If book releases are a barometer of public interest, it seems the House of Windsor has never been more fascinating.
In 2022, a tsunami of royal reading is hitting the bookstores at an increasingly frenetic rate.
These texts range from biographies (mostly unauthorised), to celebratory tributes, scandalous exposes and serious studies. The authors are royal experts or in a couple of cases the royals themselves. But in the increasingly unreliable world of royal reporting where anyone who has watched The Crown thinks they’re an expert, which books can be trusted?
It’s a thorny issue, for while historical texts examining the royal family delve into archival documents, academic studies and carefully sought-out diaries and letters, modern examinations of the House of Windsor tend to rely on a litany of unnamed sources to back up the author’s chosen narrative.
Such sources can be “close friends” of a prince or a duchess, “former members of the royal household”, “senior courtiers”, even family once or twice removed. Certainly, if all these folk are to be believed, the leaky ship around the royal family should be a genuine concern for the palace.
But then maybe the leaks are actually coming all the way from the top.
Let’s not forget the revelatory Finding Freedom, the gossipy hit of 2020 supposedly telling the real story of Harry and Meghan, filled with previously unheard behind palace doors tittle tattle, whose authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand swore blind their subjects had not been involved. Only it turns out Meghan had. In the Duchess of Sussex’s copyright court case against a British tabloid, an email exchange revealed that Meghan had indeed briefed her then Head of Communications to pass on key commentary and information to the authors for the book.
We’ll be able to judge how much more of what really happened to Harry and Meghan was accurate from what will undoubtedly be the biggest seller of the year – Prince Harry’s own memoir. Due for release on a yet-to-be-confirmed date “late in 2022” it is pitched as an “intimate and heartfelt memoir from one of the most fascinating and influential global figures of our time”. That’s quite a claim!
Harry has teamed up with ghost writer J R Moehringer, a US journalist of some renown and says, “I’m writing this not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become”. He promises “a first-hand account of my life that’s accurate and wholly truthful”. We’ll see…
Here are a few of the other 2022 crop of new releases worth looking at.
Queen of our Times: The Life of Elizabeth II by Robert Hardman
As a run through of the many trials, tribulations and triumphs of the Queen’s reign, this study by veteran journalist and author Hardman packs a punch. Sure, it’s largely celebratory, but the sources are strong – including cabinet papers and diaries — and the commentary measured and intelligent. There is considered debunking of some of the more fanciful claims made in The Crown Netflix TV series, notably that it wasn’t UK Prime Minister Tony Blair who stage managed The Queen’s plan of action following Diana’s death, Her Majesty was fully in charge, claims Hardman.
William at 40: The Making of a Modern Monarch by Robert Jobson
Prince William turns 40 in June and increasingly the future of the monarchy is on his shoulders, so this book is certainly timely. Jobson is a long-time royal reporter for London’s Evening Standard and a regular TV commentator and royal biographer, and here he delves into the personalities behind the fraternal rift between Princes William and Harry and examines William’s relationship with his father. Among his claims are that Charles hates confrontation while William can have a fierce temper.
The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor – the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown
While there’s not a lot of new material in this sequel to Brown’s The Diana Chronicles, the former editor-in-chief of Tatler, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and founding editor of The Daily Beast, presents a telling narrative based on two years of research talking to more than 120 sources. Most are unnamed but she does get under the skin of the issues Brits seem to have with Meghan and those Meghan had with the royal household resulting in the Sussex duo fleeing to live in California.
The Other Side of the Coin by Angela Kelly
Kelly is the Queen’s personal dressmaker and as such has spent her 28-year career closer to Her Majesty than most courtiers, forming a special bond. In a new chapter to her chatty, reverential and largely pictorial book, first released at the end of 2019, she talks about life inside the “Windsor bubble”. Kelly isolated at Windsor Castle with the Queen during the pandemic and was there also for preparations for the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
Courtiers by Valentine Low
Low is the long-time royal correspondent for The Times newspaper and rightly revered for his forensic reporting. Here he looks especially at those “men in suits” behind the royal machine. The advisers, spin doctors and PR gurus who have mapped the course of the royal principals with varied degrees of success. This promises to be a fascinating insight into what really does go on behind the scenes – well beyond the tiara tantrums, it will look at the power of the royal court.
Camilla: The Duchess of Cornwall by Angela Levin
Camilla’s path to become wife of the next king has been extremely rocky and watching it every step of the way has been biographer and journalist Angela Levin. Next stop for the Duchess of Cornwall will be Queen consort. This book charts her journey and unpicks the secret to her new popularity.
God Save the Queen: The Strange Persistence of Monarchies by Dennis Altman
A potentially fascinating look at the role of the constitutional monarchy, why we still have one and especially how the British Royal Family has managed to weather so many storms.
Juliet Rieden is royal correspondent and editor-at-large of The Australian Women’s Weekly.