Undercover at the Palace

UPDATED 12/08/2003 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/08/2003 at 01:00 AM EST

Memo to the Windsors: Fire your personnel director. After weeks of weathering damaging revelations from former butler Paul Burrell and ex-valet George Smith, Britain's beleaguered royals probably hoped for a break. No luck. Hours after George and Laura Bush arrived for a state visit, the Daily Mirror newspaper revealed that Ryan Parry, one of its reporters, had successfully applied for a job as a footman in the royal household and worked under-cover for two months—even though a simple Internet search could have revealed his true credentials.

"I was an intruder, able to wander round the royal home unchallenged," Parry, 26, wrote in the Nov. 19 edition of the paper, which published snap-shots of the Windsors' private apartments and the Bushes' guest suite. "My uniform was the perfect disguise."

Among the unregal details Parry claims he uncovered during his stay: that Prince Andrew regularly greets servants sent in to rouse him for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. with an obscenity; that his big sister Princess Anne also cusses out the help when they mess up tasks such as filling her breakfast order (that's one black banana and one kiwi, no substitutions!); and that Prince Edward, 39, decorates his room with his boyhood teddy bears. The Queen's middlebrow tastes also came under scrutiny: Parry says that on Fridays supper was served late so she wouldn't miss the British soap East-Enders. And each day he served Her Majesty a breakfast of toast with marmalade and cereal presented in decades-old Tupperware containers. The royal family's response was understandably swift: Employing an 11-member legal team, the Palace slapped the Daily Mirror with an injunction preventing it from printing any more of Parry's revelations; the paper has promised not to publish photographs
of the royal bedrooms again.

That Parry was able to get so close to the Queen and her family had Britons astonished at the laxity of palace security, which is funded by tax-payers. The story of how the reporter landed the gig using only two references, a phony one from a fictitious paint company and one from the pub where he used to work, dominated headlines and broadcasts last month. Parry quit just as the Bushes showed up, even laying out strawberries and chocolates in their guest suite. Home Secretary David Blunkett launched an inquiry into the breach, saying that "the system as a whole needs to be reviewed urgently." Predictably, Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan put a smugly positive spin on Parry's report. "I hope the royals realize that Ryan Parry has done them a massive favor," he said.

Gratitude wasn't running high at the palace. Said one staffer: "People feel violated." Still, some Brits felt an odd sense of satisfaction at the notion that their habits weren't so distant from those of the monarch. "Middle England is reassured by the fact that she gets her cereal out of Tupperware," says author Robert Lacey, who has written several books about the royal family. "People have had a comforting chuckle about the whole thing."

JD Heyman. Simon Perry in London

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