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Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Buckingham Palace insists it DIDN'T smear Meghan after she accused aides of a 'calculated campaign' against her - after ex-staff claim she 'bullied two PAs' and 'drove them out' of Kensington Palace, four days before explosive Oprah interview will be aired

 

  • The Times reported a spokesman for the Sussexes vehemently denying the claims, saying they were 'the victims of a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation'
  • A bullying complaint was lodged against the Duchess of Sussex by a senior member of Kensington Palace staff before she and Prince Harry quit as working royals
  • The Times reported it was made in October 2018 by Jason Knauf, who worked as communications secretary to Harry and Meghan
  • He is said to have claimed the duchess 'drove two personal assistants out of the household and was undermining the confidence of a third staff member' 
  • Sensationally, the couple's lawyers told the newspaper it was 'being used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative' before this weekend's interview with Oprah Winfrey 

Buckingham Palace today denied claims by Meghan Markle that it is orchestrating a 'calculated smear campaign' against her ahead of the Sussexes' Oprah interview after it was alleged she bullied and 'drove out' two PAs and eroded the confidence of a third royal aide.  

The Duchess of Sussex claims The Times is being 'used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative based on misleading and harmful misinformation' about her treatment of staff after former aides accused her of 'emotional cruelty and manipulation', reducing them to tears and leaving them 'shaking' with fear.

Her lawyers said the former actress was 'saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma'. 

Buckingham Palace has refused to comment today but senior royal sources told MailOnline that complaints being made by ex-staff members were not in any way being orchestrated by the palace or members of the Royal Family, who are focused on Prince Philip's health problems in hospital. 

It came as ITV1 confirmed the ViacomCBS show, called Oprah With Meghan and Harry, will be broadcast in the UK between 9pm and 11pm on Monday night, almost 24 hours after it is shown in the United States. 

Meghan is accused of 'driving out' two PAs and shattering the confidence of another member of staff, with one former aide branding Harry and his wife 'outrageous bullies' in The Times today. 

The newspaper reported the claim was made in October 2018 by Jason Knauf, who worked as communications secretary to Harry and Meghan. Staff told The Times they have spoken out to give their story before the couple's tell-all interview, claiming that when Meghan was urged to support palace staff she replied: 'It's not my job to coddle people.' 

It is also claimed that the couple's treatment of aides worried Harry's brother William so much, because some staff were shared, that he and his most senior advisor Simon Case hastened the split between the Sussex and the Cambridge households and the destruction of their joint foundation. MailOnline has asked Kensington Palace to comment.

The Duchess claims The Times is being 'used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative based on misleading and harmful misinformation' about her treatment of aides, with her lawyers denying she or Harry have ever been bullies.

Other extraordinary revelations in The Times include claims Meghan wore a pair of £500,000 diamond earrings to a dinner in Fiji in 2018 that were a wedding gift from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, three weeks after the US claims he approved the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

A bullying complaint was lodged against the Duchess of Sussex by a senior member of Kensington Palace staff before she and Prince Harry quit as working royals, it was dramatically claimed last night

A bullying complaint was lodged against the Duchess of Sussex by a senior member of Kensington Palace staff before she and Prince Harry quit as working royals, it was dramatically claimed last night

Meghan Markle wore a pair of striking diamond earrings that were allegedly a wedding gift from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. She is pictured wearing them at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, Fiji, on October 23, 2018, three weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul

Meghan Markle wore a pair of striking diamond earrings that were allegedly a wedding gift from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. She is pictured wearing them at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, Fiji, on October 23, 2018, three weeks after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul

A spokesman for the Sussexes said in a statement to The Times: 'Let's just call this what it is - a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation'

A spokesman for the Sussexes said in a statement to The Times: 'Let's just call this what it is - a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation'

And in a further twist Ms Markle, a campaigner for women's rights, told aides they were borrowed from a jeweller, rather than a present from a regime known for human rights abuses and the oppression of women. 

Lawyers for the Duchess of Sussex have told The Times that she may have stated they were borrowed, but did not say they were borrowed from a jeweller - and denied that she had misled anyone about their provenance. 

The newspaper claims that on the same official tour the Duchess was seen being ushered out of an official engagement to a local market due to apparent security concerns. 

In fact, it says, Meghan had cut short the visit because she had ‘reservations‘ about the organisation UN Women, which had an involvement in the event.   

Describing life working for Meghan and Harry, aides have claimed they 'bent over backwards' to help her when she arrived after the couple became engaged in 2017.

A source told The Times: 'Everyone knew that the institution would be judged by her happiness'.

According to the Times their sources say two 'senior' members of royal staff were bullied by the duchess. An ex-employee alleged they had been 'humiliated'.

Another aide described the experience of working for the Sussexes as 'more like emotional cruelty and manipulation, which I guess could also be called bullying'.

Staff claimed that had on had occasion been reduced to tears after dealings with Meghan and one aide told a colleague 'I can't stop shaking' as they anticipated a row with the Duchess. 

Meghan's lawyers vehemently deny she is a bully and said that one person had left the job because of misconduct. The Times said it could not corroborate that claim before publication last night.

Meghan has hit back and believes she is the victim of a 'calculated smear campaign' by the Royal Household after it was alleged she bullied and 'drove out' two PAs and eroded the confidence of a third aide.

Her lawyers said the former actress was 'saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma'. 

The finger was pointed at Meghan when a bullying complaint was lodged against the Duchess of Sussex by a senior member of Kensington Palace staff before she and Prince Harry quit as working royals, it was dramatically claimed last night. 

The newspaper says Mr Knauf, who now heads the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's charitable foundation, seemingly acted to get Buckingham Palace to protect staff he claimed were coming under unbearable pressure from Meghan. It further claims Harry 'pleaded' with him not to pursue the allegations.

Sensationally, the couple's lawyers told the newspaper it was 'being used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative' before this weekend's interview with Oprah Winfrey. 

The Mail also approached a spokesman for the Sussexes for comment. 

Meghan Markle's aide Melissa Touabti (right) quit just six months after the Royal wedding at Windsor Castle in May 2018. She had also worked for Robbie Williams and his wife Ayda (pictured left)

Meghan Markle's aide Melissa Touabti (right) quit just six months after the Royal wedding at Windsor Castle in May 2018. She had also worked for Robbie Williams and his wife Ayda (pictured left)

The Times said it was contacted by sources who felt a 'partial version' had emerged of Meghan's two years as a working royal.

It makes clear they wished to tell their side in advance of Sunday's 'tell all' television interview, which is likely to make uncomfortable viewing for Buckingham Palace. 

The newspaper says Mr Knauf sent his email to Simon Case, then the Duke of Cambridge's private secretary and now the cabinet secretary, after conversations with Samantha Carruthers, the head of HR. Mr Case then forwarded it to Miss Carruthers, who was based at Clarence House.

In his email Mr Knauf also made clear he was concerned nothing had been done, or would be done in future, to protect palace staff.

The Times quotes from his email, which is alleged to say: 'I am very concerned the duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year. The treatment of X was totally unacceptable.'

He added: 'The duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. She is bullying Y and seeking to undermine her confidence. We have had report after report from people who have witnessed unacceptable behaviour towards Y.'

A spokesman for the Sussexes said in a statement to The Times: 'Let's just call this what it is - a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation'.

Jason Knauf said in his email that his colleague Samantha Carruthers, the head of HR, 'agreed with me on all counts that the situation was very serious', but added: 'I remain concerned that nothing will be done'.

Insiders told The Times that despite the intervention nothing was done to investigate the situation or to protect staff from bullying from senior royals in the future.

One source told The Times: 'I think the problem is, not much happened with it. It was, "How can we make this go away?', rather than addressing it".

The email also described his worries about the stress the Sussexes' private secretary Samantha Cohen was placed under. Mr Knauf wrote: 'I questioned if the Household policy on bullying and harassment applies to principals'.

The Sussexes’ lawyers told The Times the couple remained close to Samantha today, and are very grateful for all her work them, denying she was ever bullied. 

The Times claims that after the email was sent, Prince Harry had a meeting with Mr Knauf and asked him not to pursue the claims against his wife. Lawyers for the couple deny the claim, or that the meeting took place at all.

Aides say that they did more to welcome Meghan than has been publicly acknowledged and wanted to give their side of the story before her interview with Oprah is broadcast in the US on Sunday and in the UK on Monday.

One source claimed: 'Senior people in the household, Buckingham Palace and Clarence House, knew that they had a situation where members of staff, particularly young women, were being bullied to the point of tears.

'The institution just protected Meghan constantly. All the men in grey suits who she hates have a lot to answer for, because they did absolutely nothing to protect people'.

The Times reported it was made in October 2018 by Jason Knauf (pictured left with the Duke), who worked as communications secretary to Harry and Meghan

The Times reported it was made in October 2018 by Jason Knauf (pictured left with the Duke), who worked as communications secretary to Harry and Meghan

Mr Knauf's email also described his worries about the stress the Sussexes' private secretary Samantha Cohen was placed under (pictured behind Meghan and the Queen). The Sussexes' lawyers have said they remain close to Samantha and deny she was bullied

Mr Knauf's email also described his worries about the stress the Sussexes' private secretary Samantha Cohen was placed under (pictured behind Meghan and the Queen). The Sussexes' lawyers have said they remain close to Samantha and deny she was bullied

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Cabinet Secretary Simon Case (left) was working at for William at the time and may face questions over how bullying allegations were handled

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Cabinet Secretary Simon Case (left) was working at for William at the time and may face questions over how bullying allegations were handled

Times sources described a 'febrile' atmosphere at Kensington Palace, where the Sussexes lived alongside Harry's brother William and his family. After the 2018 royal wedding there was a split between the royal households, which was made public in 2019.

The newspaper claims that concerns over the treatment of staff, shared by both William and Harry, became so urgent that William and his aide Mr Case sped-up the split of the two households. The source said: 'What was a long-term plan became an immediate plan'. Kensington Palace has not responded to the claims. 

The Times says Mr Knauf sent his email to Simon Case, then the Duke of Cambridge's private secretary and now the cabinet secretary, after conversations with Samantha Carruthers, the head of HR

The Times says Mr Knauf sent his email to Simon Case, then the Duke of Cambridge's private secretary and now the cabinet secretary, after conversations with Samantha Carruthers, the head of HR

When Meghan arrived in London she claimed to have been a good boss. People magazine in the US claimed she once paid for an ice cream stand at Kensington Palace to treat staff in February 2019. 

A friend of the Duchess said that workers 'were remarking how it was the "best day of work ever".

Meghan's personal assistant Melissa Touabti quit just six months after the Royal wedding at Windsor Castle in May in 2018.

The 41-year-old from France had previously worked for X Factor judges Robbie Williams and his wife Ayda Field, who she loved working for, according to friends. 

Another PA before he left shortly after the Duchess arrived in London, it is alleged.

'Robbie Williams is a lively character, but she worked for him longer than she worked for Meghan,' a friend  pf Melissa's told the Daily Mail at the time.

Royal biographer Robert Jobson claimed in his book Charles At Seventy, that Meghan's wedding preparations were so stressful that Harry became 'petulant and short-tempered' with members of staff. He wrote: 'Raising his voice on occasion, Harry would insist: 'What Meghan wants, she gets.'

Both PAs who left signed non-disclosure agreements – lawyers for the Sussexes said they had no idea about the NDAs – and believed the staff to be 'comfortable and happy' in their jobs.

The Times claims that after Harry and Meghan became engaged in late 2017 a senior member of palace staff warned them about the problems they may have if staff were treated badly. Meghan allegedly replied: 'It's not my job to coddle people.' 

Friends of the couple have since explained that Meghan was not being rude, but she came from a different culture.

Defending the Duchess' management of people, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand's Finding Freedom book says: 'Americans can be much more direct, and that often doesn't sit well in the much more refined institution of the monarchy.'

But staff who spoke to The Times allege that it was worse than that. One said: 'I had unpleasant experiences with her. I would definitely say humiliated.' Another said they were 'shaking' and 'terrified' after a row about whether Meghan was told the media was attending one of her events.  

Months after the wedding the couple embarked on their first royal tour, visiting Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga. When staff complained of stress it is said that a senior adviser tried to reassure them by saying: 'You are dealing with a very difficult lady'.

Meghan's lawyers have said that their client had been distressed by negative press stories about her while living in the UK and her friends became 'rightly concerned for her welfare, specifically as she was pregnant, unprotected by the institution and prohibited from defending herself'.

But aides trying to defend themselves before Sunday's Oprah interview, have described bending over backwards for her as soon as she arrived. They also revealed that she was asked if she wanted to continue acting or working in the film industry, such was the clamour in the Royal Household to keep Harry's new wife on side. But Meghan politely declined.

An insider with knowledge of the conversation told The Times: 'The entire place, because of everything about her, and because of what Harry's previous girlfriends had been through, was bending over backwards to make sure that every option was open'. Another source told the newspaper: 'Everyone knew that the institution would be judged by her happiness'.

Meghan's lawyers say she had left her life behind in the US to support her husband and work with him on charitable work and joint passion projects. The Finding Freedom book the couple deny collaborating with, says: 'Nothing could convince Harry that some of the old guard at the palace simply didn't like Meghan and would stop at nothing to make her life difficult'.

Responding to this allegation, a source told The Times: 'The way I see it, their view of not getting institutional support was that they were not getting permission to blow up the institution's relationships with the media'. The Sussexes' lawyers denies these claims.

Another insider claimed that staff were panicked when there were rows with the Sussexes, because it was considered so unusual in the royal palaces.

'When someone decides not to be civil, they have no idea what to do. They were run over by her, and then run over by Harry. They had no idea what to do', the source said.

A spokesman for the Sussexes said in a statement to The Times: 'Let's just call this what it is — a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation. We are disappointed to see this defamatory portrayal of The Duchess of Sussex given credibility by a media outlet. It's no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining The Duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and The Duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years.

'In a detailed legal letter of rebuttal to The Times, we have addressed these defamatory claims in full, including spurious allegations regarding the use of gifts loaned to The Duchess by The Crown.

'The Duchess is saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma. She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world and will keep striving to set an example for doing what is right and doing what is good.'

Buckingham Palace declined to comment when contacted by the Mail. The duchess denies bullying and her lawyers stated that one individual left after findings of misconduct.

The spokesman for the Sussexes said in a statement to The Times: 'Let's just call this what it is — a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation. We are disappointed to see this defamatory portrayal of the Duchess of Sussex given credibility by a media outlet.

'It's no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining the duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and the duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years.' 

'Revelations about race' in Oprah interview... and nothing is off-limits 

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry will discuss race is Britain in the 21st century with Oprah Winfrey and open up about her experience as a mixed race woman, it has been claimed
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry will discuss race is Britain in the 21st century with Oprah Winfrey and open up about her experience as a mixed race woman, it has been claimed

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry will discuss race is Britain in the 21st century with Oprah Winfrey and open up about her experience as a mixed race woman, it has been claimed

Meghan Markle will talk about her experience of race issues in Britain during her interview with Oprah Winfrey, it has been revealed.

There is a growing expectation that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's talk with the US chat show queen will live up to its billing of having no subject 'off-limits'.

It was claimed yesterday that the programme will be a 'horror show' for the Royal Family.

The journalist who broke the story that the Sussexes were doing the TV interview claimed Meghan's comments about 'the issue of race in Britain' would be 'what we will all be talking about' the day after it is aired.

Chris Ship, the royal editor for ITV News, told Good Morning Britain yesterday: 'I know that she's going to mention things like mental health and the impact that being in the UK had on her mental health. I know that she's going to mention about the press intrusion... but also she's going to raise the issue of race in Britain.'

Mr Ship suggested this would be the main thing viewers discuss after watching the interview, to be broadcast in the US on Sunday night. Meghan's mother Doria is African-American and her father Thomas is white.

ITV was facing growing criticism over plans to broadcast the interview with Miss Winfrey in Britain while the Duke of Edinburgh remains in hospital. There is increasing unease about the 'horrendous' timing. There were warnings last night that the broadcast could be a 'reputational mess' for everyone, which could 'herald terrible consequences' for the royal pair.

There were calls for ITV to 'await events' before screening the programme in the UK. One critic branded the broadcaster's decision to buy up the interview rights as 'deplorable'.

Revealed: Meghan's £500,000 diamond earrings were NOT 'borrowed' but a 'wedding gift from Saudi Crown Prince' - and worn by Duchess three weeks after assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in consulate

Meghan Markle wore a pair of striking diamond earrings that were a wedding gift from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who approved the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it was claimed today.

Kensington Palace had said at the time of the formal dinner in Fiji in October 2018 - which took place three weeks after the killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul - that the jewellery was 'borrowed', without stating from whom.  

Lawyers for the Duchess of Sussex have now told The Times that she may have stated they were borrowed, but did not say they were borrowed from a jeweller - and denied that she had misled anyone about their provenance.

The newspaper was also told by Meghan's team that every relevant member of royal staff knew who the earrings were from, and the Duchess was unaware of rumours at the time that bin Salman was involved in the killing.

Bin Salman is not thought to have met Meghan or given her the earrings in person. The jewellery is considered Crown property because it was a gift from a foreign head of state, and she would not be allowed to sell them.  

Meghan is pictured arriving for the state dinner in Suva with Prince Harry on October 23, 2018 during their royal tour of Fiji

Meghan is pictured arriving for the state dinner in Suva with Prince Harry on October 23, 2018 during their royal tour of Fiji

The earrings Meghan wore for the black tie reception at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, which was hosted by Fiji's president Jioji Konrote, were later revealed as being made by celebrity designer Butani. 

The Duchess was again seen wearing the earrings one month later on November 14, 2018 as she was photographed leaving Kensington Palace to attend Prince Charles's 70th birthday party at Buckingham Palace. 

Washington Post columnist Mr Khashoggi died on October 2. The event in Fiji on October 23 came less than a fortnight after the first reports on October 10 from US intelligence intercepts that suggested Bin Salman had ordered an operation to lure Mr Khashoggi back to Saudi from his home in Virginia and detain him.

Then on October 20, the Saudi government revealed a preliminary investigation by prosecutors had found Mr Khashoggi died during a 'fight' after resisting efforts to return him to Saudi Arabia. By November 16, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the US had concluded that bin Salman had ordered Mr Khashoggi's assassination.

The bloggers behind Meghans Mirror eventually identified the earrings brand in January 2019, and an expert then revealed to MailOnline that the generously sized multi-tier earrings could be worth up to £500,000.

An array of celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Kate Beckinsale, Rihanna, Christina Hendricks and even Michelle Obama have also been spotted wearing the Hong Kong-based brand. It is not clear if Meghan still has the earrings.

Members of the Royal Family attending official engagements are not usually seen wearing jewellery borrowed from designers. Meghan also wore a £1,095 dress by designer SAFiYAA at the dinner. 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia
Journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia (left) approved the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi (right) in 2018

Speaking about the opulent earrings, Deborah Papas, gemologist at Prestige Pawnbrokers of Channel 4's Posh Pawn, said in 2019: 'The Duchess of Sussex never ceases to amaze us with the beautiful jewellery she wears.

'In Fiji she chose to wear an absolutely stand-out pair of chandelier style diamond drop earrings in three strands set with white and yellow coloured diamonds. Most are round but some are pear shaped to give the stepped drop effect and all set in white gold.

'These drops appear very heavy, almost pulling down the lobe, but sparkle beautifully even with the slightest turn of the head and are truly stunning. They could easily be worth £500,000 or more.'

Explaining the etiquette on royals wearing jewellery, William Hanson told MailOnline at the time: 'For grand events like state banquets and formal dinners, royalty usually wear more lavish, priceless jewellery. For less showy daytime events the 'bling' is often toned down to something more subtle and discrete, with the exception of any engagement or wedding rings.'

He added: 'Royal women do have it very difficult - we all want them to look like royalty but if they wear anything too over the top or expensive they are criticised for being out of touch. They can't win.'

Butani was founded in 1977 by brothers Manoj and Mukesh Butani from Hong Kong. The brand is popular on the A-list circuit, with an array of celebrities seen wearing their jewellery on the red carpet.

Rihanna wore a pair of their earrings in her Love On The Brain video in 2016, which famously saw her soaking in a tub wearing nothing but jagged diamond earrings and black lipstick.

Elsewhere Ariana Grande was pictured wearing a pair of large solitaire studs to the Met Gala in 2018, while Kate Beckinsale wore a pair of diamond string earrings to the premiere of The Only Living Boy in New York in 2017.

That same year, Jennifer Lopez sported a pair of her trademark hoops embellished with diamonds by the designer for the World of Dance premiere.

The Times made further claims relating to Meghan's same official tour of Fiji when the Duchess was seen being ushered out of an official engagement to a local market, which was initially said to be due to security concerns.

In 2017 Jennifer Lopez sported a pair of her trademark hoops embellished with diamonds by the same designer, Butani

In 2017 Jennifer Lopez sported a pair of her trademark hoops embellished with diamonds by the same designer, Butani

Ariana Grande wore a pair of large solitaire studs by the designer to the Met Gala in 2018
Actress Christina Hendricks attends the 19th Annual Post-Golden Globes Party in 2018 wearing a pair of Butani earrings

Ariana Grande (left) wore a pair of large solitaire studs by the designer to the Met Gala in 2018 (left), while Christina Hendricks (right) attended the 19th Annual Post-Golden Globes Party in the same year wearing a pair of Butani earrings

In fact, the newspaper says, Meghan had cut short the visit because she had 'reservations' about the organisation UN Women, which had an involvement in the event. The Duchess denies these claims about the event. 

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