The Palace Papers

From The Wall Street Journal:

One of these days, barring a revolution, the barely United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will acquire a new monarch. After decades in waiting, the present Prince of Wales will become Charles III, a king as unlikely to lose his head (see Charles I) as he is to be nicknamed the Merry Monarch (see Charles II), for here is a man who eats what his family calls “birdseed” for breakfast and is prone to gloomy reflections. Some of which may be explained by the crude fact that “only the monarch’s firstborn wakes up every morning knowing that to advance to the ultimate prize, all he has to do is stay alive.”

Which is hardly a nice thing to have pointed out to one. But then Tina Brown, the writer making the comment in her new royal potboiler, is not, in that sense, nice. A sharpshooting journalist rightly admired for her stylistic accuracy and flair, Ms. Brown has several trophies to her credit including the past editorships of Tatler, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. Her previous targets include the late Princess Diana, whom she sympathetically dissected in her 2007 volume “The Diana Chronicles.” Ten years later, Ms. Brown broadened her range with “The Vanity Fair Diaries,” which conjured up the “Crazy Eighties” in all their tawdriness and which also charted the author’s ascent in Manhattan, where every putdown she received was lobbed back as a challenge. “When [Robert] Gottlieb tells her that as an English person she could never understand The New Yorker,” one reviewer wrote, referring to that magazine’s earlier editor, “we know exactly where she’s headed.”

And now it’s back to Buckingham Palace, where, my goodness, that family has been through the wringer. Though the weddings, at least, went well. True, Charles and Camilla’s had to be postponed when John Paul II died (“not just any pope,” Ms. Brown points out), and the ceremony then clashed with the Grand National steeplechase (which the Queen managed to sneak off to watch). Meghan and Harry’s day was fine; no embarrassing relatives showed up though some of the famous guests were strangers. (When asked how they knew Meghan, the Clooneys replied, “We don’t.”) But the worst was yet to come: Megxit! Andrew! And the worst has always brought out the best in Ms. Brown, whose latest book, “The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor—the Truth and the Turmoil” finds her eager as ever to rummage in the royal laundry basket.

The result of Ms. Brown’s research is a handsome volume—enriched by footnotes and telling photographs—that spans 25 years of a monarchy afflicted by recurring bouts of silliness and sleaze. The players are, of course, familiar: Elizabeth and Philip, Charles and Diana, Charles and Camilla, William and Kate, Harry and Meghan, Andrew and Fergie, Andrew and, ahem, other people. Their dramas unfold in chapters with titles such as “Sex and Sensibility,” “Privacy and Prejudice.” And if some of the revelations are inevitably a little stale, all are richly seasoned. Indeed, when it comes to pithy asides, Ms. Brown can be positively Wildean. She notes, for example, that Camilla “left school with one O Level, a good address book, and the ability to fence,” and that Charles, while married to Diana, “followed the traditions of upper-class adultery by pausing while the breeding was done.” She reminds us that “until he lost his hair, Prince William was probably the biggest heartthrob to be heir to the throne since the pre-obese Henry VIII,” and mercilessly depicts Andrew’s “guffawing, boob-ogling pickup style.”

. . . .

The Queen, we are reminded, does not collaborate, grant interviews or explain herself. The Queen simply is. “I have to be seen to be believed,” she reportedly pointed out when an adviser suggested cutting back on appearances. And while the most intimate glimpses here are those of a monarch squelching happily across Balmoral in her Wellies or scrutinizing her heating bills, the complete portrait is one of a shrewd and diligent manager. In 2019, for example, with the Meghan/Harry psychodrama still feeding a tabloid frenzy, the Queen, preparing to deliver her televised Christmas speech, indicated a snapshot of them on her desk and said, “I suppose we don’t need that one.” Heads still roll, just a little more gently these days.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)