The Palace Papers review – a heady ride through recent royal family history | history books

Wwhat ails the royal family? According to Tina Brown, the answer to this eternal and deeply thorny question is just about anything. Yes, it’s partly a matter of context; in the early 21st century, the hats and the parades and the tours no longer seem to make much sense (Kate and William in the Caribbean? Cringe of the cringe! as Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriend, Cressida Bonas, would say.) And yes, it’s a stifling way of life: like being a “battery chicken at the Waldorf Astoria,” as Brown puts it, struggling a bit for the right thing. image.

But the former editor of the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, who has applied all her famous wit and intelligence to the problem, identifies many other ills as well. Sadism, thrift, debauchery, infantilism, horniness, ruthlessness, rudeness, coldness, extreme right and, last but not least, unbelievable stupidity; unfortunately, among the Windsors they are all present and correct. The Family is a walking, talking advertisement for – take your pick – intensive group therapy or religious seclusion (after all, wasn’t Prince Philip’s mom or something?). No wonder William Tallon, the Queen Mother’s steward, announced dinner at her Scottish retreat, Birkhall, by brandishing a censer as if he were a priest.

I have to admit I didn’t have high hopes for The palace papers, whatever the author has to say in her prologue about the countless insiders (OK, 120) she’s been stalking for two years; the first person she quotes by name is – zzzzz! – Gyles Brandreth, which didn’t seem to bode well for me in terms of hot new info (when) is not the former Tory MP talking about Prince Philip?). But after sifting through nearly 600 pages of “truth and turmoil” – I do these things so you don’t have to – all I can say is that if you have to read royal gossip, it must have been written by Tina, a woman who, as a former editor of flavors, doesn’t just know how to write an elaborate photo caption – “Harry’s hot and hard glamping retreat!” — but who also, despite the long years of living in Manhattan, remains insanely alert to the minute gradations of social class that make this country such a basket. Was the Queen Mother ridiculously chic or seriously suburban? For days I’ve been thinking about the two cherubs on her four-poster bed in Clarence House, whose little angel costumes—I’m not kidding—were washed and starched each month by her servants.

The book, which is as thick as lost paradise and certainly won’t fit in your Launer handbag, begins with a wistful account of the 2006 memorial to the Queen’s cousin, the photographer Lord Lichfield, an event Brown liked to attend (she sat next to the aforementioned Tallon, in whose Kennington flat she would later see “a drape of pearls which he said belonged to the Queen Mother” and many other “discarded bibelots…whether it was donated or stolen was a mystery”). Brown carefully notes the appearance of the Royal Family on this occasion: The Duchess of Cornwall’s hat made her look like a flight attendant; a person, she thought, would have rooted “for truffles in the woods with bad teeth”. But of course she’s elated at their shabbiness, just as she’s excited to learn that Andrew Parker Bowles (“a walking pink gin”) was seen on the TV in his morning suit afterwards. Her interest is in dust, not diamonds. She has a predilection, you will soon hear, for minor characters. The sad, Norma Desmond-esque spaces these types inhabit – Prince Andrew at home with his 50 teddy bears, many of them dressed as sailors; Princess Margaret complaining that she only wants to see pictures of her sister on postage stamps, not “horrible buildings and birds and stuff” – is, after all, such a fun thing to describe. In any case, much better than Highgrove’s garden.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Photo: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Thanks to all of this, the bits about the Queen and Philip, and Kate and William, are a bit boring. The pace picks up as she analyzes the Duchess of Sussex, who will henceforth always be known to me as number six on the list (Brown’s account of Meghan’s acting career – she’s seen her To take audition tapes – going to be a huge hit with Piers Morgan). As Brown wisely says, calling your agent in the case of primogeniture won’t help. But I think she’s at her best when she’s dealing with the likes of Andrew and Fergie and Camilla in the days before she finally married Charles. In these chapters, just: everything is either comical or horrific, or both. In case you were wondering, it’s Andy who is the sadist. “What are you doing with this fat cow?” he asked an American media executive who was due to have lunch with his ex-wife at their home, Royal Lodge, in 2015 at their home, the Royal Lodge. Johnson, the idea of ​​reducing the number of traffic lights in the capital. The deep thought behind this master plan was that it would result in fewer red lights. He also thought that Queen Elizabeth II’s conference center should be bigger; God only knows why.

However, it is Camilla who really fascinates Brown: her stoicism, her earthiness, the fact that she once kissed Charles in front of her husband Frans (this was in 1980, at a polo ball organized by the heir to a meat fortune Lord Vestey and it went by for o’clock, evidently). What attracted her to Charles, a man Brown portrays as a ruthless, spoiled baby — and who, she can’t help but remind us, would come to be known in the Italian press as Prince Tampacchino? (Work it out.) What kept her by his side for so long? I would have stopped if I had died laughing at the revelation that the crown he wore for his inauguration as Prince of Wales was covered with a gold-plated ping-pong ball. I think it was sex in the beginning – “Pretend I’m a rocking horse,” young Camilla would have urged the sexually “timid” Charles – and later it was comfort. She added the role the Queen Mother played in his life, “the buttery scone for his mother’s steamed broccoli”.

Anyway, this part of the book kind of rips through, the bastard child of Jilly Cooper and Tom Wolfe. Like Queen Mary, who once said to a relative, “We [the royal family] are never tired”, Brown is quite inexhaustible. But what has been all this hard work? forexactly, I don’t know. Has she nothing better to do with her time than to tell us about – no, this is not a euphemism – Andrew’s six-foot ironing board? About Charles’ preference for Kleenex Velvet toilet roll? Honestly. I’m ashamed of her. Cringe de la cringe.

The palace papers by Tina Brown is published by Century (£20). In support of the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

Tina Brown will be in conversation with Pandora Sykes at Conway Hall, London on Tuesday, May 3

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