal assistant.
In both cases they have become confidants and wield considerable influence.
No one has any doubt that Charles will rely on Michael more than ever when he becomes King.
In the same way that Fawcett was deeply involved in the renovation of Birkhall, so he is bound to be called on when Charles inherits other royal homes.
‘The Prince has very different tastes from his mother and will want to modernise so many things,’ says an aide. ‘Michael will have much to do.’
Some have even speculated that one of the top jobs at Buckingham Palace may one day come his way. One post being mentioned is Master of the Household, in charge of the domestic staff, footmen and pages, as well as the royal kitchens and housekeepers, a role not unlike that of a hotel general manager.
‘There’s no doubt he could do it and he probably would enjoy the symmetry of going back there as the master having once been a footman,’ says one figure.
‘But I think he would prefer being a free agent and he would exercise far more influence than someone with the most sonorous of titles.
‘The thing about Michael and what sets him apart is that he possesses the two most precious commodities in palace life — his proximity to the royal ear and custody of so many secrets.’
Clearly, more twists and turns are yet to come in the Fawcett saga.