I had the pleasure of speaking with author Penny Junor, whose most recent book, Prince William: Born To Be King is the subject of much controversy, as it discusses (among other things) his late mother’s battle with depression and bulimia. I read the book from a completely objective point of view, and found it to be much more than what some critics made it out to be: a biased opinion of the Windsors.
What Junor laid out for readers is a fair assessment of the royal family. While she does touch on their weaknesses, she insists that those do not outweigh their strengths as parents, as friends and as influential figures. I found it to be one of the best books on theroyals I’ve read in quite some time, and I thoroughly enjoyed talking to someone who has been covering the family for thirty years now.
“14 years ago I wrote a book that caused a great deal of anger, called Charles: Victim or Villain,” she told me over the phone from England. ”And I think that the reason people are angry with me is because they remember me from last time and they think that I am a Diana basher who just loves Charles and has not a good word to say for [the late Princess of Wales]. I was very surprised by the strength of the hostility towards me.
“Someone posted a comment on Amazon stating that they would absolutely not buy my book because it’s ‘full of lies.’” I then had to interject and assure Junor that I certainly did not feel that way. She appreciated the compliment, but Junor’s a tough cookie and can handle the criticism, a trait that I appreciate.
“I hope that fair-minded, rational people will agree with you,” she said when I laid out my opinion. ”Because Diana was a great woman and I’m not knocking her. I’m just telling it how it was, which was difficult for all of them [the royal family]. And it explains why the marriage didn’t work and it explains a huge amount about William. So why did Junor choose to focus on the heir to the throne?
“One of the reasons I really wanted to do the book was because I had met him when he was at University, and I had thought, ‘What a really, really – not just lovely boy – but well-balanced confident, grounded young man.’ He was a happy boy. Happy in his own skin, and I thought it was absolutely fascinating to have come through that kind of difficult childhood. There are lots of people who have that kind of start in life, but not so publicly. That’s what I think made it so difficult for him.
“I wrote a piece in The Times last week that explained what has happened between Charles, the Queen and Camilla and why that relationship is now so good, and why suddenly people seem to be saying ‘Charles has suddenly come out good. This is not the man that we knew.’”
I had to know how Junor was able to secure interviews with such credible sources like former palace press secretaries, normally very protective when it comes to both William and Harry.
“Because I’ve been doing it for thirty years,” she said. ”I think that’s the long and the short of it. I built a good relationship with Buckingham Palace thirty years ago. They’re not the only subject I write on, but I have come back to the royals over the years. I would like to think that I’ve worked quite well with the palace. I don’t think I’ve ever upset them, I don’t think I’ve upset my contacts. I’ve taken very great care of them and that’s kind of important, because you never know when you’re going to need somebody,” she said with a laugh.
Junor met her husband at St. Andrew University, where William first laid eyes on the now Duchess of Cambridge. I had to know: Why is it considered a top match-making university? ”Because there’s nothing else to do there,” Junor said lightheartedly. ”It’s miles from anywhere. It’s the most lovely town and I adore going back there, but it is at then end of the line. There’s no railway station, there is no airport. You just go there and you stay there. It’s beautiful, and it’s really picturesque. It’s small. It’s friendly. It’s just a lovely little place, and, as I said, there’s not much else. There’s one cinema. When I was there certainly there were no nightclubs or anything. And there’s still not a lot much more now, so people get to know each other rather well.”
Well, now we have a commoner who will one day be William’s consort. Why does Junor think people have taken so well to Catherine? “I think the Diana effect has a lot to do with it. I think she has replaced Diana as a fashion icon, as a glamorous member of the royal family. She’s young, she’s pretty, she wears clothes very well, she’s good to look at. And people love William. I think that they see that William loves her. They’ve just taken her to their hearts because of that.”
I asked Junor to clarify the world “replacing,” as William made it clear in his interview on November 16th with Tom Bradby that Catherine would not take the place of his mother. This, I’ve come to realize, is a very sensitive subject.
“What I mean about ‘replacing’ Diana is that in 1981, when Diana married Prince Charles, she injected some glamour into the royal family, because the young member were not particularly glamorous. There was Princess Anne, who was always much more into horses than fashion. She was great, but she wasn’t a fairy tale princess. Then Diana appeared on the scene, and she was very young and very vulnerable. The media had built it up to be a fairy tale. So, when I say “She has replaced Diana,” no, of course she [Kate] hasn’t. But she has given the public a new focus and look on the royal family.
“William and Harry are loved to bits. What the public particularly loves about them is that they are Diana’s boys; the public sees Diana in those boys. And so for those who love Diana, that is a great bonus. She was magical in many ways.”
Junor, who has met the heir a few times, says that he is “A delightful person, an absolutely delightful person.”
“What I thought was a particularly telling remark was when William’s press secretary said that the only instruction he ever had from the Duke of Cambridge was ‘Tell the truth and to “Do the right thing.” I thought that was extraordinary. He’s not a complete pussycat. He knows who he is and what he is. He’s not going to be messed around with, which is interesting, because he’s still young and you would have thought he would say something along the lines of ”Don’t worry, don’t worry.”
We talked about William (who is the president of England’s Football Association) going up against leaders of other countries in a bid to host the 2018 World Club back in December 2010. ”That must have been daunting for him,” Junor said. ”He was up there with some really top flyers. With Clinton and so on. He must have been pretty nervous about the whole thing.”
I asked Junor if she thought William, who has in the past been very hesitant and intimated by the idea of his future job, thinks that he is coming around to the idea of ruling the Commonwealth and its realms. ”I think he’s absolutely got it now,” she told me. ”He’s embraced it. And I think that he was daunted by the whole prospect, but I think now he…he knows it’s not going to happen next week. He knows it’s awhile away.
“It is a very lonely job, being one of the royals. And that is what is so interesting about Charles. He was very lonely for years when the marriage wasn’t working and he was off on his own, then for the years before he got together with Camilla. It is the sort of job where you do really, really need somebody to be with you and support you and talk to. Because everyone is working for you, the people you’re with all the time’ they’re your valets, courtiers or your whatever-they-are. They’re not your friends.
“Therefore it is lonely. You need somebody to be able to have a laugh with, and to say exactly what you think, which is probably the unthinkable, about somewhere that you’ve been or someone that you’ve met. You can’t do that with a courtier. I think William feels secure with Kate, because she is proving to be everything he hoped she would. She doesn’t seem to have any ambition to go off be a star in her own right; she seems to be content to be his consort.
“I think the fact that Kate comes from the middle class is absolutely brilliant for the monarchy, because the monarchy has been seen in the past to mix with very upper-class sort of people, very moneyed people (the hunting/shooting/polo playing/fishing sort of type) who are really not the majority of British people at all. There was a danger of them becoming a little out of touch. To have somebody plucked from the middle class, whose parents made their own way in life, is just brilliant.”
Since William’s entire life has been followed by the media, I wondered what he thought of the press, but there is a clear divide between two types. ”The legitamite press, he is perfectly happy with,” Junor said. ”The paparazzi are not the legitamite press. They never have been. They make their lives about sneaking around and taking photos with very long lenses. They never go to photo calls, they never go to the official engagements. They work outside the realm of journalism. I”m a journalist too and I’m disgusted by the way [some of] the media have behaved towards the family.
“I think that William’s determination to not let his own life be dissected and feasted on by the media is really, really important. But equally, he likes people who do the job politely and correctly. He recognizes that they have a job to do just as he has a job to do. Without them, to be honest, the royal family would be in a pickle, because they must be seen. People must know what the family is doing and why they’re there. Otherwise, the public won’t want them.
We talked about Will and Kate starting a family, and how troubling it is that some outlets insist on writing about the couple’s private family life and when they’re going to start a family. ”It’s absolutely nobody’s business,” Junor insisted. ”And the more people comment on it and write about it, the more difficult it would be. It’s the pressure on them, that sort of thing that could very well stop it from happening.
“I remember a friend of mine working for Barnardo‘s years ago. Couples who were unable to have children would come in to apply for adoption. After the process was complete, the woman would become pregnant, quite simply because the pressure was off. God knows what the media think they’re doing. It is not our business. It’s absolutely vile.”
Moving on to a lighter subject (and a personal favorite of mine): The royal wedding, which Junor covered from London. ”William recognized that as a member of the royal family, it would be nice for the public. A royal occasion done in the way that the British do it is so uplifting for people. It was magic,wasn’t it? You got just a good feeling from it, and you also felt as if you were watching something intimate. It was a winning combination.
William mantra when planning the wedding was, “I want the best possible day for the most number of people.”
That seems to be his mantra as the future King of England as well.