Duke and Duchess of Sussex make history by hiring all-female team of top staff

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have become the first royals to have an all-female team of senior staff after appointing a pro-EU former ambassador as their right-hand woman.

The couple have just headhunted Fiona Mcilwham, who became one of the youngest British ambassadors in history when she was appointed to Albania in 2009 aged 35, and has worked as a senior adviser to the director-general of EU enlargement.

She will start work next month as the couple’s private secretary, the most senior role in any royal household and equivalent to a chief of staff. 

Intriguingly it means that Harry and Meghan – who both describe themselves as feminists – have chosen an all-female team around them.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, pictured at the Lion King premiere in London last month, have become the first royals to have an all-female team of senior staff after appointing former ambassador Fiona Mcilwham as their private secretary

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, pictured at the Lion King premiere in London last month, have become the first royals to have an all-female team of senior staff after appointing former ambassador Fiona Mcilwham as their private secretary

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, pictured at the Lion King premiere in London last month, have become the first royals to have an all-female team of senior staff after appointing former ambassador Fiona Mcilwham as their private secretary

Miss Mcilwham joins their deputy private secretary Heather Wong, head of communications Sara Latham, two senior female press officers and a team of female private office employees.

Their only male hiring has been a young social media officer, in charge of their in-house publicity, including beefing up their Instagram site with glossy images and videos of the couple.

On her Twitter biography Miss Mcilwham, who has worked for the Foreign Office for 21 years, describes herself as being: ‘Diplomat and wannabe supermum; ex-HMA [ambassador] Tirana and Director Western Balkans.’ She has just completed a strategic leadership course at the Royal College of Defence Studies.

Meghan’s three wise women 

Heather Wong, pictured, previously worked in the Obama administration and was poached from Milltown Partners

Heather Wong, pictured, previously worked in the Obama administration and was poached from Milltown Partners

Heather Wong, pictured, previously worked in the Obama administration and was poached from Milltown Partners

Crisis expert with Obama link 

Heather Wong, deputy private secretary: Rumoured to be moving on soon, she started work for Harry as his assistant private secretary but has also been seen at Meghan’s side too.

Glamorous, with an eye-wateringly impressive CV, she has focused on building the couple’s initiatives across areas including conservation, mental health and HIV/Aids.

She was poached from Milltown Partners, a rather secretive business working in ‘behind the scenes’ PR, crisis communications and ‘reputational management’ set up by Prince Charles’s former spin doctor Paddy Harverson.

Miss Wong previously worked in the Obama administration as deputy assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.

Former ambassador Fiona Mcilwham, pictured, has recently been appointed as private secretary by the royal couple

Former ambassador Fiona Mcilwham, pictured, has recently been appointed as private secretary by the royal couple

Former ambassador Fiona Mcilwham, pictured, has recently been appointed as private secretary by the royal couple

Star with diplomatic touch

Fiona Mcilwham, private secretary: In 21 years at the Foreign Office she has built up a wealth of international experience – perfect for the couple who see themselves as ‘global citizens’ as well as royal ambassadors. Her interest in women’s rights will no doubt have scored points with Meghan, too.

‘Harry and Meghan have felt frustrated by the one-size fits all approach to being a working royal and are aiming their star far higher,’ said a source. ‘It is clear they think Fiona is the person to do that.

‘Internally, the hope is, as someone with enormous diplomatic experience, she will also understand that, whether you like it or not, there are limitations to being a royal for a very good reason.’

Sara Latham, pictured, has previously worked for the Clintons in America

Sara Latham, pictured, has previously worked for the Clintons in America

Sara Latham, pictured, has previously worked for the Clintons in America

PR chief facing a tough task 

Sara Latham, head of communications: Feisty but well-liked and impeccably connected, the US-born PR supremo has her work cut out for her.

Harry and Meghan’s first year of marriage has been dogged by very public fallings out with her father and the Cambridges as accusations of hypocrisy – preaching a green message while flying in a private jet.

She worked for both Bill and Hillary Clinton in the States and in the UK was a special adviser to the late Tessa Jowell, the Labour Culture Secretary.

Sources say her biggest challenge is convincing Harry and Meghan that the ‘men in grey suits’ the prince hates so much have their best interests at heart.

Her appointment is hugely significant and a sign of how determined Harry and Meghan are to make their mark on the international stage. ‘It’s a statement of intent,’ one source said last night.

Educated at St John’s College, Cambridge, Miss Mcilwham, 45, has travelled extensively, with experience in Bangladesh, Sudan, Baghdad, Basra, Washington and Pakistan.

She has also held posts in the US and the Middle East, as well as the Balkans. Colleagues describe her as charismatic and brilliant but also a ‘fully paid-up member of the Euro elite’.

She lives in a £1million north London townhouse with her husband Daniel Korski and their son. And is Mr Korski who has attracted most of the headlines until now.

As prime minister David Cameron’s controversial former ‘enforcer’, Mr Korski was one of the most powerful figures in Downing Street, and an architect of the Remain referendum campaign, dubbed ‘Project Fear’. 

The Queen's former deputy private secretary had been working for the Sussexes, pictured with newborn Archie in May, while they found someone permanent for the role

The Queen's former deputy private secretary had been working for the Sussexes, pictured with newborn Archie in May, while they found someone permanent for the role

The Queen’s former deputy private secretary had been working for the Sussexes, pictured with newborn Archie in May, while they found someone permanent for the role

In three years as a special adviser to Mr Cameron he was described as ‘the most ardent EU enthusiast to ever work for a Tory prime minister’.

In 2016 he was accused of involvement in a complaint against the then British Chambers of Commerce director-general, John Longworth, after he gave a boldly Eurosceptic speech.

He was also involved in a row over claims that pressure was put the then London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to prevent new restrictions on taxi firm Uber after the company agreed to help encourage young people to vote in the EU referendum. 

Meghan, pictured at the Lion King premiere, also has a new personal assistant after Melissa Touabti quit after just six months

Meghan, pictured at the Lion King premiere, also has a new personal assistant after Melissa Touabti quit after just six months

Meghan, pictured at the Lion King premiere, also has a new personal assistant after Melissa Touabti quit after just six months

At the time the youth vote was expected to be solidly pro-Remain. The former prime ministerial adviser has strongly denied any impropriety.

Mr Korski has since set up his own firm, PUBLIC, which helps start-up companies to win government contracts and public sector deals in return for an equity stake.

Until now Harry and Meghan have been relying on a ‘stop gap’ private secretary, Samantha Cohen, a hugely experienced and well-liked long-term palace operator who had previously been deputy private secretary to the Queen.

She quit her job in 2017 amid behind the scenes difficulties, but was persuaded by the Queen to stay on working for Harry and Meghan after they announced their engagement in order to smooth their way through the wedding and first few months of married life. 

She is understood to be on six weeks’ leave now and will return for the briefest of handovers with her successor.

The other Team Sussex female high-flyers are two senior female press officers and a team of at least three female behind the scenes staff, including the prince’s long-serving projects manager, Cara Madden.

Meghan has a new personal assistant after the previous incumbent, Melissa Touabti, quit after just six months. It is also understood that the couple have employed a new female nanny for baby Archie.

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