The Palace Papers by Tina Brown: a ‘gloriously irreverent’ treat

You have to hand it to Tina Brown, said Camilla Tominey in The Daily Telegraph: she “sure knows how to tell a good story”. The former editor of Tatler and Vanity Fair first delved into recent royal history with her 2007 bestseller, The Diana Chronicles. Her new book picks up where that volume left off – and makes for similarly “compulsive” reading.

Coming in at a “whopping 500-plus pages”, The Palace Papers charts all the major developments in royal life over the past 25 years, said Melanie Reid in The Times: from “the careful restoration of Charles and Camilla’s reputations” to the recent “detonation” of Harry and Meghan’s departure.

Although much of the ground covered is familiar, the narrative is studded with “delicious” details that make it “disgustingly entertaining”. A typical one concerns the Queen’s 2019 Christmas broadcast, before which, according to Brown, she pointed to a photo of Harry and Meghan on her desk and said: “I don’t suppose we need that one.”

Given that she has long been “part of the palace-press industrial complex”, it’s no surprise that Brown’s attitude to the royals is “instinctively conservative”, said Charles Arrowsmith in the Los Angeles Times. She approves of those who thrive in “the Windsor fishbowl” – notably Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge – but is less kind to those who pose a threat to the monarchy. “Brown is not on Team Meghan.”

Meghan is depicted as a “ruthless social climber” whose marriage to Harry was undertaken strategically when her acting career began to fizzle out. Her wedding guest list, Brown suggests, was made up in many cases of “strategic besties”: those – such as George and Amal Clooney – who were not part of her “intimate circle but were the friends she most wanted to recruit”.

Brown’s prose can be alarmingly “frothy”, said Camilla Long in The Sunday Times. The Queen doesn’t just love Philip; she has “been crazy about him since 1939”. “Until he lost his hair,” she writes, “Prince William was probably the biggest heartthrob to be heir to the throne since the pre-obese Henry VIII.” But you can’t fault her for “effervescing detail” and “dogged” research: the acknowledgments run to ten pages.

The writing tends towards the racy, but it’s actually refreshing to read a book on this subject by someone who isn’t from the “forelock-tugging ranks of ‘royal correspondents’”, said Richard J. Evans in the New Statesman. Superbly researched and generally balanced in its judgements, The Palace Papers is a “gloriously irreverent” treat.

Century 592pp £20; The Week Bookshop £15.99

Book cover

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