Jason Knauf was a trusted adviser to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, and their former communications secretary when he sent an email accusing her of bullying staff members. The email, sent in 2018, was leaked just days before the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would appear on air speaking about the royal family with Oprah Winfrey.
Knauf is a Texas native who held several prestigious positions within the Royal Family in Britain and also served under the New Zealand Prime Minister. He still works for Kensington Palace.
Markle and Prince Harry will speak to Oprah Winfrey in a highly anticipated two-hour interview, which airs on CBS at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 7, 2021. The couple has denied the bullying claims and described the leak as being part of a “smear campaign.” Markle told Oprah her time in the royal family was “almost unsurvivable.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Knauf Resigned From His Post After Reporting Bullying & Now Works Within Kensington Palace
Knauf joined Kensington Palace in 2015, where he was considered to be a trusted adviser. He worked as the Communications Secretary to The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex from February 2015 until March 2019, then served as Senior Adviser to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton, where he remains today, according to his LinkedIn page.
Knauf attended and helped coordinate the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in 2018, before taking on the position as her senior adviser. However, just two months later, he sent an email that would later surface to cause a firestorm. The Times of London reported Knauf sent an email to Simon Case, Prince William’s private secretary. The email claimed Markle was “bullying” junior staffers.
“I am very concerned that the Duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year,” he wrote.
The Times reported he first raised concerns to Samantha Carruthers, the head of human resources.
The email continued, “The Duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. She is bullying Y [name removed] and seeking to undermine her confidence.
“I remain concerned that nothing will be done,” he added.
Buckingham Palace announced within 24 hours of the report that they would launch an investigation and conduct interviews of past and present staff members. Meanwhile, Prince Harry and Meghan have vehemently denied the accusation and insist that the leak was an attempt to undermine her credibility before she is expected to shine light on the royal family through primetime television.
Knauf resigned as the couple’s adviser one month after the report. He took a new position within Kensington Palace in March 2020, and became the chief executive of the Cambridges’ Royal Foundation.
2. Knauf Is a Texas Native & His Grandmother Was Mistaken for the Queen of England When She Visited Him at the Palace
Knauf’s hometown is in Texas, and he once told his mother he wanted to become the President of the United States. As a young person, he was shaken by the death of Princess Diana and determined that he would use the media as a way to change the word, The Courier of Montgomery County reported in a 2018 profile of the Texas native.
“He has been focused on how he can make a difference in world,” his mom, Joanne Knauf, told the newspaper. “He was really shocked when [the late Princess] Diana died. He always said media needed controlling and I think he is in a position now to make a difference.”
“I always told the kids they can be whatever they want to be, they just can’t be the King of England, I think he got as close as you can get,” she added. “It’s quite incredible, a pinch-able moment as a parent, and he handles it with grace. It’s about all you can ask as a parent, really.”
He was born in Huntsville, Texas and soon moved to Conroe, Texas. When he was 5, he moved to Virginia. He later attended the University of Pittsburgh and then moved to New Zealand to continue his studies. He earned degrees in political science and international relations at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, then completed a master’s degree in politics and communication at the London School of Economics, according to his LinkedIn page. In New Zealand he worked as a press officer at HM Treasury, then went on to secure a position as a speechwriter to New Zealand’s deputy prime minister Michael Cullen. He started his career in 2004 as a media advisor to Steve Maharey, who was New Zealand’s minister for social development at the time.
After that, he worked as an adviser to then New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark before moving on to become the Royal Bank of Scotland’s public relations chief. His work with the royal family began in 2015 at the time of the birth of Kate Middleton’s second child. He managed the media arrangements outside of St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington when the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth, the Courier reported.
His family is known in his hometown. Knauf’s has two brothers who remain in Texas. At the time of the article, John Townsend was the owner of a construction company and and Andrew Knauf was the Houston fire captain.
Wanda Maddux, Knauf’s grandmother, paid a visit to him in London when he was arranging tours at Windsor Castle, Kensington and Buckingham Palaces. Tourists spotted him pushing the woman in a wheelchair, and mistook her.
“They thought she was the queen, it was quite hysterical, she was queen for a day,” Joanne Knauf told the newspaper.
3. Knauf Was Trusted By Markle & Assisted in the Writing of a Private Letter to Her Dad, Thomas Markle, & the Letter Is Now the Center of Another Scandal
Knauf was allowed a position of extreme trust within the household of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Shortly after the 2018 royal wedding, Markle drafted a letter to her father, Thomas Markle, which said her heart was “broken in a million pieces” after he reportedly issued statements to tabloids without speaking to her. She wrote that she learned in tabloids her dad had a heart attack. Prince Harry’s father, Prince Charles, walked Meghan down the aisle.
Markle filed a lawsuit after the private letter was printed on the front page of tabloids. The High Court in London ruled February 11, 2021 that the Mail on Sunday and the MailOnline breached her privacy in February 2019 by printing elements of the five-page letter. Associated Papers is required to print an apology on the front page and issue a longer “notice” inside, PEOPLE reported.
Knauf assisted Markle in writing the letter, and “contributed” to its content, PEOPLE wrote. Page Six also reported she asked for Knauf’s feedback on the letter before she sent it to her dad.
4. Knauf Previously Defended Markle Publicly, Releasing a Statement to Say She Was at the Center of a ‘Smear Campaign’
The media storm surrounding Markle has preceded her marriage to Prince Harry, and prompted a fiery statement from the prince before their announcement was even made public. The person to issue the statement in defense of Markle was Knauf.
“Some of this has been very public—the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments,” the statement said.
The statement was an unprecedented move from the palace, Joe Little, editor of Majesty magazine told Page Six.
“It’s a very unusual step, I can’t think of a precedent for it in recent years,” he said. “Some would regard this is something he should put up with, but that’s not in his nature.”
5. Knauf Started His Duties With the Royal Family on a Mental Health Campaign & Now Holds a Similar Position
Knauf’s duties with the royal family have come full circle. One of his first duties after joining Kensington Palace was working with Prince William, Kate Middleton and Prince Harry on the Heads Together campaign, which focuses on mental health. Today, he is the chief executive of The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton, according to his LinkedIn page. The Royal Foundation is a charitable organization focused on mental health.
He issued a statement when he accepted the position in March 2020, printed by Stuff in New Zealand.
“I feel incredibly lucky to have started my career alongside great political leaders,” he said. “One highlight was working with Michael Cullen as he transformed the Treaty of Waitangi settlements process and made historic decisions such as buying back the railways.”