Former Royal butler Grant Harrold, who worked for King Charles for seven years as part of his staff, reveals all about his time working for the Royal family at Christmas time.
Speaking exclusively to Slingo, Grant opens up on the Royals’ upcoming festive plans following the Queen’s death, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s romance over the years, and whether Prince Harry will reunite with his family this Christmas.
How do the royal family celebrate Christmas?
“I would work during the New Year with the now-King and would go up to Scotland, but I usually had Christmas off. The reason for that is because the royal family would often spend Christmas at Sandringham. Traditionally, they would all arrive on Christmas Eve and the Queen would arrive a couple of days before. She was the first to arrive with Prince Philip, then other members of the royal family arrived on December 23rd, which is because most of them are working royals. King Charles and Camilla would arrive near Christmas Eve and they would all have afternoon tea. It was during the afternoon tea, which shocks a lot of people, that’s when they would do their presents. Santa would still come for the children that night, but for the adults that was their chance to exchange their Christmas presents to each other. The tradition of having Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve goes back to the German side of the family.
“After the presents they would have a dinner, then Christmas Day for the Queen was all about the religious aspect. I don’t think some people realise that she would go off to church at around 8am, which was the first service. There was no press at that point as it was always a quiet moment for her. The entire family would then go for a second service, where some of them would walk back to Sandringham and the Queen would be driven back from the church. They would then have a traditional Christmas lunch, with goose, turkey and obviously all of the trimmings. Again, it would be a formal lunch with all the family to get together.”
Do the royal family watch the Christmas Day speech together?
“Christmas afternoon is a chance for the royal family to watch the Christmas speech. I was once told, and I’m not too sure how true this is, that the Queen would take herself off to a private room to watch the speech on her own. I would like to think that the family would all sit down and watch it together, which wouldn’t surprise me at all. In the evening they would have a buffet dinner, where they can help themselves to bits from lunch. That’s how they would celebrate a traditional Christmas, which has historical German ties to it.”
What was your experience of working with the royals during Christmas?
“It was manic, always really busy. They carry out a lot of engagements near Christmas time and these days the Princess of Wales is doing her carol concert, which is lovely. There were the emotional parts, then there were the fun parts, like them going to Christmas markets. From a private point of view, they also have to get ready for Christmas themselves. They all have their own homes to decorate. I believe William and Kate decorate their trees together and do things with the kids. It’s about balancing family time and carrying out their official work.”
Is King Charles a fan of the festive period?
“Yes, he’s very traditional. I believe he will keep all the traditions that his mother started. Obviously nothing has been released yet, but I believe he will still go to Sandringham and ask the family to come together at Christmas. Whether that tradition will continue into the future, who knows? He might change it, but especially after the year they’ve had, I think he will be keen to have the family together for a big Christmas. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see them heading off to Sandringham as normal. I think it will be very much a reflective one this year.”
Who out of the royal family enjoys Christmas the most?
“I’m pleased to say there were no scrooges - not even Prince Philip! They are all Christmas oriented from what I saw. I used to get gifts from King Charles and he once gave me China cups and beautiful glass tumblers. We always got bits and pieces. He used to give all sorts of things, like one year I got a tin of salmon. It was funny little things, but maybe something where he’d thought, Grant may like that.”
What presents have the royals given each other?
“What I do know is that Princess Diana once gave one of the royals a pair of really nice earrings or a necklace, then in return she was given a joke present. What could you possibly give someone from the royal family? You have to give something that’s got a bit more humour to it. I believe that behind closed doors the royals would give each other a nice gift.”
Did Prince William and Harry enjoy Christmas when they were younger?
“When I joined them they were teenagers, so they weren’t running around in Santa and elf outfits. Christmas was always exciting and I remember being around WIlliam, Harry and Kate Middleton. I remember on one of my first Christmases I got invited to a party at St James Palace. It was a sit down meal and I sat down with Prince William for lunch. It was hysterical and we had such a laugh! There were lots of giggling, jokes and party stuff going on. It was nice to see him enjoy the fun aspect of Christmas. It was just like a work Christmas do, but I’ve got to say everyone was well behaved. It was unique and surreal for me to be working for them and sitting down for lunch with Prince William, even though he was only in his early twenties. I saw it as a big deal to be sitting with the future King and having lunch with him. They all get excited about it. Obviously I think back then they were still doing military training, so they got time off, which was exciting. Then they would all go off to Sandringham together and do Christmas with the Queen. The Queen was very strict about that and liked the family being together. ”
Do you think Christmas will be a difficult time for the royals following the Queen’s death?
“Yes, I think it will. The Queen and Prince Philip loved Christmas. It was all about the family, getting together and celebrating. I think they’ll want to get together for her memory. The interesting bit will be that the Queen famously stayed at Sandringham and the decorations apparently stayed up until she left, but I don’t see the King doing that. King Charles traditionally goes up to Scotland for the New Year, but this is where there could be a big change. He might surprise everybody and copy the Queen by staying at Sandringham for a month after, or he might go up to Scotland. Like the Queen, he enjoys Christmas and is very religious. I think it’s going to be very important for him to keep all the traditions that the Queen had. Whatever happens, I think it will determine what happens in the future. He might suddenly shake everything up after this one, but Charles has always gone to Sandringham since the 90s. He’s somebody who likes tradition.
“I don’t think there will be massive changes right away, but I think this Christmas will be the last of a type and how the Queen did it. I think the King will mirror that, then there will be subtle changes that may come in the future. Looking forward to the younger royals, it’s going to be interesting to see how it develops and changes. It has to change because the younger generation want a modern royal family.”
Prince Harry lives in the US now - do you think he will make the effort to come to England over Christmas?
“I’d be amazed if he wasn’t offered an invitation. I have no doubt in my mind that he absolutely will be invited. The difficult part is that if this book comes out in January, it’s a little bit of an awkward thing. I don’t think he’ll want to discuss it with the family, I’m guessing. On that basis, he might decline because it’s so near to the book coming out. Again, people are going to be watching to see if the Fab Four [Prince William, Prince Harry, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle] come together again at Christmas. I think for the late Queen’s sake, it would be nice for them to get together to remember her for one last time. I knew Harry well and I knew how close he was to his grandmother.
“What people have to remember is that no one is perfect and there are fallouts all the time within families. I can’t imagine the Royal family will hold a grudge and they’ll want the family to be united when possible. Even though Harry and Meghan aren’t working royals, they’re still members of the royal family and he is the son of the King. The Queen would probably have wanted nothing more than to have them all united and be together, so people have to respect her wishes. Even though she never said that, I believe it would be their wish to see them reunited at Christmas and see them as one united family, especially in the year we lost her. It will be important for them to be together.”
How important is it for the Royal family to be together at Christmas?
“The Queen was all about the family being together, especially with her children. I think the King would want the same, regardless of where he decides Christmas is going to be. I think he’ll want to do the same that his parents did, which is have his children and grandchildren with him. The thing about Christmas is that it’s a time to spend with your loved ones. You only get one chance of having Christmas with your family, so for the younger royals that is going to be something to think about. The King is 74 now and he’s not getting younger, whether he will live as long as the Queen who knows? He hasn’t got a long time left as such, so I think it’s important that the family do spend Christmas with him, like the Queen had with her family.”
How do you think William and Kate have stepped up to their role of the new Prince and Princess of Wales?
“I forget how much has changed for William and Kate as they’re very senior now and William is next in line to the throne. They’re having to up their game and go from third in line, which is slightly more relaxed, to suddenly supporting the King. They will support the King probably more than other royals. What’s interesting is that Catherine is very good at the role she’s taken on. It’s quite amazing seeing her transformation from the young lady I knew, who was so polite, so much fun and so down to earth. She’s filled the role so beautifully. She knows how to act like a royal and be like a royal. The reality is, you have to act the part to be a royal. Catherine has done a brilliant job of it. I think the King knows that he can trust them to be able to do this and step in and act on his behalf.”
How has William and Kate’s relationship developed over the years?
“Their relationship has developed so beautifully and they’re the best of friends. I once compared them to the Queen and Prince Philip. They are a younger version of them. They work well together, they get on together, so they’re a good team, which is what you need to do that role, otherwise it wouldn’t work. They support each other. It’s also really nice to see that they can have a giggle and a laugh, which is very similar to what the Queen and Prince Philip would do. It’s weirdly almost like history repeating itself. They’re also very passionate about their privacy and family. It can be very difficult for them to have that privacy as royals.”
How do you think William and Kate will make time for their family after stepping up to more senior roles?
“I think what we’ll see if when they do an overseas visit, we’ll see the family go together. However, they’re quite strict about their schooling and that’s important. Historically, the Queen always left her family behind during overseas visits, but back then that’s how it was. The royals today have had to change and modernise. William and Kate are very hands on when it comes to their family. Yes, they’ve got a nanny because they need the support. As I said, we know they’re hands on and that won’t change. I think we’ll see the entire family take a more active role in what they do. I think they’ll also be keen to show that this is the future of the monarchy.”
Have you got any memories of William and Kate during the early stages of their relationship?
“They were just fun to be around and were like any other couple. They would have a laugh and you could have a joke with them. I used to travel a lot with them and when I worked for William’s father, one of the roles I undertook was to offer to be their butler and look after them. I felt really lucky to be trusted to do that and to be the one who travelled around with them and get to know them. There’s nothing that I could say to you that would surprise you because they were exactly the same as they are today. There’s not many people who could say they had the opportunity of looking after the Queen, the now-King and the Prince of Wales and his wife.
“They weren’t married at that point, so I was lucky to get to know them when they were dating. I remember when they split up I was horrified because I really liked Kate and got on well with her. I didn’t like the fact that I would have had to start all over again with somebody. When they did get back together, I said I was really pleased. They got back together at the time of the King’s 60th birthday and I was at the event, where Rod Stewart was performing. I was in a room and I remember Kate came in and nobody spoke to her because nobody knew who she was - can you imagine doing that now?! It just wouldn’t happen. I went over to her because that’s the relationship I had.”
Did you think they would get back together during their brief split?
“If I’m honest, I don’t know. I remember wondering if it was a glitch or maybe it was one of things when couples sometimes separate for a bit to make sure it was the right one. I did wonder if it was to do with that. I remember thinking at the time that it was serious and they definitely had broken up. At the time, people said it was the press but I genuinely think they did spit up for a time. Thankfully, it was only a short time. I always hoped they would get back together. I remember thinking how nice it would have been for William and Kate to be a couple and one day be the Prince and Princess of Wales. When all that happened, you do think to yourself that maybe that’s not going to happen now. I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen and I was genuinely worried about it. I felt that it would be such a shame if they didn’t sort it out.”
How does William’s parenting style differ from his father, King Charles?
“The King’s approach with William and Harry was really good and I was lucky enough to witness that. He was very much a hands on dad and was brilliant with them. People say he’s not a good dad, but I was there and I know he was good, especially in the latter years. Obviously it’s difficult because working royals are away a lot, but he still managed to spend time with them and I think that’s something.
“When Diana was alive it was very different because they would spend time with different parents, which is the same with any family. The wonderful thing about Kate and William is that they are together and their family is with them a lot.”
Do you see any similarities between Kate and Princess Diana?
“Yes, but I don’t think it’s purposely done, like at the Remembrance Sunday service when Kate had similar clothes to Diana. Somebody pointed out to me that you are limited when it comes to hats and dresses in black. I don’t think she is copying at all. We’re all going to be looking for similarities and we want to see similarities between them.
“I think when you pick a partner, you pick a partner that reminds you of one of your parents. It’s possible that Kate’s mannerisms and some of the things she does reminds William of his mother. It’s the same with Meghan. You’ve got to remember, Diana in the early years was expected to act like a royal and Kate is doing the same. They would be similar because they are doing the same job. I do think Kate has got her own way of doing it, but she’s also got her own caring and compassionate side to her.”