New scandal unmasks royal wild child
It's a good thing the Queen has two new adorable corgi puppies to cheer her up right now because she's going to need something to put a smile on her face as a new controversy involving an errant grandson hits the palace.
(Fun fact: The pups names are Fergus, after Her Majesty's uncle who was killed in World War I, and Muick, the name of a favourite loch on her Scottish estate.)
Yesterday, it was revealed that Peter Phillips, Princess Anne's son and the oldest Windsor of his generation had been quizzed by police after he drove 740km from his home in Gloucestershire to Aberdeenshire in Scotland to visit married mum Lindsay Wallace, 40, who is a school chum of his sister Zara. (National COVID-related lockdowns are still in place in much of the UK.)
The Sun has reported that "angry locals" in the village of St Cyrus had called authorities and that "officers decided he was not in breach of any COVID lockdown rules after he explained he was on a business trip".
Another report quoted a source as saying: "Peter is besotted with her. They have known each other for quite some time. This latest trip isn't the first time he has been to Scotland to visit her. They have been keeping things under wraps. Only the inner circle knew about this friendship."
After the drama of the past month, which saw Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's claims of royal cruelty and racism engulf the palace in the biggest crisis in decades, this latest imbroglio is just what the royal house does not need.
However, this is far from the first time the 43-year-old has found himself in hot water.
See, while most people wouldn't be able to pick Peter out of a line-up of ruddy-faced upper crust men who know their way around a thoroughbred, he has managed over the years to create an out-size number of headaches for Buckingham Palace that qualify him for wild child status.
His arrival in 1977 made history - not only was he Her Majesty's first grandchild but his mother, the formidable Princess Royal, refused a title for her wee bub. (Four years later she did the same when daughter Zara was born.)
Unlike the Phillips kids' cousins, Princes William and Harry and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, there was not a stray clutch of letters (HRH) or any semblance of a fancy appellation anywhere near their names.
The consequence of this is that while Peter and Zara are indeed members of the royal family and their blood might be far bluer than most, they are not royal, per se.
Anne wanted her kids to have 'normal' lives and that lack of title gave them something their cousins have never had - absolute clarity about what is expected of them.
They would never receive a pound from the Sovereign Grant - the percentage of Crown Estate revenue the British government hands back to the Queen for official expenses - however, nor would they ever be expected to cheerfully tour a waste recycling centre as their mum did last week.
The consequence of this is that Peter and Zara were always going to have to earn their own money, a situation that has landed the elder sibling repeatedly in hot water over the years.
In 2008, he married Canadian Autumn Kelly, five years after they had met at the Montreal Grand Prix. On May 17, they tied the knot at St George's Chapel at Windsor, where his family turned out in force, before celebrating with a reception at Frogmore House. (Yep, the same venues that another royal couple would pick ten years later.)
The guest list for the big day including one especially notable name - Kate Middleton. The then 26-year-old had been dating Prince William for seven years and her invitation to the wedding would be the first time she would meet the Queen and the rest of her boyfriend's royal family. (William himself did not attend, opting to travel to Kenya for the wedding of his rumoured former flame Jecca Craig's brother.)
At the reception, Kate, dressed in a black dress with a tan blazer, chatted to Harry and his then girlfriend Chelsy Davy before busting an impressive move on the dancefloor. While she looked very much like she was on her best behaviour, no doing shots with the groomsmen here, overall it was a stellar performance. Good girls gone … good.
And we know all this because there amongst the finger sandwiches and champagne flutes, a photographer was recording everything for Hello! magazine, a pertinent fact that the happy couple had somehow forgotten to mention to his family.
See, Peter and Autumn had sold the rights to their wedding to the celebrity title for $900,000 and then reportedly had not fully apprised his family of the situation.
(You can still find some of the shots via Google and they are a delight. Chelsy Davy looks like she would be a verifiable hoot.)
This all went down about as well as Her Majesty finding out the Windsor Castle kitchens were going gluten-free.
Reports at the time called the Phillips' decision to sell the images as "grasping, vulgar and so damaging to the Queen" while the Daily Mail reported that sources close to William and Harry, that "neither Peter nor the magazine sought their approval - and if they had, it certainly would not have been given. What has happened has not gone down well at all. They are very unhappy about it."
(Peter and Autumn have not been the only lower-rung members of the royal family to hear the siren song of Hello! In 2002, Zara and her then boyfriend, the jockey Richard Johnson, posed for the title inside their home for a reported $225,000 before she and husband Mike Tindall sold the first images of their baby daughter Mia to the title for a reported six-figure sum. Elsewhere, Princess Margaret's son the Earl of Snowdon and Princess Alexandra's daughter Marina Mowatt have also willingly appeared in the publication.)
Next up in deeply embarrassing moments in revenue generation came in 2012 during the Queen's Golden Jubilee when Peter's sports management company organised a vast street party on The Mall for the occasion.
Only thing, in 2017 it was reported that his firm had been paid $1.3m to organise the shindig, which was more than twice the amount ($552,000) the event raised for charity.
The most high-profile - and ignominious - of Peter's money-making schemes emerged in January last year when he 'starred' in an advert for a Chinese milk company which showed him accepting a glass of milk from a butler on a silver salver inside a stately home and which identified him as a "British royal family member".
In a longer version of the video, Peter says, "There was a herd of Jersey cattle at Windsor and we were brought up on it. It was always much fuller of flavour [sic], much creamier than other milks we had growing up."
Subtle? Ha. Lucrative? Let's hope so.
There was no masking the motivation here, no shying away from the fact that this was a patently base grab to monetise his royal ties and to cash in on his famous family.
"Royal Peter' for Hire … in China," the Daily Mail hollered, Peter's demeaning milk-schilling even pushing the Sussexes off the front page, albeit briefly.
He then hit the headlines again the following month when it was revealed that he and wife Autumn had separated.
Interestingly, what unites Peter's series of PR debacles with his cousin Harry is that money has lain at the heart of many of their most controversial, headline-grabbing moves.
No amount of pomp and ceremony, no matter the number of times the palace can drum up the Horse Guards and arrange air force flypasts to dazzle the British people, there is no escaping the fact that all the members of the royal house who are not likely to ever see their face on a postage stamp or be asked to attend the opening of Parliament have dubious financial situations.
Aside from the Queen, Charles and William, most of the Windsors are stuck in a frustrating No Man's Land where they are attached to the palace in a personal capacity and yet still need some way to stump up for their own kids' polo lessons and meet their Range Rover payments. And that way temptation lies: The temptation to use their surname and royal connections to earn a big wodge of dough.
This predicament is far from a new one - in 1953, the Duke of Windsor, former King Edward VIII, ended up writing about the Queen's coronation for Woman's Home Journal and the Sunday Express in an effort to bolster the exiled Windsors' income.
It seems unlikely this current Peter storm will go away fast given it involves a glamorous blonde and the whiff of alleged scandal.
A word of advice for Buckingham Palace courtiers: Given the variety of dramas the Queen's grandchildren have already created for her this year, and what may well come yet, I think that she might need some more puppies. Quite a few more.
- Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.
Originally published as New scandal unmasks royal wild child