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DOMINIC LAWSON: After Meghan Markle bullying claims, why so many who say ‘be kind’ seem anything but

Today is International Women’s Day: and Archewell, the foundation created by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, celebrates this on its internet home page.

Harry and Meghan declare: ‘Let’s unleash a groundswell of real acts of compassion for the women in your life.’

How unfortunate, then, that last week allegations of bullying by the Duchess of her former staff at Kensington Palace emerged, especially as all the alleged victims were women.

Meghan’s PR team in Los Angeles immediately denounced the claims as ‘defamatory’, adding that she was ‘saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the victim of bullying herself . . . She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world.’

Today is International Women’s Day: and Archewell, the foundation created by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, celebrates this on its internet home page (pictured) 

Meghan's PR team in Los Angeles immediately denounced the bullying claims against her as 'defamatory', adding that she was 'saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the victim of bullying herself . . . She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world.' Pictured: Meghan (centre) and Prince Harry (left) sit down with Oprah Winfrey (right) for an interview

Meghan’s PR team in Los Angeles immediately denounced the bullying claims against her as ‘defamatory’, adding that she was ‘saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the victim of bullying herself . . . She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world.’ Pictured: Meghan (centre) and Prince Harry (left) sit down with Oprah Winfrey (right) for an interview

This followed the leaking of a 2018 email from the Sussexes’ then communications chief, Jason Knauf, to Simon Case (then working for Prince William and now the Cabinet Secretary, no less).

A 2018 email from the Sussexes' then communications chief Jason Knauf (pictured) to Simon Case - then working for Prince William - detailed concerns around the Duchess's treatment of two PAs

A 2018 email from the Sussexes’ then communications chief Jason Knauf (pictured) to Simon Case – then working for Prince William – detailed concerns around the Duchess’s treatment of two PAs

The email was stark: ‘I am very concerned that the Duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the Household in the past year. The treatment of X [name redacted] was wholly unacceptable. The Duchess is bullying Y [name redacted] and seeking to undermine her confidence.

‘We have had report after report from people who have witnessed unacceptable behaviour . . . Samantha Carruthers [then head of HR at the Palace] agreed with me on all counts that the situation was very serious. I remain concerned that nothing will be done.’

And nothing was done — until now. Following the leak, the Royal Household declared it was ‘clearly very concerned about . . . claims made by former staff of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex . . . the Royal Household will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace’.

Mission

I don’t doubt that some male members of the Royal Family, over the years, will have behaved disgracefully to their staff, and I understand if the Duchess concluded she was being unfairly singled out for blame (though she says she is blameless).

But I don’t suppose any previous member of the Royal Family had made it their declared mission to spread ‘compassion around the world’, and especially towards its 4 billion or so female inhabitants.

There is no particular link between preaching and practising, as has been observed down the ages. Last week, we had two non-Royal examples of such dissonance. Both involved bullying, and both involved women bosses, funnily enough.

The former chief executive of the National Lottery Community Fund, Dawn Austwick (right), has been accused by five ex-members of her staff of bullying. Austwick insisted: 'Any concerns that were raised with me were fully investigated and either resolved or found to be unsubstantiated.'

The former chief executive of the National Lottery Community Fund, Dawn Austwick (right), has been accused by five ex-members of her staff of bullying. Austwick insisted: ‘Any concerns that were raised with me were fully investigated and either resolved or found to be unsubstantiated.’

First, we learnt that the former chief executive of the National Lottery Community Fund, Dawn Austwick, had been accused by five ex-members of her staff of bullying. Austwick insisted: ‘Any concerns that were raised with me were fully investigated and either resolved or found to be unsubstantiated.’

But The Times reported that seven of the fund’s senior management team had left between late 2018 and February 2020, and that Austwick’s alleged bullying was a factor in many of these departures.

As it happens, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s office had also suffered from an unusually swift turnover of senior staff. And, just as the Palace seemed to do nothing at the time about the allegations made of bullying, one former member of Austwick’s team complained: ‘The chair and board of the fund did nothing to stop this unacceptable and shocking behaviour, which made people’s lives a misery.’

Toxic

And the element of hypocrisy? The National Lottery Community Fund gave grants to fund anti-bullying programmes, for example £10,000 to the ‘Growing Confidence and Anti-Bullying Project’ and just shy of 10 grand to the ‘LGBT HQ Anti-Bullying Campaign’.

Also last week, the executive responsible for ‘inclusivity’ at the accounting giant Deloitte, 49-year-old Dimple Agarwal, resigned, following multiple accusations of bullying of staff on her part.

Ms Agarwal, who was also Deloitte UK’s deputy chief executive, had worked on campaigns to boost mental-health awareness and said her efforts were all about ‘putting employees at the centre’.

Last week, the executive responsible for 'inclusivity' at the accounting giant Deloitte, 49-year-old Dimple Agarwal (pictured), resigned, following multiple accusations of bullying of staff on her part

Last week, the executive responsible for ‘inclusivity’ at the accounting giant Deloitte, 49-year-old Dimple Agarwal (pictured), resigned, following multiple accusations of bullying of staff on her part

According to a report in Saturday’s Mail, Agarwal ‘stepped down as the company said it was taking a ‘zero-tolerance approach’ to bullying and harassment’.

The most prominent recent example of this phenomenon was last year’s ruckus about the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Ms DeGeneres has been a fixture on U.S. TV since 2003, and her programme’s motto — repeated at the conclusion of every episode — is ‘Be kind’.

It turned out there wasn’t much kindness going around. The website BuzzFeed interviewed numerous former employees of the show, who spoke of a toxic work environment involving bullying and ill-treatment.

Numerous former employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show said its titular host (pictured) fell far short of the programme's 'Be kind' motto

Numerous former employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show said its titular host (pictured) fell far short of the programme’s ‘Be kind’ motto

One claimed that DeGeneres was so picky about her employees’ fragrance that ‘everyone must chew gum from a bowl outside her office before talking to her, and if she thinks you smell that day, you have to go home and shower’.

And it didn’t help Ms DeGeneres’s ‘Be kind’ campaign when the American comedian Kevin T. Porter tweeted that she was in fact ‘one of the meanest people alive’.The problem is that screen stars in the U.S. are treated with such extreme deference and adulation that even those who start out as considerate people can become extraordinarily demanding and even selfish without realising it. They are, if you like, the U.S. version of royalty.

And it may well be that the Duchess of Sussex was importing into the royal household the sort of standards and demands that might almost pass for normal in Hollywood.

Anyway, Ellen DeGeneres did not seek to dismiss the allegations made about the treatment of staff on her show. She made a full apology, telling her millions of viewers in September 2020: ‘Things happened here that should never have happened . . . If I’ve ever let people down, if I’ve ever hurt their feelings, I’m sorry for that.’

Not a bad model of how to respond, but somehow I don’t think we will see any contrition from the Duchess of Sussex: she seems genuinely to believe that she alone is the victim in this matter.

I sometimes think there is an inverse relationship between telling the world that you care and how well you behave in more domestic or private circumstances.

Despite her tough public image, Margaret Thatcher (pictured) was remembered by staff as being solicitous in private

Despite her tough public image, Margaret Thatcher (pictured) was remembered by staff as being solicitous in private

A friend of mine who had worked in the private offices of a number of MPs said her experience was that those whose image was ‘caring’ were the worst to work for, while those who were harsh in public tended to be the most considerate employers.

The best example of this would be Margaret Thatcher. In a TV interview on the evening before the nation voted in the 1987 general election, she was challenged by David Dimbleby to say that ‘you care about people being out of work’. Mrs Thatcher said that caring was ‘what you do. I have a good healthy suspicion . . . of those whom I suspect of not caring but simply saying that they care’.

When Dimbleby interrupted, she said: ‘Please. If people just drool and drivel [that] they care, I turn round and say: ‘Right. I also look to see what you actually do.’ ‘ It was an extraordinary moment, and the words ‘drivel and drool’ were, at the very least, unwise.

Caring

But those who worked for Mrs Thatcher in her private office have said the Iron Lady was, behind the scenes, the most caring of bosses. One of her private secretaries, Caroline Slocock, said she ‘couldn’t stand her image or her policies’ but noted how Mrs T was always solicitous in private: ‘Once she spotted that the hem of my skirt was coming down and offered to take me up to the [Downing Street] flat to hem it up for me.’

Another of her private secretaries, Nick Sanders, appeared in last year’s BBC series on the late PM, saying of her dealings with staff: ‘If any of us had a serious family problem, a bereavement, a sick child, she would stop whatever she was doing and ask us a lot of questions about whether we had been in touch with the right people, whether we had been getting all the support that we could.’

So what is the lesson of all this? A very old one: don’t be fooled by appearances.


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