Palace Papers exposes Megxit, bratty princes and loveless marriages

With Diana, Brown is everywhere alive to the contradictions. Diana might have disclosed that she hoped former lover James Hewitt’s “cock shrivels up” but she in fact urged him to collaborate with Anna Pasternak for her book Princess in Love just as Nicholas Coleridge, the former head of Condé Nast, confirms that it was Diana who tipped off the paparazzi that she was supposedly oppressed by.

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Brown tells the story of how she sat with vogue editor Anna Wintour listening to Diana tell the story of her tragic marriage to Charles “with an irresistible soulful intimacy that sucked us in” and then switched to a very canny and sophisticated account of how she was going to use her celebrity to push her causes. Brown has an empathetic relationship to the glitter and glamor of a figure like Diana partly because she has an instinctive reverence for worldly success and the long trail of vast fame as values ​​in themselves.

The paradox of this is that she is hyper-conscious of how much Diana “loved to dance with danger” – how she would come very close to causing a fatal accident in a car as she flirted with the press and how the ultimate accident which killed her would never have happened if an expert and sober driver of limousines had been at the wheel.

She was not destroyed by the press – at least not without partaking of the deadly pas de deux – though this is the myth she bequeathed to William and Harry. We hear the story of the lunch with Piers Morgan where Diana says he can ask anything and William, a boy of 13, says he wants a glass of wine, is told he can’t have one, and then does anyway.

The difficulty with The Palace Papers is that the latter part of the book is less good, largely one suspects because there is a lot less information. We’re conscious with the old-timers of Prince Charles’ capacity for self-pity. Camilla comes across as a formidable, kindly woman who has a low tolerance of his pretensions and is forever saying, “Charles, let me pour the gin and tonic,” when he’s asking some servant to. And they have been in love for a long time and laugh and dance together in a way that does warm the heart.

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The Princes, though, are a different proposition. Brown gives a detailed account of how Kate Middleton and William got together and in the absence of much intimate information she pushes the line that the young woman from a middle-class background was always on the make. With what verges on literary pretentiousness she says: “A Trollopian longing for social validation and an irrepressible desire to marry up cannot be overestimated even if it bubbled serenely below the surface.” Earlier there’s a moment when William declares, “All the fun has gone. I don’t want to be nailed down”, but these are slim pickings with this pretty happy union.

She has more color to conjure with Meghan and Harry. We hear how her passion to hit the floor running filled the Palace with dread. Her vision of herself as a global celebrity pushing enlightened causes makes an old Palace hand say that Meghan is “very strong, very motivated, brought up to think she can change the world. It’s a very American type; we don’t have them here.”

Brown says that Harry has no conception of the fact that he’s famous only because he’s a prince, not because of his personal qualities, and that the interview with Oprah Winfrey was disingenuous. Harry and Meghan did not get what they wanted from the House of Windsor. They’re off on a frolic of their own with their Netflix deals but without the duties or the financial backing of functional members of the royal family. The Queen made a sharp distinction between being a loving grandmother and her steely resolve as a sovereign.

At the end of the day, she will always opt for the Crown. Brown’s one warning note is about the seemingly utterly safe Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge. “In the unlikely event that the Cambridge marriage ever becomes troubled, the whole Windsor House of Cards could come tumbling down.”

The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor – the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown is published by Century, Penguin Random House, $35.00.

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