To Cambridge supporters, Markle was a wrecking ball disguised as a smiling emoji, eager to bend one of history’s toughest institutions to his iron will.
In his new book,The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor – truth and turmoil,” Tina Brown, former editor of The New Yorker and British magazine Tatler, and author of the indispensable 2007 Princess Diana story, “The Diana Chronicles,” squarely sides with House Cambridge.
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“The Palace Papers”, which focuses primarily on the women of Windsor, is an episodic examination of the struggles of the royal family since Diana’s death in 1997. Featuring a combination of pre-existing press accounts and Brown’s own reporting, it’s witty and garrulous, and addictively readable, despite a sluggish first half spent revisiting the well-rehearsed story of the Diana years. Much like the royal family itself, it gets more interesting when Meghan arrives.
When Meghan met Harry, she was a co-star on USA Network’s ‘Suits’ show. At 34, she was aging out of starring roles and her often transparent ambitions had so far overtaken her grip. “Meghan was always so close,” writes Brown, “but never quite there.”
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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 harboring grievances and what a palace staffer described to Brown as “a ‘mutual addiction to drama.'” Markle was sixth on a cable show’s call sheet base, something Harry, who has been pushed further down the line of succession with each new Cambridge baby, could sympathize, writes Brown: He was also sixth on the roll call.
In Brown’s account, Prince Harry was mentally fragile, still traumatized by his mother’s death and prone to childish outbursts of anger. His growing obsession with Meghan alarmed and intrigued William, once Harry’s closest ally, and their father, the Prince of Wales.
The couple began to feel increasingly beleaguered, beset by a ruthless press and equally unsympathetic palace courtiers. Part of the divide was cultural. You “had someone in Meghan who had no context to understand the institution,” a former palace insider told Brown. “And in the palace you had an institution that had no context to understand Meghan.”
The couple, who made up for in charisma what they lacked in self-awareness, brought out the worst in each other, writes Brown. “The Sussexes fueled everyone’s distrust of everyone,” she observes, “and Harry’s wife was as combative in temper as he was.”
In “The Palace Papers” as in life, Markle was constantly measured against her sister-in-law. The future queen, whom Brown dubs “Kate the Relatable,” has impossibly shiny hair and a Mona Lisa face, though her cheery public emptiness doesn’t necessarily suggest untold depths.
Middleton, raised in the quaint village of Bucklebury, comes from what Brown delicately calls “unexalted origins”, which basically means that her mother Carole was a flight attendant. Kate met William at university, married him 10 years later and spent the decade in between in limbo under the watchful eye of Carole, Bucklebury’s Kris Jenner.
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The life of a Windsor is one of those dull constraints — endless tedious public appearances, gloomy vacations spent in drafty castles — not even Brown can understand why Kate would want that. After years together, William humiliatingly once broke up with her on the phone before finally realizing her quiet indulgence and devotion to duty made him a natural for a lifetime spent opening Tescos in Wales. They married in 2011.
Meghan had bigger ambitions: she aspired to be the Windsors’ answer to Angelina Jolie. She wanted to give speeches at the United Nations and radiate warmth to refugee children during photo ops. “The Palace Papers” portrays her as dramatic and actress, so brusque with employees that several of them accuse her of bullying, while Kate is calm and kind to employees. Meghan loves expensive clothes, argues Brown in one of the book’s most questionable 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 avoiding conflict and increasingly distant. Prince Andrew, still his favorite child despite his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein and numerous allegations of financial and sexual impropriety, is portrayed as big-fingered, imperious and mean to his ex-wife, Fergie, perhaps the only person who talks to him. still love.
The ill-fated Prince Charles is “the male version of Calamity Jane”, with each of his press cycles eclipsed by his more glamorous children. Only Charles’s second wife, Camilla, whom Brown portrays as horsey and unflappable, escapes royal vivisection.
Brown applies a scalpel to most of the royals but gives a hammer to Meghan, whose unironical enthusiasm (she was known to spontaneously kiss guards outside Kensington Palace, reports Brown) is seen as not British. It takes a while for the public to sour, but by the first Christmas at Sandringham, it becomes clear that Brown is fed up with Meghan.
It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Markle’s race had on her treatment by the British press (“Harry’s Girl Is (Almost) Straight Outta Compton”, was one of the first headlines) and by the royal family, hidden colonialists with few people of color on staff. . Any battle, however imagined, 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 bit too much. Even Meghan’s father, who has a thriving side business betraying his daughter in the tabloids, is doing better than her.
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Still: “The Palace Papers” is still the most essential book of Markle’s interregnum, even if it’s admittedly not a distinguished bunch. Brown’s powers of royal observation remain exquisite. His account of the Sussex/Cambridge couple’s first 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, an assured speaker, “hogg[ed]” in the spotlight, writes Brown. She even went off-script with an impassioned and catchy speech about female empowerment “as Harry watched in awe and his brother and Kate stood by in 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”, writes Brown. “It was later decided that the Fab Four would no longer perform on stage together as a group.”
Allison Stewart writes about pop culture, music and politics for The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. She’s working on a book about the history of the space program.
Inside the House of Windsor – the truth and the turmoil
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