A Family Story

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Spring bounty. Photo: JH.

Monday, May 9, 2022.  Another cool and rainy weekend in New York with temps ranging from mid-40s to mid-50s coupled with occasionally very cold breezes. However, it’s Mother’s Day to warm us up.

Click to order The Palace Papers.

I’ve been reading “The Palace Papers,” the Tina Brown book about the Royal Family. It is a brilliant book. It is at once History in terms of facts and the author’s take; and also the natural melodrama of family life and lives. Except this family is Numero Uno and live like Kings and Queens.

Or as the Queen Mother was said to have observed once when the footman she had sent to get her jewels for that night’s event arrived on the lift wearing the jewels (playing her part): “Give me those, those are for a real queen.”

It is easy yet fascinating to read because it is about a family. Not just any family of course, but yes any family. Almost all of us know about a FAMILY because we have one or had one. Depending on many things, that family creates the drama of one’s life. The family in Tina Brown’s book is one of them. Except they’re world famous as historical figures, which naturally alters the public perception of that family.

I have read several books about or related to the British royals and their history. I’m always vaguely interested but “So what else is new?” I saw the headlines such as it was when Prince Harry married Meghan, the TV actress. The whole world seemed to think he had done himself (and them) wrong by marrying her. As if it were any of our personal business.

Many people I know who never met or heard of Meghan until Harry came into her life (and her into his) immediately called her every name in the book including the “she only married him to become a princess.”

Well, why not? Whattaya think all those princesses out there were were thinking before they married their prince. Whatever the reality and truth may be about Harry and Meghan and Meghan and Harry’s relationship, we may never know. And whatever the truth is for Harry and Meghan (and the rest of us), remains to be seen, although I’m only a quarter the way through this fascinating tome, so maybe I’ll learn something specific from the horse’s mouth.


With no intention of reading it, I did what I usually do with a new book: I read the first few paragraphs just to get a sense of what it’s like. I have great admiration for Ms. Brown as a magazine editor in years with Vanity Fair and then the New Yorker. Nobody does it better — by even half. However, I hadn’t read any of her books if there were others. Although frankly my experience (social) with Ms. Brown was never compelling. I never had a full conversation with her so I only know her in public social moments when you say hello to someone you happen to be passing by.

None of that matters now because when I opened the book for a look-see I started reading about Diana, Princess Diana, and Tina Brown was reporting on the woman and what happened, and how it happened, and why it happened. You get a strong sense immediately that this is the “inside” story.

The Queen’s first official portraits as Sovereign taken 20 days after her accession to the throne.

The author looks at all sides of the world famous young woman, good, bad and ugly. You’re reminded of the phenomenon of this young woman who became the most world famous of all the Royals including The Queen. She was the future of the Royal Family. Or so it was thought in the beginning.

I felt compelled to finish that chapter which naturally led me into one about Charles and then Camilla; and by then I felt  compelled to read on to the end. Those two really got around by which I mean anything you can want it to mean. They were free and easy frequently and freely. What rates as gossip but is in fact Facts gives the reader a strong sense of the personalities of these individuals. They are characters in a novel that you become attached to in terms of credibility.

A number of years ago I was invited by a friend to accompany her to a  dinner at Buckingham Palace that was a fundraiser for the London Symphony or the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The black tie evening began with cocktails in an enormous reception room hung with the royal portraits going back centuries. About a half hour  into the reception, a man announced “The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of  …” and two great double doors opened and in they walked. Within seconds Charles was surrounded (almost mobbed) by guests, and in another part of the room a number of people (not a crowd) surrounded Camilla. I being the natural observer kept off to the side so I could watch without interruption.

Charles was inundated but clearly not comfortable, yet gracious. Camilla on the other hand was quite naturally comfortable with the strangers surrounding her. She’s a very pretty woman in a way that photos don’t flatter. She has a warm smile, bright blue eyes, and looks quite pleased to meet new people. I could see why the Prince of Wales would be attracted; her presence can put one at ease.

Now, having plunged into Tina Brown’s amazing “The Palace Papers,” I understand the world this family dwells in. I also understand that as established as it is, its stability is never naturally assured, possibly moreso now than ever before.

Why? Because it’s full of life of real people living as a Family as we creatures naturally tend to do. And Families are special because of their Public roles and Historic identities. And YET their lives, like everyone’s life, are often complicated with all kinds of problems of the human psyche. AND politically. And they are complicated, and simple, even stupid at times; and even quite nasty, and extremely sexually active … here, there, and everywhere … depending on the individual. But such is life.

The details of the author’s portraits of these lives make them very accessible to all of us. The other thing about this book, aside from its excellent story-telling, is that it invites you in to see how complicated we are.

For example: Her Majesty the Queen a bad mother? If you were Charles’ shrink you might conclude that. If you learned how she spent those early mother years at other tasks and in other places, and often by choice, you could see the boy’s experience of mama. Not. We can pass judgment on those terms but in fact, it’s not an original experience and even a common one for many of us; mothers who work.

The Queen who is portrayed as very real is nevertheless a fascinating person — an agreed-upon special individual, and maybe even the most powerful woman in the world today by the nature of her conduct and reputation. Nevertheless she is and was a mother. And like all mothers, she had her way of dealing with the matter(s). And if she didn’t feel like it, she also had a really good excuse/reason to exempt herself from maternal duties. Besides, she paid the rent and put the food on everyone’s table.

It’s a family with all its troubles. The book cover itself tells you what it’s about. The portraits of the four woman, l. to r.: Camilla, the Queen, Kate the Duchess, and Meghan, the Montecito mama. Notice the direction of the Queen’s gaze; a mother-in-law’s look. And THAT is always interesting when it comes to Family.

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