Behind The Palace Doors – Grant Harrold

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How did you first get your job as a butler with Prince Charles?

“I’d had a dream from the age of 11 or 12 of meeting the Queen and I’d watched a documentary about the Queen back in 1992 when I was about 13. I remember seeing the Queen dance and I thought, ‘How do you get to dance with the Queen?’ - I thought you either meet the Queen or you marry the Queen and the funny part of this was I honestly thought we were going to marry. I thought it’d be easier than getting a job.

“I then later thought wouldn’t being a butler be an amazing job. I thought if I did it for two years that would get me into private households, so I first had a butler job in Scotland and I started actually meeting Royals there, that was obviously a step closer. In the meantime, I wrote to the Queen a couple of times, then in 2003 for whatever reason they finally came back to me saying there was a position. I had six months of interviews, I got to meet Prince Charles at the end of it and they offered me a job. I stayed with Charles for seven years. Some people say seven years isn’t a long time, but in the world of being a butler, seven years of having somebody in your house living with you, it’s quite intense. I

“I was there when Charles married the Duchess of Cornwall, I was there when the boys went to university, when William first met Kate and they were dating - and then they stopped dating for a little while which was horrifying to me because I adored both of them, luckily they got back together - and I was there for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’s 60th wedding anniversary. There were lots of things over the years that I was lucky to be a part of and I even got to dance with the Queen at one of those balls I had watched on television 12 years before. Thinking about it, 12 years isn’t that long of a time to actually make those dreams a reality.”

What were your typical day-to-day duties as a Royal butler?

“The easiest way to explain it is, it’s like what you see in Downton Abbey, butlers are there to look after the family - albeit quite a famous family - look after guests, serve meals and drinks… but what people don’t realise is that you’re also kind of a personal assistant and expected to make things run [smoothly] for them. If you can do something for somebody and it doesn’t impact their day for it to happen, then that’s being a good butler. They want someone who is going to make things happen.

“I had the opportunity to look after William and Kate and Prince Harry and that was fun because not only did I get to know them on duty, but I got to know them off duty too. We went to the same pubs, we ended up having a lot of the same friends - I always knew who they were and respected who they were, but I got on really well with them. It’s quite strange now, when you see them as a family and as senior Royals, to think that the days I was with them they’d only just left university.”

What were William and Kate like when they first started dating?

“Oh, like any boyfriend and girlfriend. Not any different to anyone else, it’s mad saying that when you think about who they are, but there wasn’t anything different. What I liked was that Kate, being a girlfriend and obviously not a member of the family, would be with me and the other staff and she was so polite, friendly, and fun and making jokes. I remember there were days I had off where I’d be running an errand or I’d left something up at Highgrove [House] and they were around, so you’d just catch up with them.

“It was always fun and it was always nice that I got on so well with them because they’d then ask me to travel the country with them. When my phone used to go off and it was William, all my friends would be like that’s so cool, but to me it was normal. That was the relationship I had with them. I think it was really special and not unusual, actually, because in a private home you’re expected to get on with the family. As for the younger members of the family, you’re not employed by them, but you end up having a relationship with them as well. There’s very few people that the Royals actually get to know, so you do feel lucky that you were trusted with that.”

What did you find most challenging about working for the Royal household?

“Probably, my nerves - can you imagine? I was 25 when I first met the Prince and 26 when I first met the Queen, Prince Charles introduced me officially and that wasn’t nerve-racking at all. What do you say to the Queen? I’d been a fan of hers since I was 11 years old, ‘Oh, did you get my letters when I was 13?’”

What were your first impressions of the Queen when you first met her? Did she live up to your expectations?

“I remember thinking how short she was, you don’t realise how short she is - that was the first thing. The other thing I remember is the wonderful kind of way she had about her, she wasn’t very regal or royal, but we had a really nice conversation and I felt really relaxed around her.

“The other thing the Queen does, she would do something that was hysterical and nobody would laugh because they wouldn’t know if she was being funny or not. And you’d all look at each other like, ‘did the Queen just make a joke?’ Then eventually somebody would laugh and you’d all go [laughs]. She’s wonderful at that and that is something that I absolutely loved. Our Queen has got a wicked sense of humour.”

How were your interactions with Prince Charles and is there a particular moment you shared with him that stands out?

“Working with him was great, he was an absolute gentleman, great fun, very funny and always polite. I remember once - I’ve never told this before, so here’s a first. I was at a dinner and one of the guests didn’t say please or thank you. Not once. Prince Charles always said please and thank you, always. His manners are impeccable. He noticed this because he was sitting next to this person and I noticed that anytime I would bring him something, he would always say thank you, but he really emphasised it, ‘Thank you so much Grant, we’re really lucky to have you as part of the team, thank you,’ and it would get to the main course and he’d say it again.

“This person heard all this, so when I went to them next time, they said, ‘Grant, thank you so much.’ And I thought, wow, he actually did that because he realised this person wasn’t being polite. That’s his character and exactly what he’s like. He’s very polite and very friendly and wants people treated the right way. At the end of the day, that guest didn’t have to say please or thank you, I’m here to do a job and sadly in the world of private service there are people that can just be rude to people, but the Royals make sure it’s not like that. I was very lucky with that.

“Another memory that stands out is getting a personal invite to the Prince and the Duchess’ wedding. I hadn’t been there long enough [as staff] to go, but I got a call from Clarence House saying the Prince and the Duchess would personally like to invite me to the wedding.

How was the wedding?

“It was amazing! An amazing day, an amazing venue. There was a blessing, then they had the reception at Windsor Castle and that was a hell of a party. It’s not like your average party, there’s the Queen, there’s Princess Anne, Prince Edward, there’s Stephen Fry. Every time I turned around there was another [famous face]. It was a joyous occasion and great fun. I was outside when you saw William and Harry chasing after the cars as they drove off.”

During your time working as a butler for the Royal household, did anything ever go wrong on the job?

“I never ever, ever, had a cross word from the Royal family or any of my employers in the past. They were amazing. Things do go wrong, things can be late - if something was late or there was a hold up it would affect their diaries, they would always plan out what they’re doing, so it could mess up their whole day. You’re always keeping on track so it doesn’t happen, but if it does, it wasn’t truly a problem. I don’t remember messing anything up badly, I’m sure I broke the odd thing but I used to always tell people.

“I remember one time I bumped into the Prince and the Duchess in Scotland, I was quite new at the time and I didn’t know the protocol for when you see them, for instance whether you bow, so I panicked… I ended up diving into a cupboard. They saw me go into the cupboard and stood outside, eventually they asked if I was going to come out, I came out and they just looked at me and I pretended it was a mistake. They laughed it off and had a good giggle about that, but it showed me how relaxed it was, it was really nice.”

What did you enjoy most about being a Royal butler?

“Getting to be around the Royals. If the line of succession does happen and both Charles and William get to become kings, there’s not a lot of people who can say they looked after three monarchs. I feel very proud to have done that, to have looked after them and to have known them. I’ve been gone 11 years now and yet I’m still really lucky that people still want to hear the stories. I think it’s nice for people to hear that the Royals are nice people, they are down to earth and it’s a fun place to be.”

It’s previously been said that when Diana was raising William and Harry she was keen to ensure they had a relatively ‘normal’ childhood, is that something Prince Charles was trying to instill too while they were growing up?

“This will answer your question - I was off duty, I’d only just started and I’d walked up to the house to get something and I bumped into Prince Harry. He was asking me if I was OK, if my house was comfortable - he’s 18 here, he’s young - and then he said to me, ‘Have you got food? We’re going to have a takeaway, do you want to come for a takeaway?’ I declined, but I sat down with them while they had it, just informally, but it was really fun and I thought this is obviously how they’ve been brought up. Diana’s influence is very much carried on. Do they do the same with their children? I have no doubt. I don’t really know if they go to McDonald’s or go to KFC, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”

As Charles takes over as King and Camilla becomes Queen Consort, do you think this is Camilla’s chance to really win over the British public?

“Absolutely. I forget how many people now were not alive when Diana died, it was 25 years ago. Back then, Camilla didn’t get a look in - even when she got married, there was a little bit of hesitation. Those that said they couldn’t stand her, it’s now those same people who like her. Time is a healer. She has proven herself and the Queen has given her that endorsement by supporting her and announcing she’s going to be Queen Consort.

“I’m aware that there’s a real love-hate relationship when it comes to the future of the monarchy, obviously everyone loves the Queen and everyone loves William and Kate, but with Prince Charles, while the majority of people love him, there’s some people that don’t. I have no doubt one day he’ll be king and Camilla will be his Queen Consort and they’ll do an amazing job, but I don’t know how long that will be for. I can’t see him passing the role on, but what I do think will happen - like the Queen has done - is Charles will pass more on to Prince William. I believe that Charles will give William and Kate more of a role, so they still have their time as a couple and a family, but they’re still supporting the monarchy and keep their popularity.

Do you think people are more drawn to William and Kate because we see more of their personalities during their Royal engagements and they seem to interact more with the public?

“Totally, Prince Charles is from a different generation so he might be seen as old-fashioned. While he is old-fashioned, he’s also quite modern, but William and Kate show more of their personalities, so people like them more. They’re drawn to them more. William was a pin-up at one point and Kate is a beautiful lady. People all want to be Kate, dress like her and look like her, they are very much role models and I think that’s why they’re doing so well.”

We’ve also seen William and Kate appearing to break protocol more and more - do you think this is something that is becoming less frowned upon from an etiquette perspective?

“Prince William is changing things a lot. The Queen would never go up and hug someone, but for William and Kate this is now normal. The younger Royals have shown that they can’t be aloof. If they are aloof, it will not work. Diana wanted to be a Queen of people’s hearts, William will be a King for the people. He’s approachable, he’s friendly, he’s compassionate… he’ll put himself in anyone’s shoes. He’s not a king because that’s his job, he’ll be doing it for the people, to try and help them and make the country, if not the world, a better place.

“It’s not going to be easy. They have to be careful with that, however, with cost of living etc. We’re all being told to tighten budgets and if Royals are off on helicopters, it’ll be interesting to see how they’re going to do their jobs but still be aware of how it appears to the public.”

How do you think Charles’ reign will be different to that of the Queen’s?

“I he’ll keep the Queen’s traditions, the protocols and the etiquette. We’ll then see William bring in his modern approach and for Charles, it’ll be a mixture of both. We’ll see a King that is traditional but a little bit of a modernist too. That little bit of tradition he will pass on to William and while William will be a very modernistic monarch, almost celebrity-like as that’s the way it seems to be becoming, but he’ll still have elements of the old tradition and etiquette and that’ll be thanks to his father and his grandmother. There’s going to be a transition going on once the Queen has gone and before Prince William’s reign, Charles is going to be a big part of that. It’s going to be a huge change, Prince Charles will be the gap between those two.

Do you think it’s important for the Royal family to keep those traditional elements as it attempts to modernise?

 “It has to modernise, the Royals have to be like you and me, but they do have to keep tradition too, if not for tourism - that’s all about pomp and circumstance. Although we see William and Kate sitting on the floor, high-fiving and laughing, we also see them carrying out the official processions, but because we know the real them, they’re down-to-earth and approachable, when we see the more traditional side, we love that. They’re not aloof, they’re not above us, they’re not better than us, that’s just them putting on their uniform, going to work and doing an official thing for the people.”

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