The Biggest Mistakes Royals Have Admitted To Making

The following references sexual abuse.

To err is human. And, even though their lavish wealth and clannish lifestyles may sometimes suggest otherwise, royals belong to the same classification of living beings as the rest of us. The British monarchy, inarguably the most well-known family in the blue-blooded class, has made (and still makes) its own fair share of mistakes. While some of their choices have translated into blunders for which the royalty is yet to admit guilt and apologize — colonial atrocities or slavery, for instance — certain life decisions have prompted public admissions of regret from prominent members of the British monarchy. This, despite the circumscribed position their royal status puts them in. "They're trapped in a system which allows them very, very little freedom," British author and constitution expert Robert Hazell told Vanity Fair

From Princess Michael of Kent whose family history tied her to the dark period of the Holocaust, to Queen Elizabeth II whose delayed response to a lethal disaster burdened her with regret her whole life, there are royals who haven't shied away from taking cognizance, if not complete accountability, of the circumstances they have found themselves in. As Prince Harry, whose youth is spotted with accusations of racism, put it on a panel organized under The Queen's Commonwealth Trust: "There is no way that we can move forward unless we acknowledge the past." On that note, let us acknowledge the past by revisiting some of the biggest mistakes royals have admitted to making. 

Prince Harry admitted to being a bigot before his marriage

Prince Harry's fallout with his family embroiled the British monarchy in one of its most significant contemporary scandals involving racism, at the center of which was his wife Meghan Markle. As the senior royals were left to defend themselves against some very damning accusations, Harry partook in the conversation without washing accountability off his hands. The prince admitted to his own "bigoted" inclinations that only reversed when Meghan, who is biracial, came into his life. Appearing on "60 Minutes," Harry stated, "I didn't see what I now see." The royal's tell-all memoir also includes a recap of multiple controversial moments from his youth, prominently the one where he was accused of racism for referring to an Asian cadet in the military with an offensive slur.

In "Spare," Harry elaborated that he had often heard the term he used from other people when he was younger. "[I] never suspected them of being racist. Neither did I know anything about unconscious bias," he wrote. While he claimed to have been advised against issuing a personal public apology, Harry did reach out to his military peer to apologize. Meeting Meghan in 2016 stirred Harry awake to the issue of rampant racism. "I had so much to learn and, equally, unlearn," he told People. In recognition of his development, Harry, together with Meghan, was felicitated with a racial justice and mental health award by an American charity in 2022. 

Sarah Ferguson found herself in a damning bribery scandal

Sarah Ferguson made some bold moves during her time in the British royal family and even after. Among the many controversies she found herself at the center of, one of the most sensational was the bribery scandal of 2010. Fergie, as she is popularly nicknamed, was reportedly ready to put her ex-husband Prince Andrew's details on the line for a sum of £500,000 (then over $800,000). The damning incident was made public through a sting operation initiated by the News of the World tabloid, with journalist Mazher Mahmood exposing the Duchess of York, per The Guardian. Fergie reportedly asked Mahmood to send over the money, telling him, "I can open any door you want, and I will for you." When publicized, the video sparked a furore and Fergie rushed to apologize. 

She alluded to her personal financial strains and called the bribe a mistake. She went on to attribute her actions to alcohol use, telling Oprah Winfrey on her show: "I'm aware of the fact that I've been drinking, that I was not in my right place." Fergie, who has been divorced from Queen Elizabeth II's son since 1996, further said that she couldn't have asked him for financial help. In fact, this wouldn't be the last time that Fergie's economic desperation would drive her into a tough spot. In 2012, the controversial royal had to apologize yet again, that time for accepting money from disgraced financier and convicted sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein. 

Queen Elizabeth wasn't satisfied with her response to a 1964 tragedy

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Few monarchs have experienced the truth of that adage quite like Queen Elizabeth II possibly did. As Britain's longest-reigning royal leader at 70 years, the late queen was witness to decades upon decades of historic events. But apparently, none made her as regretful as a tragic incident from 1966. That year, in the coal mining district of Aberfan in Wales, a mining accident caused a fatal landslide that claimed the lives of 144 people. Children formed a majority of the casualties. Reportedly advised to delay her arrival at the site of the calamity, the queen visited Aberfan only eight days after the disaster. "We told her to stay away until the preliminary shock had worn off," the BBC quoted her ex-staff as saying. 

Elizabeth herself wasn't satisfied with her response to the Aberfan disaster and, in a rare show of regret for her actions as monarch, deemed it a huge error on her part. "I feel one of the biggest mistakes of my reign was not getting to Aberfan sooner," prominent royal expert Ingrid Seward repeated the queen's reaction in the documentary "The Queen: In Her Own Words" (via Daily Express). The Aberfan calamity clearly left a profound effect on Her Majesty, who was moved to tears when she visited the village. Over the course of subsequent years, Elizabeth returned to Aberfan multiple times and referred to the place with fondness. 

Prince Andrew regretted his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein

Jeffrey Epstein's sexual abuse scandal was no small affair. It was blown open even bigger with the emergence of the names of certain personages involved, one of them being King Charles III's brother Prince Andrew. The British royal's friendship with the disgraced financier stretched over several years after their reported first meeting in 1999. In 2001, allegations of sexual assault solicited by Epstein surfaced against Andrew, who vehemently denied the claims. Buckingham Palace backed him, issuing their own royal statements of defence, though in time the Duke of York was stripped of his military titles. Andrew, who was spotted in Epstein's company even after the allegations against both men went public, said he regretted his controversial friendship. 

After Epstein's death in 2019, Andrew said in a statement that "it was a mistake and an error to see him after his release ... what I thought I knew of him was evidently not the real person." The royal has maintained his innocence through the scandal despite court documents in Epstein's case indicating allegations against Andrew from two women, NBC News reported. There was also regret on the part of Sarah Ferguson, Andrew's ex-wife who lamented her own connections to Epstein. Sarah, or more commonly Fergie, had apparently borrowed money from the financier to pay off debts but following the claims of abuse against Epstein called it a mistake, per the Evening Standard. She remained assured of Andrew's innocence.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Prince Harry said his Nazi costume was a huge error

Prince Harry's younger years were a minefield of controversies, one of the most prominent and problematic among them being his infamous dress-up as a Nazi officer. The renegade royal was 20 when he attended a friend's costume party sporting a striking red armband on which was imprinted the Nazi swastika emblem. The photo made an immediate splash after making it to the front page of tabloid papers, with Harry under intense scrutiny. Jewish organizations were critical of the British royal's garb, with one spokesperson remarking, "It's not a joke to dress up as a Nazi, especially as we come up to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz" (via The Guardian). A statement from Harry expressed remorse over his costume, which he admitted was of "poor choice." 

Decades later, Harry reflected on the scandal, calling it "one of the biggest mistakes of my life" in the 2022 Netflix documentary "Harry & Meghan." He revealed that the incident prompted him to sensitize himself to the Holocaust through interactions with the Jewish community. Though he took a huge chunk of accountability on his shoulders, Harry was candid about the role of other royals in the maelstrom. In his bombshell memoir "Spare," the prince alleged that his brother Prince William and sister-in-law Princess Catherine encouraged him to wear the Nazi outfit. Harry wrote that they both apparently found the costume amusing.

Princess Michael of Kent acknowledged her father was a Nazi officer

Besides her own fair share of scandals, Princess Michael of Kent has had to weather the share of other people's misdeeds during her time as a member of the British royal family. The Czech-born author was publicly faced with shocking truths about her parentage back in 1985, when there were widespread indications that she had direct Nazi links through her father. Press at the time reported that Baron Gunther von Reibnitz had held the rank of an SS officer during the Holocaust in Adolf Hitler's Germany. According to the Associated Press, official tribunal documents dated Reibnitz's Nazi connection back to 1934, from whence it continued for a decade. SS officers were notorious for their frontal role in commanding atrocities against Jews during the Holocaust. 

The princess, who has been embroiled in multiple racial controversies herself, absolved herself of knowledge about her father's history, saying it was something she would "have to live with." Though she admitted regret over her family's past — "it's a deep shame for me," she said — she seemed convinced of Reibnitz's nonparticipation in concentration camp violence against Jews. Princess Michael's reaction to her ancestry didn't convince many royal commentators, who aired their views in a 2021 documentary titled "Princess Michael: The Controversial Royal." Per the Daily Mail, historian Dr. Chandrika Kaul stated, "I find it hard to believe that Princess Michael, with a deep interest in European history, would be totally unaware of her father's role as a Nazi party member."

Sarah Ferguson blamed herself for not being invited to Prince William's wedding

The much-awaited nuptials of Prince William and Princess Catherine in 2011 had nearly 23 million viewers across the world hooked to the telecast and almost 2,000 guests in attendance, with the exception of one. Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York — also known as Fergie — was nowhere to be seen. As the groom's aunt, royal fans expected that she wouldn't miss the occasion. But she did and her absence didn't go unnoticed. Soon enough, Fergie herself made clear what prompted her to be snubbed from the biggest royal wedding of the decade. Talking to Oprah Winfrey, Fergie said: "I think what I felt was that I went through the phase of feeling so totally worthless and that (it) was quite right they didn't invite me" (via Reuters). 

By 2011, Fergie's reputation as a scandal-courting royal was nothing new, and her presence in the family wasn't particularly favored by many members; there were longstanding claims of a deep discord between Fergie and senior royals like Prince Philip. While a string of past incidents — from the infamous "toe-sucking scandal" of 1992 to her divorce from Prince Andrew in 1996 — had already jeopardized Fergie's importance within the royal family, it was suggested that the more immediate bribery scandal of 2010 she was caught in cost the duchess an invitation to William's wedding. "I felt that I ostracized myself by my behavior," she told Winfrey, reflecting on her regrets. 

Prince Philip admitted to his role in a car accident

Age was no bar for Prince Philip to give up driving himself around England — that is, until an unfortunate incident led him to surrender his license. The senior royal was 97 when he was involved in a car crash that he later admitted occurred due to a fault of his own. He was behind the wheel of his Land Rover in the vicinity of the Sandringham estate in early 2019 when his vehicle rammed into a Kia that was carrying three people — including a toddler. The BBC reported that the prince's car overturned but he escaped without any injuries. Unluckily, the same couldn't be said for the Kia passengers, one of whom ended up with a broken arm in the collision. 

Identified as one Emma Fairweather, the injured passenger reportedly criticized the royal for failing to reach out to her. Philip did reach out, eventually. In fact, the prince sent Fairweather a personal note of apology accounting for the collision, claiming that the position of the sun interfered with visibility, per the Mirror. "I am deeply sorry about this injury. I wish you a speedy recovery from a very distressing experience," the printed note further read, undersigned by hand in the prince's name. Surprisingly enough, Philip was spotted driving yet again — this time without a seatbelt — mere days after the accident that had admittedly left him "somewhat shaken." He was finally prompted to give up his license. 

King Charles didn't want his marriage to Diana to end how it did

King Charles III and Princess Diana's relationship is the stuff of royal legend. Their 15-year-long union remained forever overcast by the shadow of Queen Camilla, summed up famously by Diana in her 1995 BBC interview: "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded." However, Charles said that he didn't mean for things to turn out the way they did. In a documentary from 1994, Charles claimed to have been faithful to Diana in their marriage up to a point. "Yes. Until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried," he said (via the Tampa Bay Times). The admission of adultery on Charles' part did little to salvage his reputation haunted by claims of infidelity to the beloved people's princess. 

"It happens to half the country, and it happened to me," he was further quoted as saying. "Well, obviously I don't recommend it to anybody." While Charles and Camilla's love story apparently culminated in just a brief affair in the early 1970s, the popular version is that their romance never really died down and accompanied Charles throughout his marriage to Diana. The senior royal insisted that it was only in 1986 (five years into the marriage) that he picked things up with Camilla again. He proclaimed in a 1994 biography that he had begun feeling like he was "in a kind of cage ... longing to be free," the Associated Press quoted. 

Princess Eugenie was told off for an Instagram post

The digital revolution has pulled everyone famous into its fold — and the British royals are no exception. While the senior members of the monarchy enjoy a vicarious social media presence through official handles where formal updates give fans a glimpse into their lives, younger royals like Princess Eugenie are seemingly permitted to have personal Instagram accounts. In fact, the Daily Mail notes that Eugenie is among the only royals with a personal presence on the digital medium. But like in real life, the online world of royals too, is tight-bound by certain mandates. Eugenie didn't appear to be notified about the royal restrictions on having an Instagram when she joined the photo-sharing app in 2018. And an innocuous-seeming post landed her in the soup.

"I recently got in trouble for posting a picture of Papa in a corridor of the palace that was off-limits to the public," the daughter of Prince Andrew revealed to Vogue. The Instagram photo showed Andrew, dressed in his military uniform in preparation for the annual Trooping the Colour event, standing in a private carpeted hallway inside Buckingham Palace that isn't widely publicized. The blunder was apparently not serious enough for Eugenie to be deprived of Instagram, since the image in question still remains on her feed, as of May 2023. The royal family's many official accounts are governed by the monarchy's own guidelines for digital safety that warn against abusive, spam, or discriminatory comments.