In 1992 the Queen introduced the world to the expression, annus horribilis. This week, may we suggest another handy phrase for Her Majesty’s lexicon: Septem horribilis. Or for those of us whose Latin is a wee bit rusty: Absolutely sh*t week.
For the last five days, in the wake of the launch of the latest season of The Crown, the biggest question about the royal family has been – just how heartless a bunch of Tweed fanciers are they?
Just how horrendously beastly was Charles to Diana? Just how cold and remote of a mother was the Queen, thus spectacularly failing her family? And just how badly was Diana mauled by a brutish palace machine entirely staffed by stiff backed, callous courtiers hellbent on monarchical rectitude?
There’s a sardonic saying in journalism – never let the facts get in the way of a good story. After this latest season, I would wager that Crown impresario Peter Morgan feels the same way when he’s busily taking royal history and weaving it into spellbinding but fictitious TV.
If the palace feared that this latest instalment of the series would resurrect the damaging anti-royal sentiment of the ’80s and ’90s then this week, those worries come woefully true. Charles comes across as a bullying brute, who ostensibly spent his days staring wistfully across the Highgrove gardens and plotting romantic trysts with Camilla.
The Queen meanwhile is a remote, out-of-touch boss at sea in a new decade.
Making the monarch’s week even worse was the news that the BBC has appointed Former Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson to head up an investigation into Diana’s 1995 Panorama interview (you know, the one in which she infamously said, “There were three of us in the marriage”).
It has been alleged that journalist Martin Bashir, who conducted the interview, used forged documents to convince the princess of a conspiracy against her, thus persuading her to take part in the explosive tete-a-tete.
RELATED: Harry and Meghan’s ‘secret tape’ bombshell
For the palace, having one of the most destructive and damaging chapters in royal history back in the spotlight only represents the reopening of an old, painful wound and will ensure that the princess’ destructive, most recently dormant claims about the Windsors will be shoved firmly back in the spotlight.
And finally, we come to today’s bombshell news that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, has admitted that she gave the authors of the controversial pro-Sussex biography Finding Freedom personal information via an unnamed third party.
Essentially: The call was coming from inside the palace.
For months and months now there has been feverish speculation that the intimate and detailed accounts provided by the book’s writers Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand of the tumultuous Sussex years could only have come from someone very, very intimate with royal goings-on.
However, Meghan and her husband Prince Harry have long denied contributing to the bestseller.
A July statement read: “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were not interviewed and did not contribute to Finding Freedom. This book is based on the authors’ own experiences as members of the royal press corps and their own independent reporting.”
More recently, in September, lawyers for the Duchess told a London court in a statement: “The claimant and her husband did not collaborate with the authors on the book, nor were they interviewed for it, nor did they provide photographs to the authors for the book.”
And yet it would seem that the lady doth protest in court too much given that the 39-year-old Duchess has now admitted that she did indeed co-operate with Freedom’s authors.
The dramatic revelation came in new documents filed by her lawyers as part of her ongoing case against the Mail on Sunday’s parent company (she alleges they breached her privacy by publishing parts of a letter she had sent her estranged father Thomas; the media company is vigorously defending the claim).
RELATED: Prince Harry’s $130m Crown disaster
Per the documents, the Duchess was worried that Finding Freedom would repeat her father’s narrative about their relationship (that is, that she essentially abandoned him) so the former actress gave her side of events to a mystery person who “had already been approached by the authors” so that “the true position … could be communicated to the authors to prevent any further misrepresentation”.
That however, was the extent of Meghan’s help to Scobie and Durand, her lawyers said. “Neither the Claimant nor her husband wished to be involved in any way with the book,” the statement tendered to the court said.
The latest high court filing also revealed that Meghan had written the contentious letter in question to her father in 2018 on the advice of two unnamed members of the royal family. Vanity Fair royal editor Katie Nicholl has reported “that Meghan approached the Queen and the Prince of Wales for advice”.
According to The Telegraph, the 39-year-old Duchess says that she did not speak to Scobie or Durand and “admits she does not know if the Kensington Palace communications team provided any information on her behalf”.
For the Queen & Co, this latest development in the Harry ’n’ Meghan soap opera is just the latest in an overgrowing list of Sussex-adjacent headaches. As Britain faces the horrifying rise of a second COVID wave and as the royal family is plugging away at bucking up the nation and projecting a ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ bonhomie, the last thing the palace must want is this sort of melodrama monopolising the news and obliterating all their do-goodery.
Similarly, it seems unlikely that his latest chapter will improve the already strained relations between the house of Santa Barbara and the house of Windsor. Because, while there might be a long and not-so-proud tradition of members of the royal family leaking titbits to friendly journalists, to bluntly deny involvement and then have to make a public U-turn is simply a PR debacle.
RELATED: Sex scandal The Crown left out
For the Sussexes, all of this comes at a time when they have recently come in for a drubbing from some quarters over their reported $130 million deal with Netflix, given they have chosen to work with the very same company that has seen fit to monetise his family’s misery and tumult.
I wonder if the 94-year-old monarch is feeling even the slightest bit of deja vu given that she is now facing the continued, bruising fallout from the actions of two women who both struggled to survive in royal captivity and who then used sympathetic journalists to get their side of events out into the public sphere.
There is a certain unfortunate symmetry to all this. The same week that one not-so-merry Wife of Windsor’s ’90s public revelations are coming back to haunt the palace, another not-so-merry Wife of Windsor is making headlines with public revelations of her own.
For Meghan and Harry, it’s hard not to view this courtroom revelation as anything but a stunning and embarrassing reversal given their former staunch protestations that they were not involved with Freedom.
The consequences for Meghan in terms of her credibility and whether this news might lend an unfortunately manipulative tinge to her image remains to be seen.
What unites Diana and Meghan across the decades is that they were, and are, women hungry for the public record to reflect their version of events and were willing to take risky steps to make that happen.
While both Diana’s Panorama interview and Finding Freedom drummed up considerable sympathy for the beleaguered royal wives, ultimately the Princess of Wales paid a high price with the Queen forcing her and Charles to divorce. Like the Princess of Wales so long ago, for Meghan this particular gamble looks perilously like it could backfire
As we approach the weekend, when I’m guessing the Queen will be looking forward to a gin martini and some quality time locked away with her dorgis and her Glenn Miller records, the fact is, for the near future at least, the palace will continue to be stalked by the actions of two women they could not contain or manage or even ever really tried to understand or help.
Sure, The Crown might be an elaborate, expensive exercise in fiction masquerading seductively as fact but one thing the series gets brutally right is that the royal house failed Diana. And while we might never see it exquisitely dramatised by Netflix, the fact remains the crown also failed Meghan.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.