BROKERS: THE HIDDEN POWER BEHIND THE CROWN
Courtiers: The Hidden Power Behind the Crown by Valentina Low reveals that the Duchess of Sussex (pictured with Prince Harry) reduced her courtiers to tearful wrecks
BROKERS: THE HIDDEN POWER BEHIND THE CROWN by Valentine Low (Headline £20, 384pp)
by Valentine Low (Headline £20, 384pp)
‘The men in gray suits’, Princess Diana called the royal courtiers. Sarah Ferguson called them ‘the constipated, self-appointed keepers of the gate’.
The Duchess of Sussex reduced her courtiers to tearful wrecks.
Reading Valentine Low’s fascinating book on the courtiers will make those even with the strongest constitution think twice about applying for a job as one. It’s a life of ‘dignified slavery’, as one broker wrote. Their job is to shape, steer, administer and advise.
But be under no illusion, said Patrick Jephson, Princess Diana’s former private secretary: ‘You are not their friend.’
They can fire you at any time, and they do. Prince Charles went through five private secretaries in seven years from 1985 to 1992.
At their best, they’re indispensable. If the wise and firm Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s private secretary for ten years, had still been in charge, Low feels sure Prince Andrew would never have been let loose in front of a microphone on Newsnight.
THE QUEEN: 70 CHAPTERS OF THE LIFE OF ELIZABETH II by Ian Lloyd (The History Press £15.99, 320pp)
THE QUEEN: 70 CHAPTERS OF THE LIFE OF ELIZABETH II
by Ian Lloyd (The History Press £15.99, 320pp)
Waiting outside the church in Windsor Great Park for a vicar who’d forgotten to turn up, the Queen, growing impatient, remarked, ‘Well, I am the head of the Church of England. Perhaps I should take the service.’
Requested to hold the same rigid pose for over an hour by the artist who was painting her portrait, she said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m used to it. I’ve had to sit through the Royal Variety Performance nearly every year.’
Asked by a group of American tourists who came across her in her headscarf and tweed coat in the grounds of Balmoral whether she’d ever met the Queen, she replied, ‘No — but he has,’ pointing to her protection officer.
These are just some of the glimpses of her late Majesty collected by royal biographer Ian Lloyd in his charming collection of anecdotes about her life, in 70 short chapters. They remind us what a quick wit she had, along with the steeliness required for the 70-year role, during which she was never once spotted yawning or looking at her watch.
QUEEN OF OUR TIMES: THE LIFE OF ELIZABETH II by Robert Hardman (Macmillan £20, 720pp)
QUEEN OF OUR TIMES: THE LIFE OF ELIZABETH II
by Robert Hardman (Macmillan £20, 720pp)
For an authoritative and superbly researched biography of the Queen, you need look no further than this one by Robert Hardman. He combines a magisterial overview of her life and reign with lively and illuminating new takes on some of its key moments, such as the days after Princess Diana’s death.
Both Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell in their memoirs portray the Queen as ‘a remote, blinkered monarch being gently prodded into doing the right thing by the New Labor politicians with their fingers on the national pulse.’
Actually, Hardman writes, before Blair even picked up the phone, the Queen was already deciding what to do next: a royal return from Balmoral to London the next day, and a broadcast to the nation. Hardman was the first to be allowed to look at George VI’s private wartime diaries. These reveal how traumatized he was by the Blitz, beneath his calm exterior, and how terrified he was about the safety of his daughters, as well as of the nation. ‘He had become a bundle of nerves,’ Hardman writes. One dreads to think how bad his stammer was.
Ysenda Maxton-Graham picks out a selection of books about the royals, including William at 40. The Prince and Princess of Wales pictured
THE PALACE PAPERS: INSIDE THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR – THE TRUTH AND THE TURMOIL by Tina Brown (Century £20, 592pp)
THE PALACE PAPERS: INSIDE THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR – THE TRUTH AND THE TURMOIL
by Tina Brown (Century £20, 592pp)
Tina Brown is a mouth-wateringly acerbic writer; a guilty pleasure to read. In her enthralling account of the Royal Family, from Charles’s bachelorhood to the present, for which she has sleuthed, conducting hundreds of interviews, Brown nails the lot of them.
A single Brown detail can sum up a whole character and lifestyle. The Queen Mother’s extravagance is encapsulated in the detail that the cherubs on her four-poster bed had to have their angels’ clothes washed and starched every month by her staff.
Andrew Parker-Bowles: ‘a walking pink gin’. Prince Andrew, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell: ‘The Three Musketeers of Lust.’ Prince William: ‘Until he lost his hair, he was probably the biggest heart-throb to be heir to the throne since the preobese Henry VIII.’ Meghan: ‘Number six on the call sheet.’ (Which she was, in Suits, longing to be number one.)
Harry and Meghan’s statement that they were only going to have two children, to help save the planet: ‘it went over in the media like a flatulent blast of methane, given that the Duke had just taken a private jet to the Google camp’. Marvelous stuff.
WILLIAM AT 40: THE MAKING OF A MODERN MONARCH by Robert Jobson (Ad Lib £20, 249pp)
WILLIAM AT 40: THE MAKING OF A MODERN MONARCH
by Robert Jobson (Ad Lib £20, 249pp)
Thank goodness for Prince William. Not easy to be the brother who doesn’t hog all the limelight or suck up all the oxygen. In the 2021 Oprah Winfrey interview Harry said, ‘My father and my brother… are trapped… My brother can’t leave the system, but I have’, William, according to Robert Jobson in this warm-hearted portrait of William at 40, ‘was staggered at his brother’s discourtesy and presumptuousness in thinking he was able to speak publicly on his behalf about his beliefs.’
William ‘let it be known that, far from feeling trapped, he fully embraced and understood the path laid out before him’.
All too easy to come across as a bit dull, if you subscribe to a life of duty. But Jobson celebrates this vital quality in William, who does have strong influence, in his self-effacing way. ‘In my view,’ Jobson writes, ‘it’s his role as a champion of the natural world and his determination to use his fame and influence to be a bridge between the passionate young and the skeptical old that appears to drive him and may, in time, define his future reign.’
The romantic story of William proposing to Kate beside Lake Alice in Kenya is vividly described. It took him long enough, but was worth the wait.
THREE TIMES A COUNTESS: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE AND TIMES OF RAINE SPENCER by Tina Gaudoin (Constable £25, 336pp)
THREE TIMES A COUNTESS: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE AND TIMES OF RAINE SPENCER
by Tina Gaudoin (Constable £25, 336pp)
Molded by her mother, Dame Barbara Cartland, in the image of one of her storybook heroines, Raine McCorquodale would veer a long way from the path of domestic saintliness.
In this gripping biography, Tina Gaudoin recounts Raine’s roller-coaster of a life, and how it came to be that she was once, twice, three times a countess.
Quite an achievement to go from Countess of Dartmouth to Countess Spencer to — briefly — the Comtesse de Chambrun, looking all the while a bit like Margaret Thatcher.
Reviled for her taste in interior decoration — ‘candyfloss pink and flock-wallpaper like a Balti house’, as Charles Spencer described her redecoration of Althorp — she was at first detested by her Spencer stepchildren.
Diana once pushed her down the stairs, causing extensive bruising. But when Diana found herself cast out into the cold after her separation from Prince Charles, she befriended her former stepmother, and they became very close. Raine’s warm heart shines out of this book.
SCOOPS: BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE BBC’S MOST SHOCKING INTERVIEWS by Sam McAlister (Oneworld £16.99, 288pp)
SCOOPS: BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE BBC’S MOST SHOCKING INTERVIEWS
by Sam McAlister (Oneworld £16.99, 288pp)
The story of how BBC’s Newsnight persuaded Prince Andrew to agree to an interview by Emily Maitlis with no ‘red lines’ is rivetingly recounted at firsthand in this excellent book by Sam McAlister, the producer who made the interview happen.
That television triumph (for Newsnight) and debacle (for the Prince) is covered in the final two chapters of this chronicle of Sam’s life as a Newsnight producer.
Sam approached the Prince’s equerry Amanda Thirsk, who at first insisted that no discussion of the Prince’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein would be permitted. So Sam turned down the interview. But after Epstein’s arrest and death in custody in 2019, she approached Thirsk again, and this time they edged towards an agreement: the interview would go ahead, so the Prince could clear his name.
It’s excruciating to relive that now infamous interview. Sam sat behind the Prince, hardly able to believe what she was hearing, as he dug his own grave, with those ill-prepared, tin-eared and remorse-free replies, bringing a host of new catchphrases such as ‘straightforward shooting weekend’ and ‘I don’t sweat’ into the English language.