Oh, what a sickening sense of deja vu.
Reading the revelations about Harry and Meghan in Finding Freedom over recent days has reminded me all too eerily of Andrew Morton’s book, Diana: Her True Story. It was just as explosive as this book — and proved deeply damaging.
Almost 28 years on, the parallels between Diana and now the Sussexes are unsettlingly close.
Yesterday, in the latest tranche of jaw-dropping details, we learned that Meghan, when filming her legal TV drama Suits in Toronto, would ‘occasionally set up a paparazzi photo here and there or let info slip out to the Press’.
So much for jealously guarding one’s privacy! Diana did exactly the same.
She frequently passed stories — often seeking to cast her husband Charles in a bad light — to favoured journalists.
But if you sup with the devil, you need a very long spoon, and there were times when this cosy relationship with the Fourth Estate backfired on her spectacularly — when the Press wrote unflattering things about her.
Diana, like Meghan, delighted in reading her own positive coverage — but found any criticism extremely hard to swallow.
The first instalment of Diana: Her True Story appeared in a Sunday newspaper, and I remember the headline well: ‘Diana driven to five suicide bids by “uncaring” Charles.’
Morton described, in uncanny detail, the Princess’s disillusioned and desperately unhappy life within the Royal Family.
He wrote about her childhood, how she met the Prince of Wales, the lead-up to the couple’s engagement and marriage, her struggles with bulimia, her self-harming, the lack of support she felt, Charles’s later indifference towards her, his obsession with his mistress Camilla Parker Bowles and what Diana saw as his shortcomings as a father.
Their courtship had been alarmingly brief — like another more recent royal romance. Once the media found out about it, they besieged Diana’s London flat and followed her wherever she went.
Small wonder, therefore, that William should have told his brother to ‘take as much time as he needed’ to get to know Meghan.
He and Kate had taken eight years before they became engaged: Harry had not known Meghan for anything like as long.
The Morton book caused untold damage to the monarchy, the Queen and other members of the family, and ultimately led to the end of Diana’s and Charles’s marriage.
But, arguably, the people who were most hurt by that book were William and Harry, whose young lives had already been affected by witnessing their parents’ unhappy union, and who then had to live through the very public humiliation of their break-up and eventual divorce.
Morton’s book had the ring of authority. He had on-the-record quotes from some of Diana’s closest friends, such as James Gilbey, of the ‘Squidgygate’ tape fame, and Diana’s former flatmate Caroline Bartholomew.
Sir Robert Fellowes, then on tricky ground as both the Queen’s Private Secretary and Diana’s brother-in-law, asked the Princess if she had had anything to do with the book. She swore she hadn’t. The Duke of Edinburgh put the same question to her, and again she denied it.
On the strength of her word — though we now know she was not telling the truth — the chairman of the then Press Complaints Commission condemned the serialisation as ‘an odious exhibition of journalists dabbling their fingers in the stuff of other people’s souls’.
So much for dabbling. The PCC chairman and others who had spoken in a similar vein, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, were soon looking very silly when Diana was photographed going to Caroline Bartholomew’s house (having alerted the newspapers) and endorsing the book by giving her old friend a big hug on the doorstep.
It was only after her death five years later that Morton revealed just how involved the Princess had been.
She had spoken into a tape recorder, and the tapes had been passed to Morton via an intermediary.
In all, there were 18,000 words — many of which appeared in the book almost verbatim. Where does that leave us today?
And who are the sources for Finding Freedom, similarly generous in supplying long, detailed and emotional quotes to its authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand?
There are said to be more than 100 such sources, including, we are told, ‘close friends of Harry and Meghan’s, royal aides and palace staff’.
Last weekend, Mr Scobie denied that any on- or off-the-record briefings from the Duke or Duchess had taken place.
For their part, the Sussexes have said it is not an ‘authorised or endorsed book’. We must take these claims at face value; though it is notable that even The Sunday Times, which published extracts over the weekend, also reported that ‘the intimate personal details and some of the language may lead people to question the claim’ that Mr Scobie and Ms Durand did not interview the Duke and Duchess.
My point is that Diana found a way to put out ‘her true story’ in the most flattering way possible.
Finding Freedom does much the same thing for Harry and Meghan. Yet in the breakdown of any relationship, there are always two — if not more — sides to the story.
Then, Diana was angry, setting out to damage the Prince of Wales and the family: and now, a generation later, Harry and Meghan all too clearly feel just as aggrieved at how badly their own relationship with the Royal Family has soured.
They felt forced, we have read, to take a ‘back seat’ to senior royals, they believed they had taken the institution of the monarchy to ‘new heights’ and were convinced that ‘vipers’ in the Palace were working against them.
They even suggested they were being held back so as not to ‘eclipse’ higher-ranking members of the family.
Sure enough, just as in 1992, along comes a scoresettling tome, in which unnamed ‘friends’ of the couple advance Harry and Meghan’s case — and lay out their grievances — for all the world to see.
If one thing seemed certain watching William and Harry grow up, it was that they had learned from their parents’ mistakes.
The media and their audiences had gorged on Charles’s and Diana’s disastrously messy lives — perhaps too much.
Diana had used the media to forward her cause, and discovered — all too late — that she could not control it.
Only her tragic death brought an end to the worst of the coverage about her. When they reached adulthood, perhaps scarred by some of these experiences, William and Harry seemed determined to keep their private and public lives separate, to the extent that any royal can.
They seemed ready to pounce on any publication that overstepped the mark and were unafraid to instruct lawyers, something the Royal Family had rarely done in the past.
They appeared to be setting new boundaries to protect their friends and families — and, after all they had been through, who could blame them?
But on the evidence of this misguided new book, Harry seems to have learned nothing.
He is impetuous, like his mother, and doesn’t always think things through.
Meghan, it seems, did herself not shy from feeding stories to the media and using the paparazzi when it suited her.
No wonder so many people maintain that this book has all the hallmarks of their collusion — tacit or not.
Either way, for a couple who claim to want a private life, this book has given the world a greater insight into their personal situation and their relationship with Harry’s family than anyone could have known otherwise.
Just like Diana did all those years ago. History appears to be repeating itself.
Having seen it all the first time around, I am filled with nothing but sadness.