The Palace Papers by Tina Brown book review

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The British royal family’s large Meghan Markle experiment lasted for a full 20 months, from her marriage in May 2018 to Prince Harry to January 2020, when the couple gave up their royal duties before moving to Montecito.

What happened in between depends on what story you believe in. Fans of Meghan, now the Duchess of Sussex, blame the palace – more specifically Harry’s older brother, William, and his wife, Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, for Sussex’s defection. In their tale, the royal family had no idea how to deal with Meghan, a beautiful, biracial American actress whose popularity dangerously obscured theirs.

To Cambridge partisans, Markle was a destructive bullet disguised as a smiley emoji, impatient to bend one of history’s most discerning institutions to his iron will.

In her new book, “The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor – the Truth and the Turmoil,” Tina Brown, former editor of the New Yorker and the British magazine Tatler, and the author of the indispensable 2007 Princess Diana story, “The Diana Chronicles, ”located right next to House Cambridge.

Harry and Meghan visit the Queen in Windsor before the Invictus Games

“The Palace Papers”, which focuses primarily on the Windsor women, is an episodic study of the royal family’s difficulties since Diana’s death in 1997. With a combination of pre-existing press reports and Brown’s own reporting, it is high-minded and gossipy, and addictively readable. , despite a slow first half spent retelling the penetrating story of the Diana years. Like the royal family itself, it gets more interesting when Meghan joins.

When Meghan met Harry, she was a co-star in the USA Network show “Suits”. As a 34-year-old, she was aging out of the lead roles, and her often transparent ambitions had so far exceeded her reach. “Meghan was always so close,” Brown writes, “but never quite there.”

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She and Harry, created by a mutual friend, had much in common, according to Brown; troubled childhood, a penchant for nurturing complaints and what a palace staffer described for Brown as “a mutual ‘addiction to drama’.” “Markle was sixth on the call sheet of a basic cable show, something Harry, who was bumped further down the line with each new Cambridge baby, could sympathize with,” Brown writes: He was also sixth on the call sheet.

In Brown’s tale, Prince Harry was mentally fragile, still traumatized by his mother’s death and prone to angry, childish outbursts. His growing obsession with Meghan troubled and amazed William, once Harry’s closest ally, and their father, the Prince of Wales.

The couple began to feel more and more under siege, obsessed with a relentless press corps and equally unsympathetic palace court men. Some of the divide was cultural. You “had in Meghan a person who had no context to understand the institution through,” a former palace insider tells Brown. “And in the palace, you had an institution that had no context to understand Meghan.”

The couple, who in charisma made up for what they lacked in self-awareness, got the worst out of each other, Brown writes. “The Sussexs nurtured each other’s distrust of everyone else,” she notes, “and Harry’s wife was just as temperamentally combative as he was.”

In “The Palace Papers” as in life, Markle was constantly measured against his sister-in-law. The future queen, whom Brown calls “Kate the Relatable,” has an impossibly shiny hair and a Mona Lisa face, though her cheerful public shyness does not necessarily suggest unimaginable depths.

Middleton, who grew up in the picturesque village of Bucklebury, is descended from what Brown delicately describes as “of noble origin,” which basically means her mother Carole was an air hostess. Kate met William at university, married him 10 years later and spent the decade in limbo under Carole’s watchful eye, Kris Jenner of Bucklebury.

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A Windsor’s life is one of those sad limitations – endlessly boring public appearances, gloomy vacations spent in draughty castles – even Brown can’t figure out why Kate wanted it. After several years together, William, humiliatingly enough, once hung up on her on the phone before finally realizing that her quiet indulgence and devotion to duty made her a natural part of a life where she had opened Tescos in Wales. They married in 2011.

Meghan had bigger ambitions: She longed to be Windsors’ answer to Angelina Jolie. She wanted to give speeches at the UN and beam warmly at refugee children in photo ops. “The Palace Papers” portrays her as dramatic and actress, so brusque towards employees that several of them accuse her of bullying, while Kate is calm and friendly towards the staff. Meghan loves expensive clothes, Brown argues in one of the book’s more dubious moments, while cost-conscious Kate recycles outfits.

“The Palace Papers” is as much a forensic autopsy as it is a story. Brown spares no one: the Queen is portrayed as conflict-averse and increasingly distant. Prince Andrew, still her favorite child despite his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, and several accusations of financial and sexual inadequacy, are described as fat-fingered, powerful and mean to his ex-wife, Fergie, possibly the only person who still likes him .

The Unhappy Prince Charles is “the male version of Calamity Jane”, his every press cycle staged by his more glamorous children. Only Charles’ second wife, Camilla, whom Brown portrays as horse-like and incomparable, escapes royal vivisection.

Brown uses a scalpel for most of the royals, but takes a sledgehammer to Meghan, whose irony-free enthusiasm (she was known for spontaneously hugging the guards outside Kensington Palace, Brown reports) is seen as un-British. It takes the public a while to get mad at her, but by the first Christmas in Sandringham, it becomes clear that Brown has had it with Meghan.

It is impossible to overestimate the impact Markle’s race had on her treatment of the British press (“Harry’s Girl Is (Almost) Straight Outta Compton,” was an early headline), and of the royal family, hidden colonialists with few colored staff. Any match, even an imaginary one, between the English rose Kate and the biracial divorce Meghan would never be a fair match, but Brown’s almost beating of the Cambridges may seem a bit much. Even Meghan’s father, who has a thriving side business of betraying his daughter in the tabloids, is doing better than she does.

Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, spoke with Oprah Winfrey about turning away from life as a senior royal in a comprehensive interview aired on March 7. (Video: The Washington Post)

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Still: “The Palace Papers” is still the most important book in the Markle interregnum, though admittedly it is not a prominent group. Brown’s powers of royal observation remain exquisite. Her story of the first Sussex / Cambridge couple’s event is one of the book’s greatest joys and a miniature explanation of everything that went wrong afterwards.

At a Royal Foundation event led by her more awkward sister-in-law, Meghan, a confident public speaker, “hogg[ed]”The spotlight,” writes Brown. She even went outside the script with a passionate, attention-grabbing talk of female empowerment, “as Harry watched in awe and his brother and Kate stood by with expressionless irritation.”

The Fab Four, the royal family’s version of a supergroup, arrived with the palace’s highest hopes, but it “was an awkward dynamic,” Brown writes. “It was later decided that Fab Four would not play on stage together as a band again.”

Allison Stewart writes about pop culture, music and politics for The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. She is working on a book about the history of the space program.

Inside the Windsor House – the truth and the turmoil

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