THE PALACE PAPERS

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“We don’t want another Diana.” Thus runs a mantra among Britain’s royal family, whose more retiring members—most notably Queen Elizabeth II—harbor a deep fear of scandal. Yet, as Brown’s account opens, scandal and controversy emerge as the coin of the realm, in this case with the brouhaha surrounding Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle, marked by “the Palace’s inaction at her character assassination by the press.” As the author remarks, the royal family, headed by a 96-year-old with a 74-year-old waiting to assume the throne, “cannot be expected to be nimble.” Indeed, many of its members are downright boring, if dutiful, in contrast with rebels such as Diana and Meghan, to say nothing of disgraced figures such as Andrew and Fergie. In the case of Diana’s gruesome death, writes Brown, “the Queen’s usual impeccable sense of how to do the right thing…was beset by the need for a new kind of emotional response that met the moment of the crisis,” which Elizabeth couldn’t muster. Indeed, she emerges as remote, even cold, some of which, Brown allows, can be traced to the requirements of rule, some to a marked distaste for confrontation. So it was that she ordered Charles to delay his wedding to Camilla Bowles by a day in deference to the funeral of Pope John Paul II, at which “the otherwise stalwart Camilla went into meltdown.” Brown, superbly equipped to dig deep into the Windsors, turns in scathing, nicely gossipy portraits of some of them, especially Andrew, a corrupt, venal “horndog eternally on the hunt,” mixing them with quietly admiring portrayals of figures such as Kate Middleton, who exemplifies “duty and loyalty to the Crown” and an avenue to a brighter future.

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