Books: The wind(s) of change


The gift that keeps on giving. That’s how award-winning journalist, editor and author Tina Brown describes the British royal family’s propensity to be a seemingly endless source of gripping, often dramatic stories. She tapped into these gifts for her latest book, The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor, Truth and Turmoil. Talk to Brunch HT In a video call from London, Brown, who has covered the royal family for more than 40 years, said his fascination with the subject lies in the fact that it is a family drama, a saga with constant arrivals and departures. The saga is all the more engaging as it unfolds against the backdrop of Scottish countryside castles, 700-room palaces, royal yachts and hunting grounds.

To commemorate Prince Charles’ 70th birthday in 2018, the Royal Family released a portrait of him and Camilla with his sons, their wives and grandchildren

Brown’s editorship of Tatler magazine, beginning in 1979, coincided with the arrival of young and unknown Lady Diana Spencer on the scene. It marked the beginning of a new era for the House of Windsor. “As the staff of a celebrity magazine, we got to know her well and, in fact, became the mainstay of the engagement and wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana,” Brown said.

She was then perfectly placed to write The Chronicles of Diana in 2007, a book that attempted to unravel the life of a woman who remained a mystery even 10 years after her death. Palace papers picks up from there, allowing readers to peek into the royal family with their noses pressed against the glass.

The Chronicles of Diana

Diana and son

Despite questions about the relevance of the monarchy, it at least dominates among the British people and is a symbol of national identity and national pride, says Brown. Every time experts write that the monarchy is irrelevant, they are wrong. She points out that some sections of the media preferred to dismiss the passing of the Queen Mother, for example, as the departure of a dusty old dowager. But then the public turnout to bid him farewell rivaled the crowds at Winston Churchill’s funeral, and they were stunned. Thus, those who questioned the relevance of the royal family were completely wrong. Worldwide interest in the weddings of Princes William and Harry had the same effect, says Brown.

His story in Palace papers begins in the post-Diana era when “a deep heaviness had returned to the royal family, a heaviness for which they, if not the tabloids, were immensely grateful. The lack of excitement around them was hard earned. Since Diana’s death in 1997, the Queen had made it clear to all who advised her that this could never happen again – the ‘it’ being Diana’s explosive stardom…”

Princes William and Harry with their parents

Brown says she has known Diana for a long time, having met her as a blushing young woman set to marry Charles in 1981 and watching her journey there. In the book, Brown describes meeting Princess Diana in New York in 1987. “She arrived, in her green Chanel dress, poised, accomplished, a global superstar. People know her as beautiful in photos, but in real life she was much more beautiful and charismatic,” Brown says.

Writing about the post-Diana era, Brown dwells on the difficulties faced by Princes William and Harry when they were barely teenagers: the collapse of their parents’ marriage, the scandals that made the tabloids and revealing books and devastating death. of their mother in a car accident. Therefore, they bonded and protected each other in the bubble they inhabited. This has changed in recent years.

Real life against the crown

“The relationship has taken a hit and they’re somewhat estranged,” Brown says. “I’d like to think it’s not forever. After William married and started his own family, Harry began to feel like Bridget Jones, left out of the bourgeois dream.

According to Brown, Prince Harry found that the assignments given to him upon his return from the army did not match his accomplishments and star power.

“The brothers were raised as equals, but they couldn’t really be. It’s like that when you’re on the second line. Thus, Harry felt that his value was not recognized. I know he hated construction and was relegated to a life he didn’t choose,” Brown says.

Princess Diana and her butler, Paul Burrell

Brown is of the opinion that Meghan is being unfairly labeled as the person who took Harry away. “I think Meghan just solidified the feelings that Harry was already struggling with. She validated his feelings of wanting to break up,” she says. “One of Harry’s advisers told me in confidence that they knew always that he would leave one day.”

The Camilla Enigma

As Megxit pointed out Harry’s inability to ascend the throne and William wisely prepared for the role, their father may well be an acting monarch. Brown predicts that Charles will be surprisingly accomplished.

“There are low expectations and it will help him. He is aware that it is impossible to beat the extraordinary record of his mother, who was so dedicated and exemplary. She did not make a mistake during her reign, except during Diana’s crisis when she was out of step with her people,” Brown said.

Prince Charles’ credible and prescient passion for tackling the climate crisis and the environment is finally in tune with what most see as the existentialist threats of our time, she adds. “If there was ever a time for him to take over, it’s now,” she says.

Princess Charlotte on her seventh birthday

When Charles is finally crowned King of England, Camilla Parker-Bowles will be his queen consort. Brown’s admiration and empathy for her shines through in the book. She says: “Camilla has suffered so much abuse and brutal treatment. She had been called names and made fun of for decades. It was really appalling. But she never complained and kept her sense of humor through it all, without being self-righteous or victim-minded about it. She was stoic and stoicism is a quality the British love.

There was a remarkable turnaround from the Queen herself, Brown points out. She had previously wanted Charles to break off the relationship. But he was unwavering. The Queen accepting their marriage and then granting Camilla the title of Queen Consort is incredible validation of Camilla and what she stands for. “It also tells us that positions can be won in the royal family,” says Brown. “It happened with Kate now too. People asking how can a middle class girl become Duchess of Cambridge, the question now is, what will the House of Windsor do without Kate? I believe Camilla and Kate are now the foundations for the future of the monarchy.

queen of hearts

One of the challenges for any member of the royal family is to survive the tactics of the British tabloids and paparazzi. Brown devoted a chapter to the subject.

“I was shocked when I reported this chapter,” she says. “It’s horrible what they put the family through. I think it’s a little less barbaric now. Outlets are less well funded and the power of the tabloids is diminished from what it was in the 90s.”

The change, she believes, has also been made possible by social media. Kate is now the family columnist, posting carefully vetted and carefully titled photos from Princess Charlotte’s birthday, for example. This was not possible in the 90s.

So, with the everlasting interest in the royal family and their actions, does Brown see the book becoming a movie or TV series?

“The Crown does exactly that,” she says. “It’s exciting entertainment.” And, yes, it’s true that there’s growing unease in the royal family as the series draws closer to the present day, moving on from Elizabeth’s golden days as a young queen.

Brown says individual chapters of her book could become movies or miniseries. Even some of the secondary characters are fascinating, she says. She clearly enjoyed writing about the trial of Princess Diana’s butler, Paul Burrell. He was accused and convicted of robbing Kensington Palace. “A search of the house immediately revealed this. It was a royal Amazon warehouse filled with paintings, photos, drawings and porcelain belonging to the Princess of Wales,” writes Brown in his wonderfully readable style.

She says she found the culture from below very enlightening; that said a lot about the floor.

She spent the two years of the pandemic researching for this book, making numerous Zoom calls. “When I casually wrote the book proposal, I hadn’t realized what a heavy undertaking it was. I was deeply drawn into the saga and had to choose the moments of the story to tell. I also became very attached to certain characters,” she says.

Does she have any favorites among the royal family? “It would be a draw between the Queen and Camilla. As women age, they acquire this patina, this richness. While the Queen is known for her sense of duty and impeccable manners, she is also very funny. His sense of humor is astringent and not for the faint-hearted,” Brown says. “And I like Harry too, he has a seductive quality about him.”

From HT Brunch, July 2, 2022

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