Treachery, trysts & tiaras: Taking us behind palace doors, this year’s reads are a right royal riot
ROYAL BOOKS OF THE YEAR
PHILIP: THE FINAL PORTRAIT
by Gyles Brandreth (Coronet £25, 528 pp)
Gyles Brandreth is careful to not quite say that Prince Philip was his friend; as former prime minister Jim Callaghan reminded him, ‘What senior royals offer you is friendliness, not friendship’.
But Brandreth knew and admired the prince for 40 years and, in this gloriously witty and incisive book, you can see how well they got on.
The curmudgeonly prince always refused to be drawn on anything emotional and was hard to impress. Brandreth, one morning in the 1980s, told Philip he’d just had breakfast with Blake Carrington from Dynasty. ‘I haven’t the first idea what you’re talking about,’ said Philip. ‘I had breakfast with the Queen.’
Ysenda Maxtone Graham rounded up a selection of this year’s best royal books – including Philip: The Final Portrait by Gyles Brandreth. Pictured: The Queen And Prince Philip
Of his difficult childhood, Philip remarked, ‘I just had to get on with it. One does’.
Beneath the surface, though, Brandreth sensed great depth. ‘He was a more sensitive man than he wanted us to think of him.
‘He could be prickly and perverse, stubborn and wilful. He could also be visionary. His spiritual life was important to him. He was his mother’s son.’
A QUEEN FOR ALL SEASONS: A CELEBRATION OF OUR ONE AND ONLY QUEEN ELIZABETH II ON HER PLATINUM JUBILEE
by Joanna Lumley (Hodder £20, 320 pp)
You couldn’t ask for more cheerful company than Joanna Lumley to lead you through an anthology of the Queen’s subjects recalling their encounters with the monarch since the start of her reign.
Lumley declares herself a lifelong fan, ever since receiving a double-decker wooden pencil case with a stencil of Her Majesty on the lid, at her boarding school in Kuala Lumpur on Coronation Day in 1953.
It’s the Queen’s ability to put people at ease that shines through — although, as Terry Wogan described the Royal Effect: ‘You say the first thing that comes into your head, and you carry the memory of your foolishness with you to the grave.’
Everyone nonetheless describes the sense of enchantment of being in her presence, even if not sure what to do with their used cocktail stick at the time.
Lumley includes the moving recollection of war doctor David Nott, who was reduced to wordlessness and almost tears when the Queen asked him what it had been like in Aleppo in Syria. The monarch opened a tin of dog biscuits and they fed the corgis together. And she said, ‘There. That’s so much better than talking, isn’t it?’
SCANDALS OF THE ROYAL PALACES: AN INTIMATE MEMOIR OF ROYALS BEHAVING BADLY
by Tom Quinn (Biteback £20, 304 pp)
Author Tom Quinn calls the urge felt by royals to escape their gilded cages — most often in dead of night to meet a secret lover — ‘The Houdini Complex’.
The public’s expectation that their monarch is living an exemplary home life seems to have a pressure-cooker effect.
This, plus the royal sense of power and entitlement, led to scandals all the way from Edward II, who, in his ‘love-tortured reign’, may well have had a homosexual affair with nobleman Piers Gaveston, his ‘favourite’. So did James I with a selection of young men, one of whom (George Villiers) he called ‘my sweet child and wife’.
This gutsy book takes us on a romp through misdeeds in palaces. We find Queen Anne in bed with the Duchess of Marlborough, Queen Victoria’s ‘wicked uncles’ up to all kinds of hedonistic mischief and Victoria herself addicted to laudanum and in love with her ghillie John Brown (Quinn believes she married him in secret). And there is one of Princess Diana’s lovers, an unnamed politician, allegedly being spotted by staff in his boxer shorts in a draughty corridor at Kensington Palace — he’d locked himself out by mistake.
Andrew Morton looks at the life of the Duchess of Sussex in an updated version of his 2018 biography, Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. Pictured: Prince Harry and Meghan
MEGHAN: A HOLLYWOOD PRINCESS
by Andrew Morton (Michael O’Mara £20, 304 pp)
‘Within a few months, she went from Duchess Dazzling to Duchess Difficult,’ writes Andrew Morton of Meghan Markle, in this updated version of his 2018 biography of the duchess, which takes us up to the post-Oprah era.
In other words, all too soon after the royal couple’s official honeymoon, their honeymoon with the media was over. Meghan progressed, in its eyes, from ‘Duchess Difficult to Duchess Dictatorial’.
Certain phrases in the book have a new resonance, since the Oprah Winfrey interview. When Morton visited the Catholic retreat house in LA Meghan attended in her teens, the woman who ran it told him, ‘The atmosphere is: I am willing to share my truth with you, and that makes you willing to share your truth with me.’ Was that how the concept of ‘my truth’ came into Meghan’s philosophy?
Morton is kind but not too kind. ‘Much as she talks of inclusivity and compassion,’ he writes, ‘her father and the rest of her family remain outside her emotional orbit, cast into outer darkness.’
TRAITOR KING: THE SCANDALOUS EXILE OF THE DUKE AND DUCHESS OF WINDSOR
by Andrew Lownie (Blink £25, 352 pp)
Andrew Lownie writes about when the Duke of Windsor sailed to France to start his ‘happily ever after’ life with Wallis in Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile Of The Duke And Duchess of Windsor. Pictured: The Windsors with Hitler
We’re not short of books on the Abdication Crisis, but Andrew Lownie’s compelling volume opens in December 1936 when the ‘Crisis’ ended and the Duke of Windsor sailed to France to start his ‘happily ever after’ life with Wallis — which was nothing of the sort. Self-pity and bitterness at their exile ate into their souls.
Lownie produces evidence that the Duke in 1940 was in league with the Nazis to an extent that amounts to treason. On his way to the Bahamas to become Governor, he sent his pro-Nazi banker friend what Lownie calls the ‘killer telegram’, asking to be alerted ‘as soon as action was advisable’.
Was he plotting to return to take up the throne in a new German-ruled Britain?
Lownie paints an unflattering portrait of this entitled couple, and is damning about how they treated their servants. The Duchess coldly discarded their loyal Bahamian butler when he requested a change of working hours following his wife’s death.
THE SECRET ROYALS: SPYING AND THE CROWN FROM VICTORIA TO DIANA
by Richard J. Aldrich and Rory Cormac (Atlantic £25, 736 pp)
Richard J. Aldrich and Rory Cormac write about spying, including when Princess Diana (pictured) would lift floorboards in The Secret Royals: Spying And The Crown From V ict oria To Diana
This gripping book sets out when the world of royals has interacted with that of espionage. Sometimes the royals are being spied on; sometimes they’re doing the spying. The modern intelligence system evolved through efforts to stop Queen Victoria from being assassinated, after eight attempts.
After the 1982 Michael Fagan break-in, Buckingham Palace’s protection unit had to raise its game. Protection officers began attending SAS training courses at its ‘Killing House’ in Hereford.
Royals went for training, too. Princess Diana entered so completely into the spirit of one mocked-up hostage rescue that she drove one of three Range Rovers. She forgot to shut the car window, so when the ‘flash-bang’ pellets went off, one landed in her hair, setting it alight.
On her visit to the SAS house, the Queen was ‘absolutely unperturbed’ in a mocked-up rescue of her. An explosion rang through the room, an assault team burst in, and the Queen’s stiff upper lip never quivered.
The book includes the MI5 agent who hid in Green Park to access a telephone junction box and intercept Edward VIII’s calls, and Princess Diana lifting floorboards in Kensington Palace, convinced she was being bugged.
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