Tina Brown Captures the Royal Plot in ‘The Palace Papers’

Being Tina Brown, she often rubs shoulder pads with the elite in the course of work: huddles under a canopy with historian Simon Schama on her way to the 9/11 memorial, for example, or tells the 1981 Mr. Parker Bowles athlete she neither hunted nor hunted. (“A true intellectual, isn’t he?” he said with simple aristocratic mockery.)

credit…Brigitte Lacombe

She proudly claims to have been the first, on The Daily Beast, to reveal just how “plundered” Jeffrey Epstein was. She congratulates herself, a racy loft bath, for turning down one invitation: to the now famous Epstein dinner in Manhattan for Andrew, attended by Woody Allen; The publicist asked if it was a “predator ball”.

But as in her previous royal biography, Brown always seems torn amongst the dreaded tabloid reporters for their outrageous excesses and the enjoyment of their discoveries. With a conspicuously upturned nose, Matt describes Dredge, who has outdone Prince Harry’s spread in Afghanistan even as the English media conspired to hide it, as a “US gossip hacker”, while Rebecca Brooks, former editor of the famous phone-hacking news newspaper World, is One of the great divas” of Fleet Street, a “brilliant social worker” with “terrible networking skills” and a “dangling mane of red curly hair” (which signifies what, exactly?).

Brown is perfectly happy that Prince Philip passed on a card with his own number to an unidentified person on the Caribbean island of Mustique, or that Princess Margaret gave ordinary household items like irons and even toilet brushes as gifts to her loyal staff.

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In her sweet notes, “Vanity Fair Diaries” (2017), Brown also seemed torn between America and England. Here, though, Old Blighty definitely wins (“wins” being Tina Brown’s term too). Romanticizing the rain, she wrote from an epidemic bunker in Santa Monica: “Dark strolls in Wimbledon’s parking lot; wet tin of strawberries at Glindbourne Opera House; damp shovel through church door at Cotswold weddings; trying to hold something like a hat while you open Heaven at the Henley Royal Regatta”. (And here’s Sama again, sending memories of chilly Pimm parties in the college garden, with “the girls whose faces turn blue more than their eyeshadows.”)

Analyzing the younger generation, the generation saving the monarchy’s “completely collapsed theme park project,” Brown compares Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, to heroine Anthony Trollope (her family into which she was born was “too stubborn and upright for Dickens,” she supposes, while “George Eliot’s women , on the contrary, be very complex and reflective”). As for Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex and a former actress, her story appears to emerge from “the back of Variety’s bulk copies” – which, given the state of print publications such as Brown that she has overseen, appears to fall short.

‘Palace Leaves’ is neither succulent, nor life-like – there are not enough new items extracted from the entire royal chaos. It’s frothy and straightforward, a sort of “keeping up with the Windsors” with sprinkles of Keats, and like its predecessor it’s likely to float right off the charts.

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