A Buckingham Palace aide has resigned after asking a prominent black advocate for survivors of domestic abuse where she "really came from".
The aide, who was named by the Press Association as Lady Susan Hussey, apologised for making the "unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments" to Ngozi Fulani, chief executive of Sistah Space.
Lady Susan, 83, served as the late Queen Elizabeth’s lady in waiting for more than 60 years. She is Prince William's godmother and accompanied the queen at the funeral of Prince Philip. Her daughter is one of Queen Consort Camilla's official companions.
She has now stepped down from her honorary role as one of three Ladies of the Household, to which she was newly appointed to help the king at formal occasions.
The palace said it took the incident, which occurred on Tuesday at Queen Consort Camilla’s reception on violence against women, "extremely seriously" and had investigated immediately. Lady Susan, whose late husband Marmaduke was a former BBC chairman, was invited to and on duty at the reception.
The event, which focused on sexual violence in conflict, was attended by Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Queen Rania of Jordan, the Crown Princess of Denmark and the Countess of Wessex. Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, was among the guests.
The incident threatens to overshadow Prince William's trip to the US, which has been billed as his "Super Bowl" moment.
Royal commentators said the trip was already at risk of being upstaged by a prestigious award for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who are scheduled to be honoured next week for standing up to alleged racism they suffered from members of the British royal family. An unnamed royal was accused last year by the Duchess of racism against her unborn son Archie.
A spokesman for the prince said: “I was really disappointed to hear about the guest’s experience at Buckingham Palace. Racism has no place in our society. The comments were unacceptable and it is right that the individual has stepped aside with immediate effect.”
Ms Fulani, who founded Sistah Space in 2015 to provide specialist support for women of African and Caribbean heritage affected by abuse, described the conversation on Twitter, calling it a violation, and saying the experience will "never leave me".
In a tweet she said the household member, who she named only as Lady S-H, challenged her when she said her charity was based in Hackney, replying: "No, what part of Africa are you from?"
Lady Susan: Where are you from?
Ngozi Fulani: Sistah Space.
Lady Susan: No, where do you come from?
Ngozi Fulani: We're based in Hackney.
Lady Susan: No, what part of Africa are you from?
Ngozi Fulani: I don't know, they didn't leave any records.
Lady Susan: Well, you must know where you're from. I spent time in France / Where are you from?
Ngozi Fulani: Here, the UK.
Lady Susan: No, but what nationality are you?
Ngozi Fulani: I was born here and am British.
Lady Susan: No, but where do you really come from? Where do you people come from?
Ngozi Fulani: 'My people?' Lady, what is this?
Lady Susan: Oh, I can see I'm going to have a challenge getting you to say where you're from. When did you first come here?
Ngozi Fulani: Lady! I am a British national. My parents came here in the 50s.
Lady Susan: Oh, I knew we'd get there in the end. You're Caribbean.
Ngozi Fulani: No lady, I am of African heritage, Caribbean descent and British nationality.
Lady Susan: Oh, so you're from ...
Responding to messages of support, Ms Fulani wrote: "Standing there in a room packed with people while this violation was taking place was so strange, especially as the event was about violence against women.
"That feeling of not knowing what to do will NEVER leave me. Almost alone in a room full of advocates."
She said it was a "struggle to stay in a space where you were violated".
Queen Rania with Queen Consort Camilla at Clarence House - in pictures
She outlined her distress at not being able to report the incident, saying she felt she could not tell Camilla.
"There was nobody to report it to. I couldn't report it to the Queen Consort, plus it was such a shock to me and the other two women, that we were stunned to temporary silence," she wrote.
"I just stood at the edge of the room, smiled and engaged briefly with who spoke to me until I could leave."
Sistah Space said they would not be naming the household member, adding: “We at Sistah Space would like to raise awareness about this issue rather than shame another individual.”
The palace has refused to confirm who was the subject of the complaint. It said in a statement: "In this instance, unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments have been made. We have reached out to Ngozi Fulani on this matter, and are inviting her to discuss all elements of her experience in person if she wishes.
"In the meantime, the individual concerned would like to express her profound apologies for the hurt caused and has stepped aside from her honorary role with immediate effect.
"All members of the household are being reminded of the diversity and inclusivity policies which they are required to uphold at all times."
Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, who was next to Ms Fulani and witnessed the exchange, told the PA news agency they were treated like “trespassers”.
Ms Reid said: “We really felt ‘oh, OK, we’re being treated almost like trespassers in this place.
“‘We’re not being treated as if we belong, we’re not being embraced as if we are British.'”
She described the conversation as “grim” and like an “interrogation”, adding: “She was really persistent. She didn’t take Ngozi’s answers at face value.”
The news comes on the day Prince William will travel to the US for his “Super Bowl” moment.
The future British king will be joined by his wife Catherine, Princess of Wales, to attend an awards ceremony for the environmental accolade the Earthshot Prize on Friday.
It will be the first time the couple have visited the US since the Sussexes made the country their permanent home in 2020.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will receive the Ripple of Hope from Robert F Kennedy’s daughter, Kerry Kennedy, at a ceremony in New York on December 6.
Ms Kennedy previously described the Sussexes’ interview with Oprah Winfrey — in which Ms Markle spoke out about the alleged racism she experienced from the royal family — as "a heroic stand".
Among other revelations, she said there was concern within the royal family about her unborn baby’s skin tone.
There were several “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he was born”, the duchess said .
The queen issued a statement saying that the issues raised would be dealt with privately as a family, but that “some recollections may vary”.
A source close to Prince William said Earthshot was the couple’s "number one focus" from which they will not be distracted.
But some experts are saying the trip is less about "saving the Earth and more about saving the royal family".
“To be honest, we’ve seen Charles as king and his first months in that position trying to feel his way, find his way towards being a more relevant, more modern monarch," said Boston University professor Arianne Chernock, an expert in modern British history.
"And I think we see something similar happening with William and Kate."