Being Tina Brown, she rubs shoulders with the elite more often in her business pursuits: huddling under an umbrella with historian Simon Schama en route to a 9/11 memorial, for example, or telling sportsman Mr. Parker-Bowles in 1981 that she neither hunted nor fished. (“‘Real intellectual, isn’t he?’ he said with a slight patrician sneer.”)
Proudly, she claims to have been the first, in The Daily Beast, to reveal the extent of the “depredations” of Jeffrey Epstein. She congratulates herself, an energetic shower, on having turned down an invitation: to the now infamous dinner Epstein hosted in Manhattan for Andrew, attended by Woody Allen; she asked the publicist if it was a “predator ball”.
But as in her previous royal biography, Brown seems eternally torn between excoriating tabloid reporters for their most egregious offenses and reveling in their discoveries. With her nose obviously turned up, she describes Matt Drudge, who exposed Prince Harry’s deployment to Afghanistan even as the English media conspired to cover it up, as a “buccaneer of American gossip”, while Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the notorious News of the World phone hack, is “one of the great divas” of Fleet Street, a “flamboyant social operator” with “vulpine networking skills” and a “tumultuous mane of curly red hair” ( meaning what, exactly?).
Brown is perfectly happy to report that Prince Philip once slipped a card with his private number to an anonymous socialite on the Caribbean island of Mustique, or that Princess Margaret gave mundane household items like irons and even a toilet brush as a gift to its loyal staff.
In her delightful memoir, “The Vanity Fair Diaries” (2017), Brown also seemed torn between America and England. Here, however, Old Blighty definitely wins (“wins” being a very Tina Brown term). Writing from a pandemic bunker in Santa Monica, she romanticizes the rain: “the moody picnics in a sweltering parking lot at Wimbledon; the wet carton of strawberries at Glyndebourne Opera House; the soggy scuttling through the church door at Cotswold weddings; the attempt to hold on to something resembling a hat as the skies open at the Henley Royal Regatta. (And here’s Schama again, texting memories of chilly Pimm evenings on the college lawn, with “girls whose faces turn bluer than their eye shadow.”)
Analyzing the younger generation, the one who arguably saved “the entire crumbling theme park business” from the monarchy, Brown compares Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, to an Anthony Trollope heroine (her biological family was “too stubborn and honest for Dickens”, she assumes, while “George Eliot’s women, on the contrary, were too complicated and thoughtful”). As for Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex and former actress, her story seems to be taking shape of the “back of Variety bound copies” – which, given the state of print publications such as Brown used to oversee, seems to be a little neglected.
“The Palace Papers” isn’t juicy, exactly, or luscious – there just isn’t enough news squeezed out of all the royal mess. It’s frothy and direct, a sort of “Keeping Up With the Windsors” with touches of Keats, and like its predecessor, it will likely float through the charts.