YSENDA MAXTONE GRAHAM picks the jewels in the crown from a bumper year for royal books…
COURTIERS: 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
COURTIERS: THE HIDDEN POWER BEHIND THE CROWN by Valentine Low (headline £20, 384pp)
by Valentine Low (Cup £20, 384pp)
“The men in gray suits,” Princess Diana called the royal courtiers. Sarah Ferguson called them “the hidden, self-proclaimed guardians of the gate.”
The Duchess of Sussex reduced her courtiers to tearful wrecks.
Reading Valentine Low’s fascinating book on the courtiers will make even those of the strongest constitution think twice about applying for a job as a courtier. It is a life of “dignified slavery,” as one courtier wrote. Their task is to shape, direct, manage and advise.
But don’t be under any illusions, said Patrick Jephson, Princess Diana’s former private secretary, “You’re not their friend.”
They can fire you at any time, and they will. Prince Charles went through five private secretaries in seven years from 1985 to 1992.
At their best, they are indispensable. If the wise and steadfast Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s private secretary for ten years, had still been in charge, Low is sure Prince Andrew would never have been let loose in front of a mike 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 had forgotten to show up, the Queen impatiently remarked, ‘Well, I’m the head of the Church of England. Maybe I should enlist.’
At the request of the artist who was painting her portrait, she was asked to maintain the same rigid posture for over an hour. She said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m used to it. I have had to experience the Royal Variety Performance almost every year.’
When asked by a group of American tourists who encountered her in her headscarf and tweed coat on the grounds of Balmoral whether she had ever met the Queen, she replied: ‘No, but he did’, pointing to her security officer.
These are just some of the glimpses of the late Her 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 steely toughness required for the 70-year role, in which she was never seen yawning or looking at her watch.
QUEEN OF OUR TIMES: THE LIFE OF ELIZABETH II by Robert Hardman (Macmillan £20, 720pp)
QUEEN OF OUR TIME: THE LIFE OF ELIZABETH II
by Robert Hardman (Macmillan £20, 720pp)
For an authoritative and well-researched biography of the Queen, look no further than this one by Robert Hardman. He combines a majestic overview of her life and reign with vivid and illuminating new looks at some of the most important moments, such as the days after Princess Diana’s death.
Both Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell portray the Queen in their memoirs as “an aloof, blind monarch gently urged by New Labor politicians to do the right thing with their fingers on the national pulse.”
In fact, 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 into George VI’s private diaries. These reveal how traumatized he was from the Blitz, behind his calm exterior, and how terrified he was for the safety of his daughters, as well as the nation. “He had become a bundle of nerves,” Hardman writes. You can’t imagine how bad his stuttering was.
Ysenda Maxton-Graham selects a selection of books about the royal family, including William at the age of 40. The Prince and Princess of Wales in the picture
THE PALACE PAPERS: IN THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR – THE TRUTH AND THE MOTION by Tina Brown (Century £20, 592pp)
THE PALACE PAPERS: IN WINDSOR’S HOUSE – THE TRUTH AND THE MOTION
by Tina Brown (Century £20,592 pp)
Tina Brown is a delightful biting writer; a guilty pleasure to read. In her captivating account of the royal family, from Charles’ bachelorhood to the present day, for which she has researched and conducted hundreds of interviews, Brown hits the nail on the head.
A single brown detail can sum up an entire character and lifestyle. The Queen Mother’s extravagance is reflected in the detail that each month the cherubs on her four-poster bed were required to have their angels’ clothes washed and starched by her servants.
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 heartthrob heir to the throne since the obese Henry VIII.’ Meghan: “Number six on the call sheet.” (Which she desired in Suits to be number one.)
Harry and Meghan’s statement that they would only have two children, to help save the planet: “It went over in the media as a windy explosion of methane, given that the Duke had just taken a private jet to the Google camp taken’. Great stuff.
WILLIAM AT 40: MAKING 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)
Lucky for Prince William. It’s not easy being the brother who doesn’t get all the attention or suck up all the oxygen. In the 2021 Oprah Winfrey interview, Harry said, “My dad and my brother… are trapped… My brother can’t leave the system, but I can,” said William, Robert Jobson in this heartfelt portrait of William, 40, “stood baffled at his brother’s rudeness and presumptuousness when he thought he could speak publicly about his beliefs on his behalf.”
William “let it be known that far from feeling trapped, he fully embraced and understood the path laid out for him.”
All too easy to come off as a little boring, if you subscribe to dutiful living. But Jobson celebrates this vital quality in William, who is indeed a powerful influence, in his humble way. “In my opinion,” Jobson writes, “it is his role as a champion of the natural world and his determination to use his fame and influence to bridge the gap between the passionate young and the skeptical old that seem to drive him.” and perhaps, in time, define his future reign.’
The romantic story of William proposing to Kate beside Lake Alice in Kenya is vividly described. It took long enough, but it 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 stray far from the path of domestic sanctity.
In this gripping biography, Tina Gaudoin tells of Raine’s roller coaster of a life, and how she came to be a countess once, twice, three times.
Quite an achievement to go from Countess of Dartmouth to Countess Spencer to – briefly – the Comtesse de Chambrun, who all along looked a bit like Margaret Thatcher.
Reviled for her taste in interior decoration – “cotton candy pink and flock wallpaper like a Balti house,” as Charles Spencer described her Althorp redecoration – she was initially detested by her Spencer stepchildren.
Diana once pushed her down the stairs, leaving her with big bruises. But when Diana was left out in the cold following her divorce from Prince Charles, she befriended her former stepmother, and they grew close. Raine’s warm heart radiates from 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 compellingly told first hand in this excellent book from Sam McAlister, the producer who arranged the interview.
That television triumph (for Newsnight) and debacle (for the Prince) is covered in the last two chapters of this chronicle of Sam’s life as a Newsnight producer.
Sam approached the Prince’s equerry, Amanda Thirsk, who initially insisted that the Prince’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein not be discussed. 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 moved closer to an agreement: the interview would go ahead so the prince could clear his name.
It is excruciating to relive that now infamous interview. Sam sat behind the Prince, hard to believe what she heard, as he dug his own grave, with those ill-prepared, ear-splitting, remorse-free answers, with a whole bunch of new catchphrases like “straightforward shooting weekend” and “I don’t sweat” in the English language.