Five Minutes with Valentine Low

Words by
Valentine Low

25th October 2022

SPHERE talks to Valentine Low, author of Courtiers, the Hidden Power Behind the Crown about how his new book offers the gripping truth about the "men in grey suits," who run the show. Discover what he really thinks about Harry and Meghan, his most surreal experiences with The Queen, and as Charles III begins his reign, what will happen next?


I wrote Courtiers to highlight..  Who exactly the men in grey suits are, and what they do. The Duchess of Sussex loathed them, as did Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sarah Ferguson. Princess Margaret wasn’t that keen either. Could they really be that bad?

The most fascinating thing I learned was… How much the royal family rely on them as a means of communication. Royals don’t just pick up the phone like normal people. The most heart-breaking story I heard was how William wanted to come and see Harry after the ITV interview with Tom Bradby because he was worried about his brother. Harry said no, because William would have to tell his private secretary he was coming – and Harry feared it would leak.

As King, I believe Charles will.. Be much better than his critics think. And I say this as someone who has been quite critical of him in the past. I don’t think he will meddle, and I think he will prove to be surprisingly popular.

My abiding memory of The Queen is.. how she turned up for the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Line. She was not meant to be there – she had passed to job on to the Earl of Wessex – but she decided at the last minute to turn up. Despite her age she was amazingly sprightly, and totally engaged with everyone she spoke to. 

Courtiers, The Hidden Power Behind The Crown
Valentin Low's new book, Courtiers, The Hidden Power Behind The Crown

I see Harry’s & Meghan’s future unfolding… A lot more happily if they could stop concentrating on the past, and think about the future. They’ve got to move on, and stop being so bitter.

People might view me as anti-Meghan but… I have some sympathy with them. I don’t think it was a bad thing that they left the country: being born into the royal family should not be a life sentence. And the palace definitely made some mistakes.

Royal Courtiers jobs are…Generally underpaid compared to what they could get in the private sector. But if they paid more, would they get better people? Not necessarily: it is astonishing the number of people who have taken big pay cuts for the privilege of working in the palace.

Their future challenges are…How to make the monarchy more relevant to the younger generation. It’s a big task.

Valentine Low
Times Royal Correspondent, Valentine Low

Should Palace Bureaucracy be loosened now we have a new King? I think… Things will change a bit under King Charles. But the real changes will come when Prince William accedes to the throne. He could really shake things up.

My most surreal experience as royal correspondent for The Times has to be..Interviewing the then Prince Charles during a downpour in a forest in India, while leeches feasted on my blood.

When The Queen died, I realised that…I had quite a lot to write for the next day’s paper. It was the start of the busiest period of my working life.

In the event of the Queen’s passing and funeral, the most significant thing for me was… Walking past the Queen’s coffin at the lying-in-state in Westminster Hall. It felt quite profound, and gave me the sense that I was part of something much bigger.

The burning question on my mind in covering royalty for the future will be.. How long will they last? In this country, they are good for a long time yet to come. But the other realms? The Caribbean? Australia? The time may come when they feel that they no longer need the British monarch as their head of state.

When I’m not covering royals, you’ll find me… Digging potatoes on my allotment. The usual varieties: Jersey Royals, King Edwards, British Queen, Red Duke of York…

My most treasured possession is…  My sourdough starter. It’s now at least 10 years old.

The best experience I have had in London.. definitely Wednesday, 29 May 1991 at a party in Covent Garden: when I met my future wife. The fact that my hostess was trying to fix me up with someone else is another story.

The highlight of my career so far has to be…Breaking the story of the bullying allegations against the Duchess of Sussex. That story went round the world, and led to my writing Courtiers.

To do my job, I can’t do without.. A Bic biro and a reporter’s notebook. They have been the one constant of my journalistic career.

The last great book I read.. is Say Nothing, by the US journalist Patrick Radden Keefe. A totally absorbing account of the disappearance of Jean McConville in Belfast in 1972, which is not only a brilliant investigation of her abduction and murder but also a fascinating exploration of how far people will go to achieve their political aims. A real eye-opener.

My guiltiest pleasure is… Cocktail hour at home. The Negroni is my go-to livener, but I am also extremely partial to a Boulevardier and a Sidecar. But it is all pleasure: I feel no guilt whatsoever.

The project closest to my heart is.. My next book. Whatever that is.

Thank you, Valentine Low.

Discover the juicy behind the scenes machinations of Royal life in Courtiers, The Power Behind The Crown, published by Headline, out now.