"I hear what you're saying," replied Fellowes. "But it's a curious business, the flag at Buckingham Palace. There are certain things, you know, that I can deliver straight away. But I'm not sure it's going to be as easy as it looks, even if it's right, to please the public on this one."
Fellowes rang Balmoral to pass on Downing Street's concerns to his deputy Sir Robin Janvrin, who was running the private secretary's office there, and also to the queen. But the private secretary did not argue Campbell's case very strongly.
"The alarm bells," as one participant put it, "did not jangle."
Sir Robert Fellowes, today Baron Fellowes of Shotesham in the county of Norfolk, was a royal retainer who was the son of a royal retainer. His father, the bluff Sir Billy Fellowes, had run the royal estate at Sandringham and had been a shooting companion of the queen's father, King George VI. In his time as private secretary, Fellowes had overseen some important changes in the monarchy, and there was a mildly subversive twinkle behind his horn-rimmed spectacles.
"We don't have protocol here," he liked to say when talking of palace etiquette " — just bloody good manners."
But Fellowes had breathed tradition all his life. It was a key element in his job as private secretary, and protocol had always provided a sure fall-back in times of difficulty.
Elizabeth II felt the same only more so. For the queen, tradition and protocol represented something greater than oneself — deep values approaching the sacred. It could be compared to how non-royal people feel at their children's Christmas carol concert or when the bugle sounds on Remembrance Day — the tingle of nobler things. It is easy to smile condescendingly at the scarlet-tunicked and bearskin-clad Guards parading formally outside Buckingham Palace until, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on New York, these very British soldiers stand to attention while their band plays "The Star Spangled Banner."
Tradition is one of the cornerstones of the royal mystery. The most troublesome time in the otherwise tranquil childhood of the young Princess Elizabeth had been when she was just ten, when her sparky and original Uncle David had ascended to the throne as Edward VIII. Shrugging his shoulders at precedent, he had spent a hectic year insouciantly overturning tradition in his quest to make the monarchy modern, and it had ended in tears. The abdication crisis of 1936 was the darkest moment in her family's recent history.
If Prince Charles, and not his ex-wife, had died in a car crash the previous Sunday, the queen would not now be flying the Union Jack at half-mast over Buckingham Palace. She had not done it for her beloved father, George VI — and it would not happen for the queen mother, who, despite all her personal popularity, had always understood how the institution of monarchy ultimately transcended the individual.
A personally modest spirit, the queen would certainly not expect such a gesture for herself. So why should tradition be overturned for a young woman who, Uncle David-like, had put herself before the family and had come to be the focus of such bitter and divisive trouble?
Elizabeth II had been one of the first in the family to fall out of love with Diana.
"The Queen is a very good judge of character," says one of her staff. "She was very quick in 'sussing' the less fortunate sides of the princess's personality."