The Palace Papers by Tina Brown book review

The British royal family’s Great Meghan Markle Experiment lasted 20 months, from her May 2018 marriage to Prince Harry until January 2020, when the couple stepped down from their royal duties before moving to Montecito.

To Cambridge supporters, Markle was a wrecking ball disguised as a smiley face emoji, eager to bend one of the oldest institutions in history to her iron will.

In his new book, “The Palace Papers: Inside Windsor House — the Truth and the Turmoil,” Tina Brown, former editor of the New Yorker and Britain’s Tatler magazine, and author of the indispensable 2007 Princess Diana story, “The Diana Chronicles,” sides squarely with House Cambridge.

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Focusing primarily on the women of Windsor, “The Palace Papers” is an episodic examination of the royal family’s plight since Diana’s death in 1997. Using a combination of pre-existing press reports and Brown’s reporting, he is magnanimous and gossipy. and addictively readable, despite a slow first half devoted to revisiting the hackneyed history of the Diana years. Like the royal family itself, it gets more interesting when Meghan shows up.

When Meghan met Harry, he was a co-star on USA Network’s “Suits.” At 34, she was running out of leading roles and her often-transparent ambitions had far outstripped her grasp. “Meghan was always so close,” Brown writes, “but never quite.”

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She and Harry, set up by a mutual friend, had a lot in common, according to Brown; troubled childhoods, a penchant for fueling grievances and what one palace staffer described to Brown as “a mutual ‘drama addiction’. Markle was sixth on the call sheet for a basic cable show, something Harry, who was pushed further down the line of succession with every new Cambridge baby, might sympathize with, Brown writes: She was also sixth on the call sheet.

In Brown’s account, Prince Harry was mentally fragile, still traumatized by his mother’s death and prone to childish outbursts of rage. His growing obsession with Meghan alarmed and baffled William, once Harry’s closest ally and his father, the Prince of Wales.

The couple began to feel besieged, harassed by a ruthless press and equally unsympathetic palace courtiers. Part of the divide was cultural. “You had someone in Meghan who had no context through which to understand the institution,” a former palace insider tells Brown. “And in the palace, you had an institution that had no context to understand Meghan.”

The couple, who made up for what they lacked in self-awareness with charisma, brought out the worst in each other, Brown writes. “The nurtured mutual mistrust of each other,” she observes, “and Harry’s wife was just as temperamentally combative as he was.”

In “The Palace Papers” as in life, Markle was constantly measured with her sister-in-law. The queen-to-be, whom Brown calls “Kate the Relatable,” has impossibly bright hair and a Mona Lisa countenance, though her cheerful public deadpan doesn’t necessarily suggest untold depths.

Middleton, raised in the quaint town of Bucklebury, comes from what Brown delicately calls “non-exalted backgrounds,” which means her mother, Carole, was a flight attendant. Kate met William in college, married him 10 years later, and spent the intervening decade in limbo under the watchful eye of Carole, Bucklebury’s Kris Jenner.

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The life of a Windsor is such a monotonously limited life (endlessly tedious public appearances, gloomy vacations spent in drafty castles) that even Brown can’t understand why Kate would want that. After years together, William humiliatingly broke up with her once over the phone before realizing that her quiet patience and devotion to duty made her a natural fit for a life dedicated to opening Tescos in London. Welsh. They got married in 2011.

Meghan had bigger ambitions: She longed to be the Windsors’ answer to Angelina Jolie. She wanted to give speeches at the United Nations and smile warmly at refugee children at photo ops. “The Palace Papers” portrays her as an actress and drama, so rough with her employees that several of them accuse her of bullying, while Kate is calm and kind to the employees. Meghan likes expensive clothes, Brown argues in one of the book’s more dubious moments, while the 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 aloof and conflict-avoidant. Prince Andrew, who remains her favourite son despite his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein and numerous claims of financial, is described as fat-toed, imperious and mean to his ex-wife, Fergie, possibly the only person who still likes it.

The hapless Prince Charles is “the male version of Calamity Jane,” each of his press cycles overshadowed by his more glamorous sons. Only Charles’s second wife, Camilla, whom Brown describes as horselike and unflappable, escapes royal vivisection.

Brown applies a scalpel to most of the royals but brings a sledgehammer to Meghan, whose unironic enthusiasm (she has been known to spontaneously hug guards outside Kensington Palace, Brown reports) is considered un-British. It takes a while for the public to sour on her, but on the first Christmas at Sandringham, it’s clear that Brown is fed up with Meghan.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact Markle’s career had on her treatment by the British press (“Harry’s girl is (almost) straight out of Compton,” was one of the first headlines) and the royal family, staunch colonialists with few people of colour on staff. . Any battle, even an imaginary one, between English rose Kate and biracial divorcee Meghan was never going to be a fair fight, but Brown’s near-beatification of the Cambridges may seem like a lot. Even Meghan’s father, who has a thriving side business betraying her daughter in the tabloids, comes off better than her.

Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, spoke to Oprah Winfrey about stepping away from life as royals in a wide-ranging interview that aired on March 7. (Video: Washington Post)

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However: “The Palace Papers” remains the most important book of Markle’s interregnum, although it is admittedly not a distinguished group. Brown’s royal powers of observation remain exquisite. His account of the first Cambridge couple’s event is one of the book’s greatest joys and a miniature explanation of everything that went wrong.

At a Royal Foundation event headlined by her more awkward sister-in-law, Meghan, an assured public speaker,  the centre of attention, writes Brown. He even went off script with an impassioned speech that drew attention to female potential “as Harry looked on in amazement and his brother and Kate stood beside her 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 the Fab Four would never perform on stage together as a band again.”

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