Sir Ken Olisa, who is the first black Lord-Lieutenant for London, told Channel 4 that he had discussed the topic of racism with the royal family following George Floyd’s murder in the US last year.
“I have discussed with the royal household this whole issue of race, particularly in the last 12 months since the George Floyd incident,” he said in an interview with the broadcaster for Friday’s programme Black to Front, describing it as a “hot conversation topic”.
“The question is what more can we do to bind society to remove these barriers,” he said. “They [the royals] care passionately about making this one nation bound by the same values.” And when he was asked if the palace – including the Queen – supported the BLM movement, he said: “The answer is easily yes.”
Some may be sceptical about the idea that the wider royal family would be pro-BLM, recalling the widely-documented racism row involving Harry and Meghan’s baby son Archie. During an explosive two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey last year, it was claimed that while Meghan was pregnant, there were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”.
Prince Harry acknowledged that he had been aware of this particular conversation, saying: “That conversation I am never going to share ... but at the time it was awkward, I was in shock.”
But HRH herself commented after the scandal broke, saying such accusations would be “taken very seriously” – a rare intervention that perhaps shows how strongly she felt about the allegations in the first place.
The full palace statement, on behalf of the Queen, read: “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much-loved family members.”
And when it comes to Harry’s relationship with the Queen, the pair couldn’t be closer. They were said to have had a “very special reunion” after Prince Philip’s funeral, and Harry has always spoken with deep affection about his grandmother. Harry and Meghan even named their daughter Lilibet after the nickname given to Elizabeth II by her father – then later used by her close family and (notably) her husband.
A spokesperson for Harry and Meghan told The Independent at the time the name was announced: “The Duke spoke with his family in advance of the announcement. In fact, his grandmother was the first family member he called. During that conversation, he shared their hope of naming their daughter Lilibet in her honour.” The spokesperson also said that, “had she [Her Majesty] not been supportive, they would not have used the name”.
The palace will no doubt be happy that Sir Ken has spoken out now on race and BLM, given the dramatic events of the past 18 months, but when you look at the Queen and her role as head of the Commonwealth, it really shouldn’t be surprising that she’s supportive.
After all, she knows better than anyone the meaning of what it truly means to be “British” – mutual respect and tolerance for all; the benefits of a wide, expansive network, the advantages of reciprocity and support and of forging strong relationships. And, as head of state of 16 countries that are a part of the Commonwealth, including the UK (as well as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and several island nations in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean), it is her duty to embrace diversity. It’s in her bones.
Plus, diversity is something the UK does gloriously well: one recent report revealed that almost half of all births in England’s biggest cities are children born to mothers born outside of the UK, which means we’re surrounded by a rich tapestry of different cultures, influences and ideas. It shouldn’t be a shock that the Queen celebrates precisely what has made the country what it is today, or any surprise that at 95, she knows what makes Britain great better than anyone.