Inside the Secret Life of Royal Nannies

Behind every young royal is a hardworking nanny, whose duties go far beyond laundry and diaper changes

Queen Elizabeth
Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty
01 of 05

Olga Powell

Queen Elizabeth
Prince William, Princess Diana, Prince Harry and Olga Powell. Tim Graham Photo Library/Getty

Olga Powell joined the royal family when Prince William was 6 months old and became a beloved figure for both Prince William and Prince Harry until her death in 2012 at age 82. "I have a very normal relationship with them," Powell told the Hertfordshire Mercury ahead of William's 2011 wedding to Kate Middleton.

Despite their extraordinary birthright, "their parents wanted them to have as ordinary a childhood as they could," she said. "If they saw a muddy puddle, they wanted to jump in it, and if there was something to climb, they wanted to climb it."

Yet Powell was far more than a nanny: She helped support the brothers during Charles and Diana's divorce and comforted them after Diana's death in 1997. On the day of Powell's funeral, William canceled four high-profile engagements to attend her service. (Harry was serving in Afghanistan.) In a touching reminder of her close relationship with the brothers, she requested that mourners make donations to Harry's charity Sentebale.

02 of 05

Barbara Barnes

Queen Elizabeth
Barbara Barnes. David Levenson/Getty

Barbara Barnes cared for Prince William from birth until the age of 4, becoming something of a surrogate mother to him as well as toddler Harry. "She was an old-fashioned nanny in the sense that her prime concern, although she would never admit it, was the heir to the throne," ex-royal staffer Wendy Berry wrote in her 1995 memoir The Housekeeper's Diary. Still, both William and Harry "adored her," said Berry.

"Baba," as the princes called her, would not be in the brothers' lives for long. Her belief that royal children should be raised differently from other kids led to clashes with Diana, who wanted her sons brought up as normally as possible. "So far as the boys were concerned, she just vanished into thin air," Robert Lacey wrote in Battle of Brothers about her reported sudden dismissal in January 1987, adding that Barnes "was forbidden even to send them a postcard."

03 of 05

Alexandra "Tiggy" Pettifer

royal nanny Alexandra "Tiggy" Pettifer
Alexandra "Tiggy" Pettifer. ALPHA PRESS

Alexandra Pettifer (known as Tiggy Legge-Bourke before taking her husband's surname) had a family history with the royals before being hired as a nanny for Prince William and Prince Harry in 1993: her mother had been a lady-in-waiting to Princess Anne.

She approached the role of nanny with enthusiasm, encouraging the princes to enjoy the traditional royal pursuits of hunting, fishing and shooting and regularly joining them on vacation.

Like Olga Powell, Pettifer later played a key role in the brothers' lives following their mother's death and has remained close since. Both princes attended her 1999 wedding to security consultant Charles Pettifer, and she was a guest at Harry's 2018 wedding to Meghan Markle.

Yet her ties to the royal family have also brought unwanted attention. In early 2021, it was revealed that disgraced former BBC reporter Martin Bashir had produced a fake receipt allegedly showing that Prince Charles had paid for Pettifer to have an abortion—a ploy to feed Diana's paranoia that Pettifer and Charles were having an affair. (The claim was unfounded.)

04 of 05

Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo

Queen Elizabeth
Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo. Chris Jackson/Getty

The Spanish-born nanny joined William and Kate in 2014 when Prince George was 8 months old and has been a Kensington Palace fixture ever since. "Maria loves the children dearly," says a source. "She can be firm and strict, but she is very loving and soft with them too."

Turrion Borrallo trained at the prestigious Norland College in Bath, England, where nannies are taught everything from child brain development to first aid to evasive driving techniques. Above all, Turrion Borrallo possesses the key skill of a modern royal nanny: the ability to always be present when needed but never to overstep. "In the past, royal nannies were employed almost entirely on the basis of referrals from the extended royal family and British aristocracy," says Carolyn Harris, author of Raising Royalty. "Today, royal nannies need to strike a delicate balance between providing care and emotional support for their charge while not being seen to interfere with the decision-making of royal parents."

05 of 05

Marion Crawford

Queen Elizabeth
Marion Crawford. Historia/Shutterstock

Marion Crawford became governess to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in 1932, when the young royals were ages 6 and 2. "Crawfie," as they called her, remained a close companion for the next 16 years, helping to guide the sisters through the abdication of their uncle Edward VIII, the 1937 coronation of their father George VI and the horrors of World War II. But the tight bond ended the moment she published a remarkable memoir about her life with the royals called The Little Princesses in 1950. "She betrayed them," says Adrian Tinniswood, author of Behind the Throne: A Domestic History of the Royal Household. "A lot of the detail is quite innocuous by our standards, but she speculates about whether George VI was disappointed because he didn't have a son. And she says that George never showed affection. Those kinds of things are what [caused the rift]. It was a deep sense of betrayal, certainly on the part of the Queen Mother."

Crawford was never forgiven, and neither the Queen or Princess Margaret ever spoke to her again. "She went back up to Scotland, and when she died, the royal family didn't send a wreath to her funeral," says Tinniswood. "It's a given that you don't tell—and they never, ever forgave her for it."

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