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It’s a safe bet that the Queen won’t have Finding Freedom on her Balmoral reading list. As she enjoys her first week off work on her annual holiday to Scotland, the monarch, understandably keen to relax after a challenging year, will likely be avoiding the newspapers too. Today’s headlines are dominated by the release of Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand’s Finding Freedom, possibly the most hyped and publicized royal biography of the year (and there are a fair few out there).
The book tells, for the first time, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s side of the story and reveals why they quit the royal family: “After almost three years of regular attacks from the British press and a family they felt had not done enough to support them, things had to change.”
The biography reveals intimate details of the couple’s whirlwind courtship and the feuds and fall outs behind palace walls as they approached their fairy tale Windsor wedding. It reveals how Harry fell out not only with William over Meghan, but also his oldest friend Tom Inskip. And though it revisits some well-known tabloid stories, like Kate’s tears at a bridesmaids’ dress fitting and Meghan’s alleged request for air freshener at St George’s Chapel, the authors are more invested in writing a favorable account of the Sussexes lives. According to the prologue, “The aim of this book was to portray the real Harry and Meghan, a couple who have often been inaccurately portrayed and victims of those with personal agendas.”
Scobie and Durand also present an incredible level of detail, from Meghan’s favorite breakfast— steel cut oats made with almond or soy milk, bananas, and agave syrup—to a description of the Queen’s private sitting room, with its “maroon-and-cream Aubusson carpet accented with a floral-and-scroll pattern…eggshell blue walls…with the most spectacular ornate crown moldings that Meghan had ever seen.” That has raised royal eyebrows over at the palace, where some courtiers have been nervously awaiting the publication of the book. One senior palace aide even called one of the book’s authors to find out what was in the manuscript.
Their concerns have not been unwarranted. The future king and queen, William and Kate, come under fire more than other senior royals, with the Duchess of Cambridge portrayed as cold and aloof, William as snobbish and interfering. The Cambridges were so outraged by some of the claims in the book that they allowed friends to speak out on their behalf to reveal that they had gone out of their way to welcome Meghan.
The establishment of the royal family itself also comes in for a fair amount of criticism. There are allegations of racism within the institution (Scobie claims he witnessed discrimination first hand), while the authors also lift the lid on palace politics, claiming that the various royal households often briefed against each other. The Queen’s most senior aide Angela Kelly is also named for the first time as playing a role in the tiara debacle, which has apparently upset her.
Officials at Buckingham Palace are pointedly making “no comment” on the book. One household member I spoke with claimed not to have read it, while another said that all of the “fuss” was being generated by the tabloids and that it’s “business as usual” back at HQ.
“I think most people feel it’s a shame that the book has come just as the dust was settling. It’s also overshadowing the good work the royals—including Harry and Meghan—are doing,” a source told Vanity Fair. “I think everyone just wants to move on and leave the past in the past.”
Even Harry and Meghan are said to be a little frustrated that the book has generated so many headlines at a time when they want to put the spotlight on the important race related issues they are championing.
In the media there has been much debate as to how involved the Sussexes have been with Finding Freedom. While Scobie and Durand say that the subjects didn’t collaborate on the book, the level of access is astonishing; you can almost hear Meghan and Harry’s distinctive voices. There’s no doubt that the authors had unprecedented access to the couple’s circle of aides and friends, and even though there is little we didn’t already know in the book, Finding Freedom is packed with delicious detail. It is well written, impeccably sourced and a fascinating deep dive into one of the most exciting chapters in royal history.
Scobie reports that he and Meghan exchanged a hug at Buckingham Palace after the final engagement in the UK, and her parting words to him were “it didn’t have to be that way.” Those words are the crux of Finding Freedom, the story of a duke and duchess who felt they were forced out by an unrelenting ancient institution which neither recognized nor valued them.
“The authors have reported on a seminal moment in the royal family,” said Andrew Morton, author of Diana: Her True Story, one of the most famous royal biographies of all time. “The fall out of the royal princes is biblical, like Cain and Abel. Is it the next Diana Her True Story? No.
That book has a life of its own. Finding Freedom isn’t as baleful for the monarchy as Diana: Her True Story which was about the break-up of the future king and queen. This is Hansel and Gretel, two innocents at large in the big bad world.”
“Diana knew the venom that lurks in royal household politics,” added Patrick Jephson, Diana’s former private secretary. “She also knew that hard work and good humor made the best anti-venom – especially with the media.”
It’s hard not to feel some pity for Harry, who according to the book was saddened when he read one headline in a UK tabloid ‘Doesn’t the Queen deserve better?’ and felt physically ill when he read some of the online comments. The book explores the close relationship between the monarch and her grandson and Harry is keen that the relationship remains close. He often speaks on the phone to his grandmother, who the book reveals was impressed by Meghan. Harry is also said to be keen that his relationship with his brother, which has improved in the past few months and continues to progress.
So, given the book has opened up old wounds, was it worth it for Harry and Meghan? The irony of Finding Freedom is that, locked down in their rented mansion in LA, the Sussexes have less freedom than they did when they lived in Windsor.
As for the monarchy, the book concludes that the Royal Family has lost two of its greatest assets. “Like another American actress, Grace Kelly, who married Prince Rainier of Monaco, [Meghan] had the potential to make the royal family more accessible to a wider swath of the public in the UK and abroad,” write the authors. They, perhaps, might be the only winners in this rather sad story.