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Prince William’s effort to showcase a new royal family in Boston has been distracted by the old one back in London

As he was flying across the Atlantic, the future king had to renounce not his throne but his godmother.

Buckingham PalaceAlberto Pezzali/Associated Press

You’re Prince William. You are the future of a royal family firmly rooted in the past.

Your grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, has just died. Your father, King Charles III, is on the throne, which one day will be yours.

After an appropriate period of mourning — of grandmama’s death, not papa’s yet-to-be-held coronation — you and your wife headed to the United States for the first time as the Prince and Princess of Wales.

You flew to Boston, on a commercial British Airways flight, no less, to spread the news of a streamlined, modern, less stodgy monarchy, one in touch with young people and issues like climate change, a monarchy firmly rooted in the future not the past.

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But somewhere over the Atlantic, you learned that the old, tone-deaf past had roared back with a vengeance, in the form of your dear aul’ godmama.

William was reportedly on the plane when he authorized a statement renouncing the actions of his own godmother, the queen’s lady-in-waiting Lady Susan Hussey.

According to Ngozi Fulani, founder of the advocacy group Sistah Space in the London borough of Hackney, Lady Susan was anything but a lady at a Buckingham Palace reception on Tuesday recognizing those working against gender-based violence.

Fulani said the 83-year-old Lady Susan, without asking permission, moved Fulani’s braided hair aside so she could read Fulani’s name tag, and immediately assumed she was African. Fulani, who is Black, speaks with a distinct English accent, and deemed Lady Susan’s treatment of her racist, recounted the conversation on Twitter.

Lady Susan: Where are you from?

Fulani: Sistah Space.

Lady Susan: No, where do you come from?

Fulani: We’re based in Hackney.

Lady Susan: No, what part of Africa are you from?

It didn’t get much better from there. When Fulani told Lady Susan she was British, Lady Susan didn’t believe her.

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“I am born here and am British,” the exasperated Fulani repeated.

“No, but where do you really come from?” Lady Susan replied. “Where do your people come from?”

While, as Lady Susan proved, it can be dangerous to make assumptions, it is relatively safe to assume that, by Lady Susan’s standards, unless your ancestors were rolling around in the muck while the king’s armies were lopping off heads in the Middle Ages, you’re not really, actually British.

Not exactly the image the Palace wants to be promoting to the rest of the world, especially to the former colonies.

And hardly the distraction that Prince William wanted just as he landed in Boston.

After the story broke, Lady Susan quickly apologized and resigned from her functionary role at Buckingham Palace, while a spokesman for Prince William issued a statement: “Racism has no place in our society, these comments were unacceptable and it is right that the person concerned has stepped down.”

The person concerned? In the blink of an eye, Lady Susan went from being a treasured member of the royal household to the Crazy Old Godmother Who Shall Not Be Named.

Lady Susan, widow of former BBC chairman Sir Marmaduke Hussey, is part of a British establishment in decline if not retreat. She is close to the king, and her daughter was recently appointed as an aide to the queen consort, Camilla.

She was good friends not only with Queen Elizabeth, but with the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, who had a way of regularly embarrassing Buckingham Palace by saying offensive things.

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During a visit to the Cayman Islands, Philip asked the locals, “Aren’t most of you descended from pirates?”

In Australia, he asked an Aboriginal leader, “Do you still throw spears at each other?”

In an encounter that foreshadowed Lady Susan’s bigoted assumptions, Prince Philip once asked Lord Taylor, a Tory politician who is Black, “And what exotic part of the world do you come from?” Without missing a beat, Lord Taylor replied, “Birmingham.”

It was, perhaps, a different time, and Prince Philip was able to carry on. Alas, for Lady Susan, times have changed.

For Prince William, they can’t change fast enough.


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.