Ngozi Fulani says Lady Susan Hussey's comments were down to racism not age

Advocate says she has heard 'many suggestions' age was a factor in 83-year-old Lady Susan Hussey’s repeated questions about her nationality

Lady Susan Hussey (L) and Ngozi Fulani. Getty Images / PA
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A prominent black advocate who was repeatedly asked where she "really came from" by a Buckingham Palace aide has said “age is no excuse” to explain the incident, which she suggested stemmed from racism.

Ngozi Fulani, chief executive of Sistah Space, said she has heard “many suggestions” that age was a factor in 83-year-old Lady Susan Hussey’s repeated questions about her nationality during a reception at the palace on Tuesday.

She told Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday: “Let us be clear what this is.

“I’ve heard so many suggestions it’s about her age and stuff like that. And I think that’s a kind of a disrespect about ageism. Are we saying that because of your age you can’t be racist or you can’t be inappropriate?

“If you invite people to an event, as I said, against domestic abuse, and there are people there from different demographics, I don’t see the relevance of whether I’m British or not British. You’re trying to make me unwelcome in my own space.

“Although it’s not physical violence, it is an abuse,” she said.

Asked where she was from at the palace reception, Ms Fulani said Hackney, north-east London, prompting the woman whom she identified only as "Lady SH" to ask: "No, what part of Africa are you from?"

Ms Fulani said she was born and raised in the UK and was British but the woman persisted. "Where do you really come from, where do your people come from? When did you first come here?" she was asked. Ms Fulani repeated that she was a British citizen born in the UK and was forced to say she was "of African heritage, Caribbean descent".

Lady Susan 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 resigned from the royal household and apologised after making the "unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments".

Ms Fulani later told The Independent: "This is bigger than one individual. It's institutional racism."

She said the incident showed "nothing has changed".

She called on the royal household to introduce cultural competency and anti-racism training, which Sistah Space delivers.

The incident comes during Prince William and his wife Catherine's trip to Boston, in what was billed as the future king’s “Super Bowl” moment, to attend the Earthshot Prize ceremony on Friday.

The Prince and Princess of Wales sat courtside to watch an NBA game between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat at the end of the first day of their US visit on Wednesday. There were some boos and chants of "USA, USA" when they were introduced to the audience.

Royal commentators said the trip was already at risk of being upstaged by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

The couple are scheduled to be honoured next week for standing up to alleged racism they suffered from members of the British royal family with the prestigious Ripple of Hope award, after an unidentified royal was accused last year by the Duchess of racism against her son Archie.

Prince Harry and Meghan Duchess of Sussex through the years - in pictures

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will receive the honour 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 what tone of skin her baby would have, when she was pregnant.

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 at the time saying that issues raised would be dealt with privately as a family, but that “some recollections may vary”.

The palace moved swiftly to respond to Ms Fulani's tweets on Wednesday morning, saying it took the incident "extremely seriously" and had investigated immediately.

But former BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt said: "Charles and William's problem is that the focus is already shifting from the actions of one woman to broader questions about whether Buckingham Palace is institutionally racist."

Lady Susan has received some support, however, including from broadcaster and writer Petronella Wyatt, who said she is "not racist".

"I‘ve known Lady (Susan) Hussey since I was 18," she tweeted.

"She is a decent woman and certainly not a racist. She often asked my mother where she was from because she had a Central European accent. I am sometimes mistaken for non-British because of my colouring. I’m never offended."

A spokesman for Prince William told reporters in the US he was "really disappointed to hear about the guest’s experience at Buckingham Palace".

"Racism has no place in our society," the representative said. "The comments were unacceptable and it is right that the individual has stepped aside with immediate effect.”

Mandu Reid, leader of the Women's Equality Party, who was beside Ms Fulani and witnessed the exchange, said Lady Susan's resignation was like "that bad apple approach".

"Let's minimise this," she said. "Let's make it smaller. Let's try and frame it as an isolated incident.

"Let's look at Meghan's account. Meghan herself said her experiences in the royal household brought her to the brink of suicide. Now we were at this gathering for just one afternoon. We spent a couple of hours there and it really left its mark on me. It left its mark on Ngozi.

"Imagine having to deal with that day in, day out."

The palace said in a statement the comments were "unacceptable and deeply regrettable".

"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," the statement said.

The conversation

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 ...

Lady Susan Hussey - in pictures

Updated: December 01, 2022, 2:37 PM