At some point in the 1980s, Prince Charles welcomed a new assistant valet named Michael Fawcett onto his staff. Fawcett, the son of an accountant from Orpington, had begun his career at Buckingham Palace in 1981 as a footman for Queen Elizabeth. According to the BBC, he rose through the ranks at the palace “by impressing the right people,” and eventually became one of Charles’s most trusted employees. Over the weekend, about 40 years after entering the royal service, Fawcett stepped down from his role as the head of the Prince’s Foundation, as reports in The Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday accused him of improperly assisting a Saudi businessman in getting an honorary CBE in 2016 after the businessman donated to Charles’s charities. (Prince’s Foundation chairman Douglas Connell has said the resignation was temporary, and that Fawcett was willing to participate in an investigation.)
According to the Times, Fawcett was said to have helped Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz, who has donated more than 1.5 million British pounds to Charles’s charities, secure the British honor. Unlike other honors, the process for receiving awards such as CBEs for those who are not British citizens goes through the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Times said it reviewed correspondence between people close to the prince and the British embassy in Saudi Arabia, including one email from the deputy head of mission, saying that it was “gratifying” to learn Mahfouz was a donor. In a letter to a Mahfouz aide reviewed by the Mail on Sunday, Fawcett indicated that the foundation was “willing and happy” to support Mahfouz’s application for British citizenship.
The reports also raise further questions about how the foundation has used fixers to conduct fundraising. According to the Times, Mahfouz was connected to Fawcett and the foundation by William Bortrick, the publisher of Burke’s Peerage who also works as a paid society consultant. Mahfouz contracted Bortrick’s services in an attempt to obtain British residency and boarding school admittance for his sons, per the Times; Bortrick also reportedly led him through the process of joining clubs, seeking ceremonial roles, and setting up an Oxford fellowship. In March 2014, this included a meeting with Prince Charles at Clarence House, where Mahfouz offered “generous support,” a witness told the Times.
In the course of their investigation, the Times reviewed emails that reportedly show Bortrick explaining Fawcett’s role in securing the honors. “Once he has Hon OBE, citizenship, knighthood and a peerage, then more money will flow,” Bortrick wrote to a colleague in September 2014. “[Fawcett] needs to keep his side of the bargain and sort out the Hon OBE immediately.” By November 2016, Mahfouz was posing for photos with Prince Charles in an honors ceremony left off of the prince’s official schedule.
A spokesman for Mahfouz denied any wrongdoing when contacted by the Mail on Sunday, saying that the businessman had not “had personal or direct communication to either request, influence or make any arrangements regarding citizenship or knighthood with Mr. Fawcett, or anyone connected to HRH The Prince of Wales or The Prince’s Foundation.” He added that Mahfouz had dropped his application for British citizenship.
In response to the allegations and Fawcett’s resignation, the Prince’s Foundation made a statement promising a full investigation. “The Prince’s Foundation takes very seriously the allegations that have recently been brought to its attention and the matter is currently under investigation,” it read. “The scope of the Prince’s Foundation investigation has been extended to cover this weekend’s newspaper reports. The trustees had already arranged an independent review by an external Senior Forensic Accountant from a ‘big four’ accountancy firm.”
In its report, the Times noted that “it is not known how familiar [Charles] was with the details of the negotiations between his aides and Mahfouz’s fixer.” In a statement from Clarence House, Charles’s press representatives responded to the allegations. “The Prince of Wales has no knowledge of the alleged offer of honours or British citizenship on the basis of donation to his charities and fully supports the investigation now underway by the Prince’s Foundation,” it read.
Despite that, one Buckingham Palace insider told Harper’s Bazaar that aides were discussing the situation internally. “This is very bad,” the source said. Another insider said, “This could potentially be very damaging for the Prince of Wales. There are most definitely concerns about how serious this could get.”
Part of the reason why the blowback might land on Charles has to do with Fawcett’s history as a part of his staff. This is not the first time Fawcett has resigned after allegations of impropriety in his role; in 1998, he resigned over bullying allegations before returning within a week, according to the BBC, and in 2003, he left Charles’s staff after he was investigated for selling gifts received by the royal household and pocketing some of the proceeds. (An internal inquiry cleared him of any financial misconduct.) Even after resigning he stayed on as a freelance fixer and events planner.
Nevertheless, Charles had continued to give him roles in the royal orbit despite further controversy. In 2001, a Black woman who had formerly worked as secretary to the prince accused Fawcett of calling her a racial slur in the office. “We all knew that the prince adored Michael and would not listen to anyone else so there was no point in making a complaint because nothing would be done about it,” she said at the time, explaining why she didn’t make a formal complaint during her employment when the incident occured. (An employment tribunal ultimately dismissed her claim due to lack of proof.) More recently, Fawcett’s judgment was called into question when a number of paintings that had been loaned to Dumfries House, which is part of the Prince’s Foundation, were revealed to be forgeries. In April 2020, Vanity Fair reported that Fawcett had handled the details of the loan. (According to Town & Country, the foundation had declined to comment on Fawcett’s role in the loan, but insisted “that the Prince of Wales had no involvement in the negotiations for the artworks.”) In 2003, commentator and former royal press secretary Dickie Arbiter told the BBC why he thought Fawcett had stayed in Charles’s good graces. “Fawcett has been there for so many years, so close in times of stress, knowing all the ins and outs and all the warts,” he said.