9 Royal Tabloid Controversies Explained in Robert Lacey’s Battle of Brothers

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In his new book, Battle of the Brothers: William and Harry—The Inside Story of a Family in Tumult, Robert Lacey, royal expert and historical consultant to the The Crown, tells the story of the recent schism separating Prince Harry and Meghan Markle from the rest of the royal family from the very beginning: when Prince Charles and Princess Diana first met. According to Lacey, the roots of Harry’s eventual disillusionment are seen pretty clearly in the cold and difficult relationship between his parents and the ways his mother pushed back against royal strictures.

The story of Charles and Diana has been told before, and so has the story of Meghan and Harry. But in his version, Lacey takes a closer look at the way the press itself shaped the lives of the people they were writing about as everything unfolded. He examines how the family participated with the press, reporting that Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, had a weekly telephone appointment with a journalist from the Sun throughout the 80s, where she would share tidbits she gleaned from her phone conversations with Charles. He also discusses the way explosive press battles between Charles and Diana had an impact on William and Harry’s upbringing. In one poignant moment, Lacey writes that William’s boarding school had subscriptions to national newspapers, but on a day his parents’ arguments led the news, they were not distributed to the students to avoid causing him distress.

Treating the press as a significant force—and some of the leading royal correspondents as characters—means that Lacey brings a new eye to some of the biggest tabloid controversies and mysteries of the last quarter century. Here are some of the most fascinating ones.

William welcomed Camilla into the family—but she was surprised by his temper. Camilla remained friendly with Charles throughout his marriage to Diana, and though there is some debate about when their affair began, Lacey reports that William and Harry never met their future stepmother until after Diana’s death. They did know about her, and William finally met her in 1998 when he made a surprise visit to Charles and Camilla at home. Though he was friendly, the meeting stressed Camilla out. “I need a gin and tonic,” she told a friend she said afterward, before pouring herself a double. After his parents split, William was angry at Charles and the tension seemingly lingered for decades. Camilla later told friends that she was alarmed by William’s screaming and fiery temper when he got into it with Charles.

William and Harry were both wild partiers in high school. In the early 2000s, Harry had a reputation for being an out-of-control partier, a period Lacey returns to when trying to figure out when William and Harry first began to fight. William was responsible for turning the basement at Highgrove House into what Lacey calls a “disco rumpus room” called Club H, pouring Harry his first shots, and introducing him to marijuana at Eton, though Harry did continue to party after William graduated. Insiders who spoke to Lacey said that Harry resented that William never got the type of negative headlines he did, and was even convinced that Charles’s press officer was feeding the stories to newspapers to make him look bad. 

There’s a chance Kate only decided to go to St. Andrews after she heard William was going. A long-forgotten tabloid controversy centers on the exact timeline of Kate’s application to the university where she eventually met William. In August 2000, William’s decision to attend St. Andrew’s to study the history of art was made public. At first, Kate had applied and had committed to Edinburgh University, where some of her friends were planning to go. Sometime in late August or September, according to Lacey, Kate changed her mind and decided to defer for a year and apply to St. Andrew’s, and her high school made her write a formal letter to Edinburgh to apologize. Lacey isn’t sure exactly what her motivations were, but he points out that applications for female students jumped 44% after William announced his choice. Even if Kate did apply because she harbored a slight crush on the prince who was already a global star, she certainly wasn’t alone. Who among us, Lacey concludes, wouldn’t do the same?

The tiara fight before Meghan’s wedding to Harry really happened—but it was way more complicated than previously reported. In November 2018, rumors that Meghan was denied her choice in tiara first erupted, adding to the narrative that the palace referred to her as “Duchess Difficult.” Subsequent versions of the story have cast doubt on the fact that Meghan was even there at all, and the authors of Finding Freedom, another bombshell biography, claim the fight was between Harry and the Queen Elizabeth’s dresser Angela Kelly about using the tiara for a hair trial. According to Lacey, the queen did say no to a first suggestion made by Meghan because it might have been acquired sketchily after the Russian Revolution and is thus rarely put on display. If Harry questioned his grandmother after that, Lacey thinks it might have only been because he didn’t understand the significance of the tiara.

The Buckingham Palace staff, specifically the queen’s private secretary and his allies, were not fans of Meghan’s. According to Lacey, Meghan joined the family right as a staff shakeup at Buckingham Palace had become contentious. The queen’s longtime right-hand man, Christopher Geidt, had been pushed out of his role, and his replacement, Edward Young, was not as beloved or competent a manager. As a result, unflattering leaks from palace insiders went up considerably starting in late 2017, meaning that some of the venom aimed at Meghan might have been a coincidence. Lacey also believes that Young particularly disliked Meghan and thus saddled her with a light, boring schedule that didn’t allow her to get involved. Her two signature projects from her years at the palace, the cookbook she worked on with Grenfell Tower fire survivors and the issue of British Vogue she guest-edited, were both developed without the help of the palace office, and made some insiders angry.

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