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’Finding Freedom’: New Book Aims to Set Record Straight on Palace Intrigue and Drama Around Meghan and Harry’s Royal Relationship
Two top royal reporters attempt to set the record straight with the Sussexes' side of the Megxit story. / BY Leanne Delap / August 11th, 2020
In the weeks leading up to today’s release of Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family, there have been ominous rumblings in the tabloids from the Palace courtiers of how it may blow up the tentative truce in the British Royal Family after the “stepping down” of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from their gigs as senior royals.
In the serial excerpts released in The Times and The Sunday Times of London in the run-up to this best seller’s launch, cans of worms were indeed re-opened, around the “greatest hits,” subjects such as William and Harry’s feud, the tiara incident, and other tattle related to “Duchess Difficult.”
But in the end, this book is more a softening of the hard edges around the brief, shining and highly combustible Harry and Meghan saga. Prior to launch, Finding Freedom was often compared to Andrew Morton’s Diana: Her True Story, detailing the horrors Harry’s mother experienced behind the Palace gates, her bulimia, suicide attempts while pregnant, and her husband’s faithlessness. There was persistent speculation that Harry and Meghan co-operated with the authors, as it was revealed (immediately after her untimely death) that Diana had worked with Morton on his biography.
“Harry and Meghan were not part of the process of this book,” co-author Omid Scobie firmly told Zoomer by phone from London the day before publication. But hundreds of others were, he says, from courtiers and staff at the various competing royal households, to friends and acquaintances and former co-workers, as well as charity representatives who have worked with the royal pair. So why would they talk?
“Carolyn [Durand, Scobie’s co-author] and I had established our position,” he says, meaning that from their ongoing combined two decades of royal coverage, they were seen as fair-minded. Both are a unique brand of outside insiders: they work for American news organizations, which means they were outside the fishbowl of the official royal rota, they don’t buy stories and they double-source their leads. (Durand held a long-time senior producer position for ABC out of Buckingham Palace and is a royal contributor for OprahMag.com and Elle.com; Scobie is royal editor for Harper’s Bazaar, and a frequent ABC news contributor, including for Good Morning America.) Both have covered numerous foreign tours with this generation of young royal “rock stars,” as well as their public and private events from the UK.
Scobie and Durand declared their intentions to write the biography to the Palace more than two years ago, around the time of Harry and Meghan’s wedding. Since then, it seems, people on Harry and Meghan’s “side” had been looking for an outlet to clarify things they feel had been misreported or unfair. “Colleagues and friends of the couple weren’t recognizing Harry and Meghan in the coverage,” says Scobie. “We provided almost a safe place to correct some of these stories. They knew we were trying to shine a light on a different side of the story and that was quite compelling for those individuals. Some only had one story to set the record straight on, and didn’t want to be drawn into speculation.” Other secret sources, he says, tirelessly answered email after email.
They began with an American viewpoint — the authors emphasize throughout the book how frustrated particularly Meghan was about not being able to “defend herself,” or “speak out” or “correct the record” — at odds with the British and particularly royal imperative to “never complain, never explain.” This viewpoint dovetailed with how frustrated Harry was in turn, at not being able to protect his wife, who seemed to be suffering at the hands of the press the same way Harry remembered his mother suffering.
Scobie puts it this way: “My reporting is generally glass half full. I like to focus on the work” — the charities and initiatives championed by the Sussexes, in this case — “and I haven’t got involved in tabloid tittle-tattle or relentless conversations of expenditures” on houses, cars and fashions.
So what, then, do we learn in Finding Freedom? For extreme Royal-philes, the book is a trove of textural detail, of nuance, and you find yourself straining to pull out colour you haven’t seen before from some very familiar stories. As Scobie says, “I sometimes went back half a dozen times to recreate the colours of a drawing room.”
We learn what they serve for Christmas lunch and dinner at Sandringham (a separate turkey is carved for the children in the nursery), that Meghan chose Baies Diptyque candles for the chapel at her wedding (which was fully approved all around), and that the Queen’s grandchildren have a “cousins only” What’s App account. We learned about how Harry likes bacon and eggs for breakfast while on safari, while Meghan prefers yogurt and fruit. Scobie and Durand must have had solid sources in Southern Africa, because we also learn about the Egyptian towels and pressurized showers they enjoyed, and about Harry’s favourite Botswana stew.
There are a few juicy tidbits around a photo hack of the Sussex’s private photos (which were mostly successfully quashed), and a dangle about a night nurse dismissed on her second shift for being “unprofessional and irresponsible,” without further detail into what it was exactly she had done.
We do get confirmation of Jessica Mulroney’s role in dressing Meghan in the early days, stories of sharing potential wardrobe pieces by DM, or courier packages going back and forth. We learn also that the Mulroney’s gifted the Sussexes with a traditional “top of the line” bassinet stroller, used often on the grounds of Frogmore Cottage, their (brief) home in Windsor.
“Canada was very important to them,” says Scobie. “In November it was a place they could find peace and make the very important decisions affecting their family.” He doesn’t think Los Angeles will be a one-way ticket: “I think Canada will continue to play an important role for them, they are quite a borderless couple.”
We learn also that Meghan had hoped to get etiquette lessons that were never offered. And that her gal-pals were offered instruction by the Palace as to how they should respond to press intrusion. There is the tale of rapprochement between William and Harry around the time of Archie’s birth, though the book’s sympathies clearly lie with Harry in this struggle of brothers and birth order; the authors point to a fine line between “caring and condescension” on William’s part. But the royal who really gets called out for being standoffish is Kate. Time and again, Finding Freedom talks about how Kate didn’t reach out to her new sister-in-law, how the two were not feuding and not enemies, just very much different sorts. After a rehashing of Kate supposedly in tears at the flower girl fittings ahead of the Sussex wedding, the authors conclude there were, in fact, no tears caused by Meghan. In the hothouse atmosphere of royal households, this is a big reveal. And in the end, Meghan would always be “Too Hollywood, too flashy,” for the royal world, as Scobie and Durand say: when seen in direct comparison with the quiet, dutiful and self-effacing Kate.
The people behind the scenes — the courtiers, whom Diana dubbed “the men in grey suits” — are the author’s best sources, though with the acknowledgement that everyone has an angle or a play to make. Royal households, says Scobie, are very competitive. “They are looking out for their bosses,” he says. “Clarence House and Kensington Palace would compete to see whose pictures go furthest and fastest.” That left Harry and Meghan out in the cold, says Scobie, who also spoke about how courtiers would “leak” stories about the other households to “distract” from scandals and “re-direct” attention from initiatives.
Scobie’s sympathies for Meghan are front and centre. “I think they held Meghan to a very different standard right from the beginning,” he says. “The Sussexes really found themselves unprotected. And eventually ended up having their reputations damaged almost permanently. Meghan will always be ‘Duchess Difficult,’” he adds, when per his reporting she really doesn’t deserve it. There are a few awkward moments when you realize the authors have put you inside Harry or Meghan’s head (while doing yoga alongside the Zambezi River, for instance), though Scobie assures us that they had at least two sources for any tidbits of dialogue they inserted into the Sussexes mouths.
The sudden exit of the Sussexes — as well as the relative lull the pandemic has brought to royal coverage — provide a unique space for this pro-Meghan and Harry book to slide into. The tightness of the story benefits from the swift wrap-up amid such heightened tensions this past spring (which already feels like a decade ago).
So all in, Scobie says he has high hopes for change for this current generation of young royals in the spotlight: “What I hope comes out of this,” he says, “is moments of reflection, and a more even playing field.”
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