Princess Michael of Kent apologises for wearing 'racist' brooch while meeting Meghan Markle at Christmas lunch
There are fashion faux pas, and then there are errors of sartorial judgement which seem tricky to pass off as a moment of simple bad taste.
It appears that Princess Michael of Kent suffered the latter when she got dressed for The Queen's annual Christmas lunch which took place on Wednesday, and was the first such occasion attended by Prince Harry's fiancee Meghan Markle.
The wife of Prince Michael of Kent, the Queen's first cousin, was pictured arriving at Buckingham Palace wearing a brooch on her left shoulder which appeared to be a piece of 'Blackamoor' jewellery, depicting the bust of a black person with an opulent gold crown and bust, embellished with purple crystals.
It was a gesture which would have appeared shortsighted at the best of times, but has prompted controversy due to Ms Markle's biracial background (her father, Thomas Markle, is Caucasian and her mother Doria Radlan is African American).
It is understood that the brooch was a gift and has been worn many times before.
A spokesman said: "Princess Michael is very sorry and distressed that it has caused offence."
The images soon provoked an angry reaction on social media. "I hope the Queen is going to ban this racist, horrible woman from attending any further gatherings," wrote @nesslync. “Princess” Michael of Kent is an embarrassment to The Royal Family."
A source added there was "no malice at all" behind the decision to wear the jewellery to the Christmas lunch.
The royal family often wear jewellery with meanings- such as The Queen's maple leaf brooch which she has worn in Canada- but the connotation is usually positive and diplomatic. Feelings which are unlikely to have been evoked at Wednesday's lunch.
Markle has spoken extensively in the past about her struggles with accepting her bi-racial status. "While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that," she wrote in an essay for Elle UK in 2015. "To say who I am, to share where I'm from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman. That when asked to choose my ethnicity in a questionnaire as in my seventh grade class, or these days to check 'Other', I simply say: 'Sorry, world, this is not Lost and I am not one of The Others. I am enough exactly as I am."
When Prince Harry's relationship with Markle became public last year, he released a statement condemning many of the reactions which they had experienced. 'His girlfriend Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment... the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces' and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.'
The Blackamoor jewellery worn by Princess Michael has a complex history. While it now comes with resolutely racist connotations, the designs- which originated in Venice- were once the height of glamour and considered a tribute to the 'exotic' Africans who inspired them. Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor both had Blackamoor brooches in their personal jewellery collections.
In 2012, the Italian design house Dolce and Gabbana showed Blackamoor-inspired earrings as part of their Spring 2013 collection. Although the designers maintained that they were a tribute to the history of Sicily- the island which Domenico Dolce hails from- they were widely accused of seeking to make light of and profit from the West's history of colonialism and slavery.
Princess Michael has been accused of racism before. After an episode in a New York restaurant in 2004, when she was said to have told a group of African American diners to "go back to the colonies", she attempted to repair her reputation with an interview in which she only exacerbated the controversy.
"I even pretended years ago to be an African, a half-caste African, but because of my light eyes I did not get away with it, but I dyed my hair black," she told ITV.
"I travelled on African buses. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted experiences from Cape Town to right up in northern Mozambique," she added. "I had this adventure with these absolutely adorable, special people and to call me racist: it's a knife through the heart because I really love these people."