Disability Royal Commission hears teenager was left with severe disability after being given psychotropic medication

Oliver McGowan was a school prefect, played representative football and athletics and was training to become a Paralympian.

But the Royal Commission into Disability today heard how that all changed.

His mother today gave evidence about how her teenaged son, who lived with autism, focal partial epilepsy and an intellectual disability, was told by a neurologist he had full life expectancy and would eventually live independently.

But Oliver’s quality of life drastically deteriorated after he was prescribed a drug he and his parents begged doctors not to give him.

After suffering seizures in December 2015, today’s hearing was told Oliver was given psychotropic drug Olanzapine in a UK hospital, despite not having been diagnosed with psychosis or a mental illness.

Psychotropic medication refers to any drug capable of affecting the mind, emotions, or behaviour, including anti-psychotics, anti-depressants and mood stabilisers.

His mother, Paula McGowan, who now lives in Newcastle, gave evidence at the royal commission in Sydney today as it examined the use of psychotropic medication on people with disabilities.

Oliver McGowen with his parents Tom and Paula.(Supplied)

The extent of reliance on such medication and its effects on the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities will be under scrutiny throughout the hearing.

Ms McGowan told the commission the effect of the drugs on Oliver was catastrophic.

“We were told by the doctors that Oliver’s brain was so badly swollen it was bulging out the base of his skull … Oliver was now profoundly disabled,” she said.

“That beautiful smile that we saw earlier, his sense of humour … were gone forever.

A man in hospital
Oliver McGowan was given psychotropic medication after suffering seizures.(Supplied)

“The doctors told us that Oliver had no chance of recovery or return.

“Cruelly, Oliver was reassured that this would not happen, and his voice was not heard and it cost him his life.”

In November 2016, at the age of 18, Oliver died in Bristol, England, due to a combination of pneumonia and hypoxic brain injury.

Ms McGowan told the commission she hoped sharing Oliver’s story could lead to the Australian Government implementing standardised mandatory training for healthcare workers.

“It’s not fair that professionals, clinicians, are not given the education and skills required to help them and enable patients with intellectual disability and autism to have better healthcare outcomes,” Ms McGowan said.

The commission heard there were 177,000 reports of unauthorised use of chemical restraints on NDIS participants in 2019-2020.

This does not mean the use of the drug was illegal, but that it was administered without prior approval from the patient in an emergency.

Oliver’s death was covered by the UK media and sparked a review by the National Health Service.

Ms McGowan told the commission she had made ground through a campaign overseas, with the UK Government last year committing to introducing mandatory training in learning disability and autism for healthcare workers.

She is pushing for a similar program to be adopted in Australia.

“The key lessons that could be applied in Australia are awareness, training and communication,” she said.

“It’s vital that the patient is kept at the heart of all decision-making,”

The hearing continues.

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The Royal Navy Has Developed The World’s Most Advanced Torpedo

It was just over 150 years ago that British engineer Robert Whitehead developed the first effective self-propelled torpedo—and prior to that point the term “torpedo” was used to describe a variety of underwater mines and booby-traps. But beginning with the Whitehead torpedo the term now is for a self-propelled projectile that travels under or on the water.

Now the Royal Navy has announced that “the world’s most advanced torpedo is on the cusp of entering service” following extensive trials in Scotland. The upgraded “Spearfish”—the principal weapon of the UK’s submarine flotilla against enemy ships and submarines—was reportedly “fired” repeatedly at the frigate HMS Sutherland as scientists, engineers and sailors studied its performance.

The original Spearfish torpedo entered service with the Royal Navy in the 1990s, and this recent £270million upgrade ($350 million) included a new warhead, safer fuel system, and what has been described as an enhanced electronic “brain.” A team of around one hundred engineers and naval weapons experts at BAE Systems in Portsmouth spent nearly six years improving the torpedo.

The new torpedo was tested over the course of four days at special ranges near the Kyle of Lochalsh on the northwest coast of Scotland, located around fifty-five miles west-southwest of Inverness. The improved weapon was put through the paces in a number of exercises, which included testing the software and hardware enhancements. The Plymouth-based frigate, which took part in the drills, did its utmost to fend off the attacks.

The Spearfish was set to “run deep” for safety reasons, so the mock engagement was only played out on the displays on the Sutherland’s ship’s operations room.

“During the trial this week we have put our elite training into action, using a variety of underwater sensors to locate and track the weapon,” said twenty-three-year-old Able Seaman Matthew Brown from Perth, one of the underwater warfare specialists who’s been tracking Spearfish. “Having one of the most advanced and capable torpedoes in the world fired at you certainly puts the pressure on.”

A final trial of Spearfish will take place at the British Underwater Test and Evaluation Centre (BUTEC) later in 2020 before the weapon is declared operational and begins being delivered to the submarine fleet. 

Once deployed the Royal Navy has said that the improved Spearfish would break the backs of frigates, destroyers and similar-sized warships and even take out any underwater threats. The torpedo will be introduced to frontline hunter-killer and nuclear-deterrent submarines over the next three years and will be in service into the 2050s. 

Navies around the world have worked to develop more advanced torpedoes and earlier this year the U.S. Navy began testing a Very Lightweight Torpedo that was developed by Northrop Grumman; while last month it was announced that Russia had developed its Skhval, which has a reported speed of two hundred knots. Multiple nations have sought to develop “supercavitating” torpedoes that are rocket-propelled and can ride inside an air bubble. 

The technology has certainly come a long way since the rather simple Whitehead torpedo. 

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. 

Image: BAE Systems.

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Paul Keating tells royal commission HECS-style loans should fund home aged care

Former prime minister Paul Keating has laid out a HECS-style loan plan aimed at covering home care costs for elderly Australians who do not want to go into a nursing home.

Giving evidence to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety on Monday, Mr Keating said a Commonwealth-run post-paid system could reduce wait times for home care packages and ease the financial burden on families.

He likened it to the HECS loans given to university students that are only paid back once they graduate and reach an income threshold.

“The Commonwealth could then advance as loans to every aged Australian so much as to meet their needs in support services to stay at home or alternatively in care accommodation,” Mr Keating said.

“Then, upon your death — and no earlier — there would be a credit to that loan account from the estate of the deceased person.

“The Commonwealth account would then receive a credit … so we’re not forcing anyone out of their home.”

Mr Keating previously called for a scheme to help the elderly access aged care services.(ABC Central West: Melanie Pearce)

As of March this year, about 100,000 Australians were waiting for a home care package at the level to which they had been assessed, the royal commission has heard.

“These are aged people; they’re likely to die in the period.”

Mr Keating, 76, has previously called for a scheme to help Australia’s elderly access aged care services.

He was treasurer when HECS was first introduced in 1989.

Loan scheme ‘hard to sell’

Councils on the Ageing (COTA) Australia chief executive Ian Yates told the royal commission he was open to Mr Keating’s loan scheme idea.

“I think at the theoretical level it’s certainly worth exploring … the devil will always be in the detail,” Mr Yates said.

National Senior Australia chief executive John McCallum said the loan idea might be “hard to sell”.

“I think the sort of trouble we’ve had … from a consumer point of view [is] it’s a difficult one to get to understand,” Professor McCallum said.

Little link between funding and spending

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety heard residential care providers receive $12.4 billion from the Federal Government and individuals each year.

However, there are no requirements to spend that money on care.

“Residential care providers’ annual reporting requirements do not adequately reveal how that money is used or what profit or loss is made in providing residential care services,” counsel assisting the royal commission Peter Gray QC said.

A man wearing a suit stands and speaks in a court room
Peter Gray says there should be more rigorous financial reporting around care funding.(ABC News)

Home-care providers receive $2.5 billion from the Commonwealth each year but do not report how they spend it, the inquiry heard.

Mr Gray said a Department of Health survey found in 2018-19 home care providers spent enough for 15 minutes per fortnight on nursing and allied health care, even for the most needy people.

An interim report to the royal commission from accounting firm BDO found some aged care providers were delivering substandard care while increasing profits.

“There is at present no systemic means at which … particular amounts and therefore sufficient amounts of public funding intended for care is actually spent on care,” Mr Gray said.

Aged care homes hold over $30 billion in Refundable Aged Care Deposits (RADs), the royal commission heard.

The bonds are deposited to the aged care provider before someone moves into a nursing home.

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South Australian merino wether competition celebrates 10 years despite no Royal Adelaide Show

The dagwood dogs and donuts might not have been there, but the show has gone on for South Australian students who entered the 10th annual school’s merino wether competition.

Forty schools, more than 200 sheep and almost the same amount of students have competed at the Wayville Showgrounds in Adelaide this year.

It was one of the only school livestock competitions that went ahead, with most either going online or being cancelled altogether, given the Royal Adelaide Show was called off due to COVID-19.

And despite the crowds having to be a lot smaller than usual, 10 years of the competition was still celebrated.

Abi Schutz from Lucindale Area School gets her team’s wool weighed by Rod Williams.(ABC Rural: Brooke Neindorf)

Ten years of sheep on show

The school’s Merino wether competition was started as a way to showcase the industry, but also to encourage students to get more involved with sheep.

Wethers are young, castrated rams that students raise in the first half of the year and prepare for the show.

The sheep are judged on a range of areas such as weight, fleece quality and cleanliness.

They are shorn and the wool is weighed and the fleece and meat value is tallied up, where students are then rewarded for having the highest quality sheep.

A girl in a black shirt stands talking to a man in a grey shirt in a shed with sheep in the background.
Francis Andrews (right) convened the first SA School’s Merino Wether competition. Pictured with Wudinna agriculture teacher Genevieve Wright.(ABC Rural: Brooke Neindorf)

Francis Andrews was the convener of the first competition back in 2011, which saw 66 sheep entered from 15 schools.

He said many in the Merino industry saw a need for a competition similar to the led steer and led goats school competitions.

“It was instigated by the South Australian Stud Merino Breeders Association and we wanted the students continuing to help produce some of the best quality sheep coming out of SA.”

Mr Andrews said he is proud to see how much the competition has grown over the 10 years, which has included growth in the quality of the sheep.

“The first year the maximum weight [of the sheep] was 85 kilograms and today the maximum weight was 110kg,” he said.

“Also the presentation of the sheep has improved tremendously over that time … the students’ husbandry and also the preparation and presentation of the animals, is fantastic.”

About 50 school students watch a man shearing a sheep
Students from Karcultaby Area School watch on as one of their sheep is shorn. The wool is then weighed to determine its value.(ABC Rural: Brooke Neindorf)

Coordinator of the competition, Stephen Kellock, has also been involved since the start and agrees that the competition has taken big leaps forward.

He said the program’s aim, both during the school’s agricultural lessons prior to the event and also during the competition, is to get the students being really hands on.

“It’s a real practical program and the students develop their skills and hopefully increase their passion into the industry so that we can have the next generation coming through,” Mr Kellock said.

SA gets the wether ball rolling

John Daniell remembers standing in the sheep sheds 10 years ago and marvelling at the huge crowd that had gathered.

He was President of Merino SA at the time and said it was a huge learning curve being involved in the first competition.

“It was a lot of work, but it was fantastic to see the students so passionate about wanting to be involved.

“I remember the very first competition, standing there looking up into the stands that were usually empty and on that first wether day those stands were full.

“Everyone was rapt with the success of the first competition … Wal Merriman from Australian Wool Innovation was there watching that first year and he said to me ‘John, this is fantastic, we have to get this going everywhere’ … I think every Merino state in Australia now has something along these lines and it’s great to think that South Australia kicked it off.”

Two men are seen weighing sheep's wool on a scale
John Daniell (right) and Stephen Kellock (left) were both involved in the first wether competition. They are seen here weighing the wool back in 2011.(Supplied: Merino SA)

John Daniell now helps students at Karcultaby Area School, on the Eyre Peninsula, prep their sheep for the competition and said the students are always interested in how they can make their sheep better.

“They love getting in and learning and that is all we ask of them is that they are keen to learn and present a good quality sheep,” he said.

Toby Baker is a Year 9 student at Karcultaby Area School and said he was glad the wether competition was still able to go ahead. 

“Sheep are just fun to be around and there is always something new to learn,” he said.

“The judges have been great in showing us what we can improve on and we were also lucky to take home a few ribbons on the day.”

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How music is helping Royal Melbourne Hospital staff cope

At that moment, when nurses and doctors were more focussed on PPE guidelines than basslines, the hospital’s unofficial “scrub choir” was born.

In the early months of the pandemic, the group gained immediate popularity among staff and wrote a song about getting prepared for the pandemic called “Surreal” to encapsulate the movie-like reality.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital “scrub choir” sings ‘I’ll Stand by You’Credit:ROYAL MELBOURNE HOSPITAL

In the middle months of the pandemic, the choir wrote a song about the experience of living through it.

Their third original track, called “Gratitude”, is in the works and will focus on the things staff are thankful for that have helped them cope with the strict lockdown.

The video clips associated with the tracks help illustrate the radical changes to our daily lives as 2020 has progressed, said Dr O’Brien.

“It was a completely different feeling back then before the world changed … There were no masks and we were in much bigger groups,” she said.

For its most recent physically-distanced singalong, the group overwhelmingly voted to sing 1994 ballad “I’ll Stand by You” by English-American band The Pretenders.

More than 380 staff joined in to record their rendition of the song, which was then sent to Dr O’Brien and collated into one version of the tune.

Some of the filming occurred in the hospital – including through the window of the COVID-19 ward – while some staff recorded their snippet from home.

“The singing is an emotional thing,” Dr O’Brien said, adding that music therapy is being used with COVID patients in the hopsital.

“Some of them sung with a soundtrack behind them sent in from their homes … There were lots of arms going up and down and some foot-stomping.

“It was really that three of four minutes of joy that sustained people, people craved it.

“We’re celebrating the power of music and how people coped during this time.”

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Horse racing guide, Royal Randwick, All Aged Stakes, tips, odds: Mark Waugh gives his picks

Let me level with you now. I am NOT a racing guy.

But boy, do I love getting around some live action with my mates — and there’s not exactly a lot going right now thanks to coronavirus.

But racing marches on, so let’s do this thing.

Where are the meets — hell, what even is a meet? — what are the key things to look out for and, most importantly, how can you have the most fun this weekend?

Settle in with the best entertainment for the whole family. No installation. No lock-in contract. Start your Foxtel Now 10-day free trial. New customers only.

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Aged care royal commission hears number of quality checks on aged homecare providers has declined

Quality checks on aged homecare providers have declined, despite the watchdogs responsible being given at least $6.5 million to hire more assessors, a royal commission has heard.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care was shown documents that revealed 181 quality reviews of aged homecare providers were conducted from April to June 2019, but that number fell to 24 in July to September this year.

Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Gray QC told the inquiry the data showed “a remarkable reduction in the number of quality reviews, and assessment contacts in home services”.

Responsibility for quality in aged care was transferred from the Federal Department of Health to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) on January 1 this year.

The inquiry heard money from three sources was provided to increase compliance with aged homecare standards.

This included allocations of $2.4 million to hire more assessors in the 2019-20 financial year, and $4.1 million to improve monitoring of homecare services.

In its written response to the royal commission, the ACQSC said it was using the money to increase its homecare service compliance activity — but the change was progressing “more slowly than planned”.

Mr Gray asked ACQSC head Janet Anderson: “Isn’t it more the case that any program for increasing the level of compliance activity … hasn’t progressed more slowly, it’s actually gone backwards?”

“There is no doubt that we have put additional effort into the work being undertaken … in terms of a strengthened approach to understanding risk across the sector and undertaking targeted approaches to individual providers where we are concerned about the profile,” she replied.

Mr Gray pressed on: “Well, I’m not sure if I follow … hasn’t compliance activity declined since the preceding financial year?”

“I think the point you are making is valid … regulatory activity in so far as you would include quality reviews and assessment contacts, as reported, have declined,” Ms Anderson replied.

Earlier this week the inquiry heard calls for a major shift in how Australians care for the elderly.

Mr Gray said the overwhelming majority of elderly people would prefer to age in their own homes.

But by the time they turn 80, one in five will be living in residential aged care.

The commission was told that Australia has one of the highest percentages of elderly people living in institutional care of any developed country.

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Aged care royal commission hears how home care should be an urgent priority

The Royal Commission into Aged Care has heard calls for a major shift in how Australians care for the elderly.

Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Gray QC said the overwhelming majority of elderly people would prefer to age in their own homes.

But by the time they turn 80, one in five will be living in residential aged care.

The commission was told that Australia has one of the highest percentages of elderly people living in institutional care of any developed country.

“The figures … do suggest our system is distorted towards institutional care and away from community and home care,” Mr Gray said.

“There should be far more urgent efforts to prioritise home care over residential care.”

He said there will always be a place for high-quality residential care but research showed it was not generally the setting a person would choose.

The inquiry heard the COVID-19 pandemic was likely to reinforce the general preference to remain at home.

Mr Gray said the latest figures showed there have been seven deaths among nearly a million people receiving Federal-subsidised home and community care during the pandemic.

By comparison, there have been 412 deaths among the 200,000 people in residential aged care in Australia.

Over the next three days, the royal commission will examine what needs to be put in place to deliver high-quality and safe care to older people in their homes and in the community.

The inquiry heard a 2015 study found that each hour of additional home care each week, there was a 6 per cent reduction in the chance of that person every having to enter residential care.

“Home care should in this manner act as a stitch in time, preventing or at least allaying much more weighty problems for the individual and much more costly forms of care,” Mr Gray said.

The inquiry heard that while the number of people who want to be cared for in their own home is rising, many are not getting the help they need in a timely fashion.

More than half of those who have applied for home care packages for more complex needs have been waiting more than a year.

The royal commission will look at whether family members caring for elderly relatives at home and in the community could be given access to extra leave and flexible working arrangements.

As the hearing was underway, the Federal Government announced more than $70 million in extra funding to support older Australians who are temporarily moving out of residential aged care to live with their families due to concerns about COVID-19.

‘It’s a job’

Angela Finn has been caring for her 87-year-old mother, Pam, since bringing her home from residential aged care in April due to the pandemic.

Working from home has made it possible but she’s had to cut back her work hours to four days a week.

(Left to right) Pam’s grand-daughter Madeleine, daughter Angela Finn, Pam Bryce, and other daughter Liz Carrasco.(ABC News: Ursula Malone)

“That’s been a financial loss but we’re wearing it because caring for mum is just like having a child, it’s a job,” she said.

She said having access to extended leave and flexible hours would make a big difference.

“That would be so beneficial because people wouldn’t have to sacrifice financially,” she said.

Ms Finn said in between work and caring for her mother, it was hard to find the time to research what services are available.

“There’s so much out there, it’s so hard to navigate,” she said.

“Extra leave would have been good so I could have accessed the services quicker.”

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What her voting plea tells us about the royal women before her

Royals, apparently, shouldn’t get involved with politics (although let’s remember Meghan has a social justice warrior for a father-in-law). Or so claims British personality Piers Morgan and various low level local councillors who stomped their feet. A few others got increasingly worked up.

Turns out Meghan is doing exactly what the Queen did before her! In 2003, she said she was disappointed at the low turn out in the Welsh elections. Talk about interfering in the political process.

“It is vital to the health both of the United Kingdom and of Wales that our democratic institutions flourish and adapt,” she said.

I asked an expert on whether, when and how Royals can get involved with politics. Monash University’s professor emerita Jenny Hocking has spent the last 10 years trying to get access to what’s been dubbed the Palace Letters, the letters between the Queen and her representative in Australia, the then governor-general Sir John Kerr, during the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975. She’s all over the propriety or otherwise of when Royals go too far. Her verdict?

“It’s not of the order of things you might be concerned about. It’s faux outrage,” says Hocking.

The real problem is when Royals act in a political matter tied much more closely to specific party interests. Meghan’s comments were a call to civic duty, says Hocking.

“And I do stress it is a very different situation from a current monarch through their private secretary or themselves actively engaging with politics in secret.”

It is small p politics, much like the political causes Princess Diana espoused while she was still alive, particularly the movement to free the world of landmines the most prominent. Her support of these causes marked the beginning of her freedom from all the Royal rules, her way out of the prison.

Jane Connors is a specialist in royal tours of Australia and remembers seeing Diana in Australia in the eighties. She sees Meghan as a clear progression from Diana.

“Diana became the mistress of the gesture but she didn’t say much,” says Connors. Still it was a shift from the Queen herself who barely said anything of any real interest for decades.

Now the princesses, or princess equivalents, are more likely to pick carefully considered causes. Mental health. Nutrition. As Connors says, the Cambridges, Kate and Will, have gone down that route.

“Meghan knows the impact of everything she says and there is no naivety about it. We have seen the transition from never speaking to the carefully calibrated actions to speaking out on causes.”

And how has that been allowed to happen?

If we were reading children’s books, we would have seen this foretold. Princesses are no longer objects of beauty. They are out there, trying to live their best lives instead of being trapped in corsets and glass slippers. Not nearly as comfortable as Adidas Stan Smith trainers. Princesses are doing it for themselves.

Rosemary Johnston, professor emerita of education and culture at the University of Technology Sydney, says the modern day princess “has much more agency, much more power.

“But sometimes the corollary is that the prince is a wimp. He’s not the huge powerful lover boy he used to be.”


Not Harry though. He’s much more his own man, alongside a duchess who is much more her own woman. And nary a leak since they left the Firm. Good work, Team Sussex.

Jane Connors says the criticism of Meghan is bizarre. “None of these people articulate what a princess should do or be, they just know it is not her.”

They could not be more wrong. This is one royal who plans to speak out for good. And about time.

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why Marion Crawford was the first royal outsider

So how did this progressive young woman end up teaching two princesses in palaces from Buckingham to Balmoral? It was the first thing I wondered after her memoir, The Little Princesses, tumbled from a shelf in a second-hand bookshop one rainy day. The second thing I pondered, having skimmed through her amazing account of the Queen’s childhood, was how soon could I turn it into a novel. The Governess, out this week, is that book, based on Marion Crawford’s years at the heart of royalty.

She entered their service reluctantly. In 1932, the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth, then the Queen Mother) was visiting her sister, Lady Rose Leveson-Gower, at Edinburgh’s Rosyth docks. A young trainee teacher, Marion Crawford, had been hired by Lady Rose to teach her daughter in the holidays.

Zooming in on the lively 22-year-old, the Duchess decided Marion was just the ticket for her own girls. She turned her famous charm up to 11 and persuaded the doubtful student to come south for a trial month “to see if you like us and we like you”.

Marion was certain she would not. Arriving, exhausted from the train, to be told that six-year-old Princess Elizabeth was waiting up for her did not help. But that first encounter – a joy to fictionalise – was love at first sight for both.

She might have left the slums behind, but Marion brought her liberal ideas to the royal household. She immediately set about changing things, first and foremost introducing some fun. Her boisterous sessions of hide and seek and hopscotch with her young charges exasperated Mrs Knight, the territorial nanny, who had never before allowed the girls off the garden path.

The new governess thought the monarchy old fashioned and too remote from everyday life. Determined to show her royal pupils how normal people lived, “Crawfie” as the Princesses dubbed her, took them out of the palace gates and on Tube trains. Shopping trips to Woolworth’s followed (the girls loved collecting china animals) and swimming in public baths.

Later, she provided stability in a rapidly changing world. Crawfie’s service coincided with some of the most seismic events of modern history; the abdication, the unexpected coronation of George VI and the Second World War, during which she sheltered with the Princesses in Windsor Castle’s dungeons as the Luftwaffe roared overhead.

Seeing these events through the eyes of the royal children is what makes Crawfie’s story unique. In writing my book, I was able to draw on her fascinating insights, such as Princess Elizabeth exhibiting signs of what could be called obsessive compulsion today. At night she would only go to bed after grooming and “feeding” more than 30 separate toy horses. She would set her brogues just so, laces ruler-straight, and even get out of bed in the night to check their position. It’s a touching glimpse of our composed monarch as a vulnerable girl, desperate to impose order on a world beyond her control. Her knowledge of psychology meant Crawfie understood this, but there was little reciprocal empathy. As her youth drained away, and with it her chance of romance and a family of her own, she attempted several times to leave. But she was rebuffed by her royal employers.

When she finally left in 1949 it was to marry a bad hat, George Buthlay, a Scottish bank manager. It was he who encouraged her to write The Little Princesses, a memoir taking the reader into the Windsors’ private world.

The royals were furious, seeing it as a heinous betrayal. Queen Elizabeth (as the Duchess of York had become) declared that the governess had “gone off her head”. Neither she nor her daughters, the girls to whom Crawfie had been so devoted for so long, ever spoke to her again.

Was this fair? Marion had been discreet and loyal servant for 17 years. No doubt her brutal ostracism was intended to discourage other Palace associates from doing the same thing. In a world where non-disclosure agreements were as yet undreamed of, she had broken the royal employees’ code of silence.

And yet. One of her story’s many complicating factors is that what ended with Crawfie’s lid-lifter had started with the royals themselves. The war was only recently over and the PR-savvy Queen wanted articles about Princess Elizabeth, now heir to the throne, to appear in the American press. The idea was to strengthen bilateral post-war relations and a courtier was selected to write the pieces.


George Buthlay felt that his wife, who knew the Princess better than anyone, should write them. But the idea was rejected and Crawfie shelved the project. Her husband, however, had different ideas. Together with a pair of American magazine editors, he manipulated the former governess into penning her own account. In 1950 The Little Princesses was serialised in the US magazine the Ladies’ Home Journal and Woman’s Own in Britain; both saw their circulation hit the stratosphere. The book that followed was a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.

All this meant little to Crawfie. For her, it was a personal disaster. She was cast into the darkness by the family for whom she had sacrificed so much. And as a deterrent, it was futile anyway. Invasions of royal privacy, sometimes by the royals themselves, have been non-stop ever since.

It is hard to see what so outraged the Windsors. By the standards of the modern royal exposé, Crawfie’s memoir is loving and respectful. Apart from the odd sisterly spat with yells of “brute!” and “beast!”, the picture painted of the home life of “We Four”, as George VI called his wife and daughters, is idyllic.

But the Windsors have long memories, they hold grudges hard. Fleeing to Aberdeen after her book came out, Crawfie bought a house on the route to Balmoral in the vain hope the royals would one day forgive her.

This seemed to me such a tragic detail and when writing The Governess the idea of the old lady at the window, year after year, so caught my imagination that I made it the opening chapter.

When she died in 1988, not a single royal flower appeared at her funeral. Yet her final loyal act was to leave, in her will, a box of letters from her former royal charges. Bound in faded ribbon, these fond notes, cards and letters from two princesses to their devoted teacher could have been sold any time for huge amounts.

But Crawfie left them to her beloved Lilibet and they are now buried in the Royal archives. Much as Crawfie’s own story was, for 70 years, before it came tumbling from that bookshop shelf to my feet.


Yet, even at this late stage, there could be signs that the Queen might be revisiting the matter. Among the material recently released to mark her 94th birthday were a few seconds of unseen footage showing Crawfie and the Princesses performing The Lambeth Walk. Royal memories may be long, but royal hearts perhaps can soften. Perhaps that’s what Meghan and Harry are banking on.

The Governess by Wendy Holden (Allen & Unwin, $39.99).

The Telegraph, London

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