As the Duke and Duchess settle into their married lives with the Royal Family, they are building a small network of staff and advisers to help them navigate work, security and looming parenthood.
That trusted circle has suffered a setback, it has emerged, as their personal protection officer departs.
The female bodyguard, who was by the Duchess’ side through her high-profile tour of Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand in the autumn, has left the Kensington Palace team after around six months.
She is understood to be leaving the Metropolitan Police for reasons unconnected to the Duke and Duchess or their household, and is said to remain highly regarded by colleagues.
The senior personal protection officer, who is not being named for security reasons, had been a prominent part of the Sussex’s security service as the only woman accompanying them on public engagements.
While the officer is understood to be leaving the Royal Household on good terms, described as “brilliant” by colleagues, her departure will be seized upon by royal-watchers as the latest in a small list of blows for the Duchess of Sussex’s team.
The loss of the senior personal protection officer follows the departure of Melissa Touabti, the Duchess’ personal assistant who had previously worked for celebrities including Robbie Williams and left the palace last year after around six months.
Samantha Cohen, the couple’s experienced private secretary who previously worked for the Queen, is expected to leave in late 2019 or 2020, having agreed to work for them on a temporary basis until the position could be permanently filled.
The protection officer, who has the rank of inspector, is reported to have joined the Duke and Duchess in the summer, replacing Prince Harry’s former head of security, Sergeant Bill Renshaw, who retired after 31 years service in the police force.
The Sunday Times reported that she had been working with the Duke and Duchess on enhanced security arrangements at their future home of Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor Castle estate, but had recently handed in her resignation to the Met.
She first came to public attention during the Sussex’s tour “Down Under” in the autumn, drawing comment for wearing heels as she fitted in seamlessly with the Duke and Duchess’ largely female staff.
At the time, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police did not identify the officer, but confirmed “there are a number of female officers working within the Royalty and Specialist Protection Command, including an inspector currently working in Australia”.
“As these officers are by their principal’s side 24 hours a day, it is always preferential to have a woman on the team,” a source told a newspaper.
“There are some things that a MRF [Member of the Royal Family] just feels more comfortable doing with a woman at her side. But to have a woman in charge of the team is pretty much unheard of.”
Both the Duchess of Cambridge and Duchess of Cornwall also have a female officer to support them.
The Sussex’s senior officer was present during a difficult moment in Suva, Fiji, in which the Duchess left an indoor marketplace early amid “crowd maintenance issues”.
After greeting female entrepreneurs in busy and humid conditions, the Duchess was seen to speak to an aide before her head of protection guided her into a car to depart.
The change in personnel comes at a busy time for the Duke and Duchess, who are expecting their first child in the spring and are overseeing renovations at Frogmore Cottage.
On Monday, they will both visit Birkenhead to carry out their first joint engagement of the year, visiting Tomorrow’s Women Wirral, an organisation that supports women in vulnerable circumstances, and the Hive, Wirral Youth Zone.
They will also undertake a walkabout, in which protection officers will keep a close but discreet eye on the expected thousands of people hoping to catch a glimpse of them.
On Wednesday, the Duchess will be seen twice in one day: at animal welfare charity the Mayhew in the daytime, and at a glamorous evening performance from Cirque Du Soleil to raise money for Sentebale in the evening.
A spokesman for the Met Police declined to comment.