Tribunal exposes prince's 'Edwardian' attitudes

Prince Charles's hopes of one day appearing a thoroughly modern monarch received a fresh blow yesterday when his candid thoughts about those who aspire to rise above their station were ruthlessly exposed in a sex discrimination hearing.

Prince Charles's hopes of one day appearing a thoroughly modern monarch received a fresh blow yesterday when his candid thoughts about those who aspire to rise above their station were ruthlessly exposed in a sex discrimination hearing.

Elaine Day, a former staff member, is accusing the royal household of sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Her evidence threw up a handwritten memo from Prince Charles on the first day of what is scheduled to be a three-day hearing in the prosaic surroundings of an employment tribunal in Croydon.

In the memo, written to an unnamed member of staff, apparently in March 2002, the prince fulminates about the state of education - a long-standing obsession - and the uppity aspirations it provokes.

He appears to be responding to a query from Ms Day - who is of African-Caribbean origin - about whether secretaries and personal assistants might one day aspire to become private secretaries or senior advisers in the prince's household. She explicitly excluded herself from the suggestion.

"What is wrong with people nowadays? Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far above their capabilities?" the prince exclaims.

"This is all to do with the learning culture in schools. It is a consequence of a child-centred education system which tells people they can become pop stars, high court judges or brilliant TV presenters or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having the natural ability.

"It is a result of social utopianism which believes humanity can be genetically engineered to contradict the lessons of history."

The heir to the throne concludes: "What on earth am I to say to Elaine? She is so PC it frightens me rigid."

Although the memo was read out at the hearing, lawyers attending refused to show it to the media to ascertain its context or veracity.

Asked what the prince could have meant, Ms Day replied: "The culture in the royal household extends from the Prince of Wales. [They] would not welcome an employee who would rock the boat.

"He was saying that I am a modern woman who obviously is thinking above her station, basically. I was extremely upset and shocked to see HRH's comments in this regard. It was a household which was structured very much in the Edwardian fashion. Everyone knows their place and, if you forget it, the system will punish you."

Later she told the tribunal she had been made to work in the attic during a visit to Holyrood palace in Edinburgh in June 2003.

She said: "I had been consigned to the attic with the domestic staff. I appreciate that it may seem a trivial matter but working in the palace is about status, hierarchy, and knowing one's place.

"Putting me in the attic, with the domestic staff and away from the office staff, had clearly been done to humiliate me and remind me of my place."

Ms Day, of Belvedere, Kent, worked in the royal household as a PA, helping to organise events, liaise with charities, check locations in advance of the prince's visits, organise seating plans for dinners and even help draft speeches, from March 1999 until last April.

She claims that she was downgraded and effectively pushed out after she complained about Paul Kefford, a former civil servant who, she told the tribunal, would rub his hands down her back and up her arm when he had an opportunity to do so.

Ms Day broke down in tears briefly as she told the tribunal that other female employees, including Colleen Harris, the prince's former press secretary, had told her he had also inappropriately touched them.

She said that when she took her complaint about Mr Kefford to Sir Michael Peat, the prince's private secretary, brought in to tighten up the management of the household, he told her: "But I thought he was gay."

She said: "I replied, I didn't know whether he was gay or bisexual. I felt that Sir Michael was being supportive and understood the position." Nevertheless she said she was put under pressure to withdraw the formal grievance procedure she initiated and that subsequently her work, previously praised, was constantly criticised by Mr Kefford. "I was clearly being set up to fail," she said.

The tribunal was told of screaming matches with Mr Kefford and another assistant private secretary, former BBC employee Mark Leishman, over such crucial matters as seating plans for royal dinner parties.

A formal disciplinary hearing was called by Mr Leishman in February this year after Ms Day allegedly forgot to remove a guest's name from a dinner party at which the prince was to be advised about the state of education by such luminaries as the former chief inspector Chris Woodhead and the Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips.

Ms Day claims that other assistants were not disciplined when they made mistakes.

Following her disciplinary hearing Ms Day received a verbal warning. She resigned two months later after Sir Michael rejected her appeal.

The tribunal continues.


Stephen Bates

The GuardianTramp

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