The Palace Papers by Tina Brown

Review by Elaine Simpson-Long

I recently reviewed a biography of the Queen by Robert Hardman (reviewed here) which I described as an “admirable book” in its lack of hyperbole and gossip.  The Palace Papers could not be more different, but I found it compulsive reading.  And while I was reading a quote from a Kipling poem came into my mind:

For the Colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady are sisters under the skin

I am always puzzled at the way in which we still expect the Royal Family to be better behaved and better all-round human beings than us – because we do.  In The Palace Papers, Tina Brown has shown us quite clearly that the House of Windsor is not so different in behaviour and folly. Feuds, adultery, inter sibling rivalry, jealousy – it is all there. Are we any different? The Prince of Wales, when asked how he thought the public viewed them answered, “as a non-stop soap opera” and few could argue with this.

The author Tina Brown is the former editor in chief of Tatler, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker; she was awarded a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to journalism, and is also Lady Evans – her late husband, Harold Evans, veteran editor of The Sunday Times was knighted in 2004. 

Brown previously published The Diana Chronicles in 2007, which was a hardback bestseller; this book is a kind of sequel. She has obviously done her research and with her media contacts has been the recipient of many confidences and information from those within the Palace and the family dynamics are laid bare.

I have always been fond of Prince Charles and admired him, feeling that he is a man of principle, though others may disagree. After my perusal of The Palace Papers I felt even more sympathetic towards him though he does have a tendency for melancholy and self pity and can, at times, feel overly sorry for himself, a trait inherited in spades by his younger son.   

In an interview with Jonathan Dimbleby, who wrote his biography some years ago, the Prince accused his mother of being distant and his father as a bit of a bully. It seems the Queen was deeply hurt by this and the author has no hesitation in saying so because Her Majesty probably realised it was true. She also made the point that in a TV programme about the Duke of Edinburgh shortly after he died, Charles was reminiscing abut his father and the main thrust was that his father was always “showing him how to do things” and “exhorting him to get on with it”. It was said with a smile but it had obviously not been forgotten.

I have never been a member of the ‘Cult of St Diana’ and the more I read about her the more I feel for Charles. If ever a disaster was in the making it was their marriage. Diana was damaged by her childhood as was Charles and neither of them could help each other. The more Diana lashed out, the more Charles retreated and the worse it got.  

The two children suffered as we all know by now but I find it hard to forgive Diana for her Bashir interview in which she traduced their father to millions of viewers with no thought as to the feelings of William and Harry. We now know Bashir deceived her and we are also meant to believe she regretted the interview. Tina Brown makes it clear that Diana felt nothing of the sort and was gleeful that she had done it.

The author is pretty dismissive of the behaviour of Harry and Megan or ‘Ginge and Winge’ as they are known in some tabloid quarters, but at the same time tries to be fair to Megan, aware that an American actress coming to join the Royal Family and live in the UK would find it a difficult task. She makes the point, however, that Megan did not even bother to try.

Tina Brown has written a fascinating book. It is gossipy, yes, but never vicious and she balances out her sometimes caustic remarks with understanding of the other point of view. She certainly packs a punch but I feel she has been very fair. Her journalistic style is eminently readable.

This is the year of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee and already it is shaping up to be a joyous occasion, but the newspapers are already dwelling on the family friction and building up the never ending story. It is a family saga  which will run and run. 

I have to say that calling to mind the behaviour of previous British kings and queens, the current members of the House of Windsor compare well to the lives of earlier occupants of  the throne…

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Elaine blogs at Random Jottings.

Tina Brown, The Palace Papers (Century, 2022). 978-1529124705, 545pp, hardback.

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