by Gyles Brandreth (Coronet £25, 528 pp)

Gyles Brandreth is careful to not quite say that Prince Philip was his friend; as former prime minister Jim Callaghan reminded him, ‘What senior royals offer you is friendliness, not friendship’.

Brandreth was a prince’s friend for over 40 years. This book is a brilliantly written and insightful account of their friendship.

This curmudgeonly prince was difficult to charm and refused to share any emotions. Brandreth, one morning in the 1980s, told Philip he’d just had breakfast with Blake Carrington from Dynasty. ‘I haven’t the first idea what you’re talking about,’ said Philip. ‘I had breakfast with the Queen.’

Ysenda Maxtone Graham rounded up a selection of this year’s best royal books – including Philip: The Final Portrait by Gyles Brandreth. Pictured: The Queen And Prince Philip

Of his difficult childhood, Philip remarked, ‘I just had to get on with it. One does’.

Brandreth, however, sensed great depth beneath the surface. ‘He was a more sensitive man than he wanted us to think of him.

‘He could be prickly and perverse, stubborn and wilful. He may also have visionary qualities. It was very important for him to have a spiritual life. He was his mother’s son.’


Joanna Lumley (Hodder £20, 320 pp)

You couldn’t ask for more cheerful company than Joanna Lumley to lead you through an anthology of the Queen’s subjects recalling their encounters with the monarch since the start of her reign.

Lumley claims she has been a fan for life ever since being given a double-decker, wooden pencil case with a Stencil of Her Majesty at Kuala Lumpur’s boarding school, on Coronation Day, 1953.

It’s the Queen’s ability to put people at ease that shines through — although, as Terry Wogan described the Royal Effect: ‘You say the first thing that comes into your head, and you carry the memory of your foolishness with you to the grave.’

However, everyone still describes the feeling of magic and enchantment that they felt when she was present.

Lumley also includes the touching recollection by war doctor David Nott. He was almost in tears and lost for words when asked by the Queen what life had been like in Aleppo, Syria. They shared a bowl of dog biscuits, and the monarch gave them a few. And she said, ‘There. That’s so much better than talking, isn’t it?’


By Tom Quinn (Biteback £20, 304 pp)

Author Tom Quinn calls the urge felt by royals to escape their gilded cages — most often in dead of night to meet a secret lover — ‘The Houdini Complex’.

The public’s expectation that their monarch is living an exemplary home life seems to have a pressure-cooker effect.

This, plus the royal sense of power and entitlement, led to scandals all the way from Edward II, who, in his ‘love-tortured reign’, may well have had a homosexual affair with nobleman Piers Gaveston, his ‘favourite’. So did James I with a selection of young men, one of whom (George Villiers) he called ‘my sweet child and wife’.

In this witty book, we are taken on a journey through the misdeeds of palaces. We find Queen Anne in bed with the Duchess of Marlborough, Queen Victoria’s ‘wicked uncles’ up to all kinds of hedonistic mischief and Victoria herself addicted to laudanum and in love with her ghillie John Brown (Quinn believes she married him in secret). And there is one of Princess Diana’s lovers, an unnamed politician, allegedly being spotted by staff in his boxer shorts in a draughty corridor at Kensington Palace — he’d locked himself out by mistake.

Andrew Morton looks at the life of the Duchess of Sussex in an updated version of his 2018 biography, Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. Pictured: Prince Harry and Meghan

Andrew Morton examines the life and times of the Duchess in his updated 2018 biography Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. Photo: Prince Harry and Meghan 


Andrew Morton (Michael O’Mara £20, 304 pp)

‘Within a few months, she went from Duchess Dazzling to Duchess Difficult,’ writes Andrew Morton of Meghan Markle, in this updated version of his 2018 biography of the duchess, which takes us up to the post-Oprah era.

In other words, all too soon after the royal couple’s official honeymoon, their honeymoon with the media was over. Meghan progressed, in its eyes, from ‘Duchess Difficult to Duchess Dictatorial’.

Since the Oprah Winfrey interview, certain phrases have taken on a different meaning. When Morton visited the Catholic retreat house in LA Meghan attended in her teens, the woman who ran it told him, ‘The atmosphere is: I am willing to share my truth with you, and that makes you willing to share your truth with me.’ Was that how the concept of ‘my truth’ came into Meghan’s philosophy?

Morton can be kind but not too kind. ‘Much as she talks of inclusivity and compassion,’ he writes, ‘her father and the rest of her family remain outside her emotional orbit, cast into outer darkness.’


Andrew Lownie (Blink £25, 352 pp)

Andrew Lownie writes about when the Duke of Windsor sailed to France to start his ‘happily ever after’ life with Wallis in Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile Of The Duke And Duchess of Windsor. Pictured: The Windsors with Hitler

Andrew Lownie writes about when the Duke of Windsor sailed to France to start his ‘happily ever after’ life with Wallis in Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile Of The Duke And Duchess of Windsor. Photo: Hitler and the Windsors

We’re not short of books on the Abdication Crisis, but Andrew Lownie’s compelling volume opens in December 1936 when the ‘Crisis’ ended and the Duke of Windsor sailed to France to start his ‘happily ever after’ life with Wallis — which was nothing of the sort. They were consumed by bitterness, self-pity, and bitterness about their exile.

Lownie provides evidence that in 1940, the Duke was involved in a conspiracy with Nazis that amounts to treason. On his way to the Bahamas to become Governor, he sent his pro-Nazi banker friend what Lownie calls the ‘killer telegram’, asking to be alerted ‘as soon as action was advisable’.

Did he plan to return to the throne to be ruled by Germany?

Lownie presents a bleak portrait of the entitled couple and makes harsh remarks about their treatment of servants. The Duchess coldly discarded their loyal Bahamian butler when he requested a change of working hours following his wife’s death.


Richard J. Aldrich, Rory Cormac (Atlantic £25, 736 pp)

Richard J. Aldrich and Rory Cormac write about spying, including when Princess Diana (pictured) would lift floorboards in The Secret Royals: Spying And The Crown From V ict oria To Diana

Richard J. Aldrich and Rory Cormac write about spying, including when Princess Diana (pictured) would lift floorboards in The Secret Royals: Spying And The Crown From V ict oria To Diana

This fascinating book shows how royals have interacted with espionage. Sometimes the royals are being spied on; sometimes they’re doing the spying. After eight unsuccessful attempts, the modern intelligence system was born out of efforts to prevent Queen Victoria’s assassination.

After the 1982 Michael Fagan break-in, Buckingham Palace’s protection unit had to raise its game. Protection officers began attending SAS training courses at its ‘Killing House’ in Hereford.

Royals also went to training. One mocked-up hostage rescue inspired Princess Diana to drive one of three Range Rovers. She forgot to shut the car window, so when the ‘flash-bang’ pellets went off, one landed in her hair, setting it alight.

On her visit to the SAS house, the Queen was ‘absolutely unperturbed’ in a mocked-up rescue of her. An explosion rang through the room, an assault team burst in, and the Queen’s stiff upper lip never quivered.

The book includes the MI5 agent who hid in Green Park to access a telephone junction box and intercept Edward VIII’s calls, and Princess Diana lifting floorboards in Kensington Palace, convinced she was being bugged.

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