ENDGAME: Inside the Royal Family and the Monarchy’s Fight for Survival, by Omid Scobie
Early on in “Endgame,” the journalist and royal commentator Omid Scobie makes an enticing promise.
“In the past I, like others, have held back on revealing some of the darker truths at the heart of the institution of the British monarchy,” he writes. “Part of this book will burn my bridges for good. But to tell the full story, there’s no holding back. Not anymore. We’re in the endgame.”
However, readers hoping for a final death blow of gossip will be disappointed. We’ve heard much of it before. From Fergie, from Diana, from Charles, from Harry, from Harry, from Harry again.
The London-based Scobie’s 2020 book, “Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family” (written with Carolyn Durand), gave a sympathetic account of the couple’s exodus from Windsor, earning him the title of Sussex “mouthpiece.” It’s a term he vociferously rejects (although it was later confirmed that Meghan had given an aide permission to brief Scobie and Durand for their book).
Here Scobie picks up with the death of Queen Elizabeth II, questioning whether her hapless eldest son and his heirs have what it takes to run the family business. His book presents a critical view of palace machinations and the central players involved, and reflects on whether the monarchy should consider “standing back and watching the curtain slowly close” on a thousand years of British history.
“Tone-deaf, racist and financially reckless” are three charges hurled at the monarchy, “but when Queen Elizabeth II was at the helm she managed to keep much of it at bay,” he writes.
Over the course of her umpteen-year reign the queen earned a certain amount of good will for herself and “the Institution,” largely because her silence and inscrutability read as comparatively dignified.
With the dawn of the “Carolean Era” upon us (which, in the case of King Charles, may also well be its twilight), Scobie warns the Windsors must get a grip or face extinction in a Britain that’s at best apathetic and at worst offended by the notion of inherited power. Scobie cites falling approval ratings (down to 47 percent after the publication of Prince Harry’s “Spare”) and a smattering of protesters waving “Not My King” signs at Charles’s public engagements.
Sure, but cast our minds back to the time Charles was secretly recorded talking about becoming Camilla’s tampon (which Scobie somehow manages to resist bringing up for the first five pages of the book), or the aftermath of Diana’s death, and it’s hard not to find Scobie’s dire predictions a tad hyperbolic. These days, warts-and-all tell-alls seem to be as integral to the Windsor brand as weddings, jubilees and blockbuster funerals.
And Scobie’s take is not all that different from what Harry presented in “Spare,” or what Charles gave us 30-odd years ago in his own authorized, and interminable, tale of woe, “The Prince of Wales: A Biography.”
The new king comes in for a walloping here. As Scobie tells it, Charles is “often envious” of his sons’ popularity, and lets his own petty jealousies get in the way of harnessing star power when it presents itself: “His ineptitude surrounding the Harry and Meghan saga has effectively turned the couple into the disrupters they were feared to become in the first place.”
Then there’s the issue of race and “unconscious bias,” to use a careful phraseology borrowed from Harry. Here, Scobie sees an obvious opportunity for growth and cultural leadership. And yet, the royal family’s approach? “Myopic at best, willfully ignoring the issue at worst.”
Anyone with even a passing interest in the Windsor palaver will be familiar with Scobie’s descriptions of the Firm’s mutually parasitic dealings with the press. It’s a system in which courtiers big up their royal bosses by briefing, leaking and anonymously sourcing against one another in the pursuit of public favor. Father against son, brother against brother, duchess against duchess.
The book picks up pace when Scobie engages in the kind of tabloid fodder he makes us feel guilty for wanting, such as Prince William’s rumored affair with the Marchioness of Cholmondeley (a rumor he doesn’t do much to dispel).
Scobie reveals that a Kensington Palace aide tried to enlist his help in diverting The Sun newspaper away from the affair by offering up excerpts from “Finding Freedom.” “I had zero interest in collaborating with the tabloid,” Scobie writes.
Much of Scobie’s new book is devoted to setting the record straight on petty slights against the Sussexes: exactly who made whom cry at a dress fitting; the double standards applied to royal bridezillas brandishing air freshener. Let the record show that “when Kate filled Westminster Abbey with Jo Malone for her wedding, it was ‘sweet.’”
Speaking of Kate, she didn’t fare well in “Finding Freedom,” and neither does she here. Scobie obliquely accuses the princess — presented as cold and lacking in self-assurance — of copying Meghan’s effortless dress sense. And he notes that Kate’s Hold Still lockdown photo project is “reminiscent” of Meghan’s 2018 “Together” cookbook, a project she did with survivors of the Grenfell fire. The tabloids have rightfully been accused of pitching one royal bride against another, and so it jars when Scobie, whose tone throughout is one of moral high ground, employs a similar tactic.
He does, however, give Kate (who, Scobie notes, does actually like that nickname) credit for finally relaxing into her role. After all, he knows there’s a genuine Kate there because he once witnessed her descend “into a fit of muted giggles” at the sight of a rhino pooping while on a “mini-safari” in India. Hard to say if this is a feeble attempt at humanization or a skilled way of letting us know that he, Scobie, was the only reporter invited along.
Whether or not Scobie actively collaborated with Meghan and Harry for this book, he does them no favors. Their chapter reads like a press release cooked up by ChatGPT, and does little to shed light on them as humans. He says the couple — who used to focus on coverage of themselves — now remain blissfully unconcerned. Harry’s next chapter will focus, among other things, on philanthropic efforts in the “military space,” while Meghan (and here Scobie quotes an unnamed source) is “building ‘something more accessible … something rooted in her love of details, curating, hosting, life’s simple pleasures, and family.’”
Scobie defines the term “endgame” as “the final stages of a chess game after most of the pieces have been removed from the board.” Unless Charles and his heirs act quickly, Scobie underscores, they risk losing the crown, or at the very least, any remaining cultural relevance. But there’s a paradox here: As long as people are buying books like Scobie’s, they’re buying the whole lousy operation.
ENDGAME: Inside the Royal Family and the Monarchy’s Fight for Survival | By Omid Scobie | Dey Street | 403 pp. | $32