Friday 23 September 2022 10:20 PM Charles' ex-right-hand man Michael Fawcett is in exile over the cash for ... trends now
Michael Fawcett has lost weight and gained a few grey hairs since quitting royal service, and the double-breasted suits, Turnbull & Asser shirts and silk 'pochette' squares that were once his sartorial trademark are now confined to their wardrobe.
While his old boss, King Charles, travelled to Birkhall to mourn and reflect on his sudden elevation to the throne, the monarch's former aide and sometime toothpaste-squeezer was pounding the suburban pavements near his home in South-West London.
Wearing tracksuit bottoms, a T-shirt and scuffed white trainers, the unemployed 59-year-old seemed alone with his thoughts as he walked his labradoodle in the streets around the red-brick home he shares with wife Debbie shortly after 9am on Thursday.
Time was when his principal form of exercise involved striding across deep-pile carpets in tasselled loafers, attending to great affairs of state. Now his daily tasks include posting letters, buying milk, and picking up dog mess in a black plastic bag.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. For much of his professional life, which spanned almost four decades, Fawcett was being groomed for a key role in the court of Charles III.
Only a year ago, he was being widely tipped as the future Master of the Household — a sort of Chief Operating Officer — in our new King's administration; a man who would play a crucial role in shaping his long-awaited reign.
Then, late last year, came an ugly scandal involving the alleged sale of honours to fund his boss's various pet projects. Not only did it kill off his career prospects, it has also spawned a police investigation.
Michael Fawcett was being widely tipped as the future Master of the Household in our new King's administration before a scandal late last year. Charles once said he can 'manage without just about anyone, except for Michael'
For Charles, this amounts to a personal as well as professional tragedy. 'I can manage without just about anyone, except for Michael,' was how he once famously summed up their intimate if eventually doomed working relationship.
That remark was, however, made in the halcyon days before Fawcett's name became linked to claims of palace scandal. And it was being fondly recalled among those close to Charles as two ugly episodes unfolded in the early hours and days of the new King's reign.
The first was at the Proclamation where Charles twice irritably complained about the position of an inkwell on his desk. Then, later, there was the 'stinking' pen moment when his fountain pen refused to work.
'Neither would have happened if Michael was there,' says a figure familiar with the King's moods.
In fact friends go further and say that, apart from Camilla, the Queen Consort, the one person Charles needs at his side is Michael Fawcett. For years the two men had an unwritten agreement that the indispensable aide would handle all the pitfalls that were bound to face the new sovereign.
'Michael knew where all the bodies were buried at the Palace, who knew the secrets, who they would need and who, more importantly, they could discard,' says a long-term associate. 'He'd been there for 41 years and knew everything and everyone.'
Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Fawcett's rise and fall (not to mention the one that raises most questions about our new monarch's judgment) is that it has seen him forced to resign no fewer than three times in around 20 years.
He first quit as the then-Prince's personal assistant back in 1998 after being accused of bullying, only to return a couple of years later. Then, in 2003, he resigned again after being caught 'helping flog' unwanted royal gifts. A report exonerated him of any wrong-doing but the affair earned him the nickname 'Fawcett the Fence'.
Wearing tracksuit bottoms, a T-shirt and scuffed white trainers, the unemployed 59-year-old seemed alone with his thoughts as he walked his labradoodle in the streets around the red-brick home he shares with wife Debbie shortly after 9am on Thursday
After another short absence, he returned to the fold, only to complete an inglorious hat-trick of resignations last November, when it emerged that his more recent duties have included soliciting donations to the then Prince's charities from a string of mysterious foreigners, including a Russian banker named Dmitry Leus and a Saudi billionaire, Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz.
This scandal is the one that now hangs over Buckingham Palace like a toxic cloud. For the cash Mahfouz 'donated' is suspected to have come with strings — or rather gold silk tassels — attached.
Namely, in return for taking the loot, which totalled around £1.5 million, Fawcett appears to have agreed to help Mahfouz obtain both an honorary CBE and a UK passport, according to a slew of leaked emails and letters.
And therein lies a big problem. For under laws dating back to 1925, it has been against the law to accept cash in return for an honour, a crime that carries a maximum prison sentence of two years.
Police have duly spent the past year sniffing around the whole thing, and in February launched a criminal investigation.
It's being run by members of Scotland Yard's Special Inquiry Team — the unit that brought you the notorious Partygate inquiry — led by one Detective Chief Superintendent Jason Prins, who previously worked in the Flying Squad and on Operation Trident, which was launched to tackle gun crime in London's black communities.
Yet while Prins and his team have been in possession of correspondence between Fawcett and other aides since the spring (some of which we shall detail later), seemingly they have yet either to question Fawcett or even invite him for a formal interview, despite the aide having offered his 'full co-operation'.
'To date, no questions have been submitted by the police,' Fawcett's wife Debbie revealed this month. 'However, we have been in touch with both organisations to make it clear Michael wants to help as soon as they are ready for him to do so.'
Neither have detectives yet 'requested' an audience with Charles, who is also reported to have promised to speak to the police if asked.
Amid ugly rumours of an Establishment cover-up, the republican lobby is now getting twitchy.
Graham Smith, of the anti-monarchy group Republic, tells us he's writing to the Metropolitan Police to seek 'clarification' over the status of its investigation.
Norman Baker, the headline-prone former Liberal Democrat MP whose complaint helped spark the inquiry, says he's also sharpening his pen. Neither is ready to let the scandal go away and Palace insiders are increasingly concerned its denouement will overshadow the crucial early months of King Charles's reign.
To understand how things have come to this, we must wind the clock back to 2014, when Fawcett — the son of a