A new biography offers incredible detail on the split in British royal family, says Meadhbh McGrath
Royal biographies are ten-a-penny these days, but the latest release has been particularly hotly anticipated. It is Finding Freedom, published this week and written by journalists Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, who aim to provide "the definitive story of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex", or Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to the rest of us.
The official line from the couple is that Finding Freedom is not an "authorised book" and that they were not interviewed on or off the record.
The most they will venture to say, via a spokesperson, is that they were "relaxed" about the authors' access to their inner circle. And yet, royal watchers remain unconvinced.
The level of innocuous detail is extraordinary, on everything from Prince Harry's favourite emoji (the ghost, for reasons unknown) to Meghan's preferred shade of lowlights and her pregnancy cravings.
Readers learn the closely guarded secret of their dog's name (Pula, a Setswana word meaning rain). But those eager to hear what the couple think about Prince Andrew's relationship with Jeffrey Epstein or the speculation surrounding Prince William, Kate Middleton and her rumoured "rural rival" will be left wanting.
That being said, there are some intriguing takeaways from the book.
Harry and Meghan fell for each other fast
After their first date, a friend notes they were "almost obsessed with each other", and by the next night, "Harry knew they would be together".
The authors note that Harry was particularly "sensitive to even the slightest hint of prejudice" and when asked whether Meghan was suitable, he wondered: "Is this about race? Is it snobbery?"
Harry fell out with friends
He reportedly cut ties with an old friend who made "disparaging remarks" about Meghan's Hollywood background, and relations cooled with his childhood pal Tom 'Skippy' Inskip, who warned Harry about "rushing into things". So hurt was the prince that, although Mr Inskip was invited to the wedding, he was left off the list for the evening reception.
Mr Inskip is said to have told friends: "Meghan had changed Harry too much. We've lost him." However, by the time of Archie's birth, the two were back on friendly terms.
The unwanted publicity
There are "steamy" unpublished paparazzi photos that have never been published. Finding Freedom claims that Harry frequently reads stories about himself, including online comment sections, though Meghan tries to avoid her press.
The authors suggest it is Harry leading the war against tabloids and that, before he put out his first statement defending her in 2016, Meghan was reluctant, asking him: "Shouldn't we just ignore it?" Yet Harry, the book states, had made up his mind.
Things worsened during a trip to Jamaica in 2017, when a photographer captured pictures of the couple "in a steamy embrace on their private balcony", which sent Harry "apoplectic" with rage. The palace ensured the photos never saw the light of day.
Meghan was told off for wearing an initial necklace
Early in the relationship, Meghan was papped wearing a necklace bearing the initials H and M on a trip to the florist. A couple of days later, she received a call from a Kensington Palace aide scolding her for "encouraging" the photographers.
Meghan was reportedly "distraught" that someone from her boyfriend's office would tell her what jewellery to wear.
"I can't win," she told a friend. "It was only yesterday people online were saying I look miserable in pictures, because I was trying to just ignore the photographer."
Meghan and Kate Middleton were never close
According to the book, Meghan made efforts to break the ice on her first meeting with the Duchess of Cambridge, by bringing a leather notebook as a gift and cooing over Princess Charlotte.
The pair spent only a handful of times together before the wedding and though not "the best of friends", the book acknowledges there were no blazing catfights. The authors also debunk the story that Meghan "made Kate cry" after a bridesmaid's dress fitting, which sources dismiss as "ridiculous and so false".
There were awkward moments, such as when they were both going to the same street to do some shopping and Kate didn't offer Meghan a lift. However, a source says they had "a wonderful time" at Wimbledon together.
The brothers barely speak
The larger issue, the book posits, was the rift between the brothers.
It was partly down to how William responded to Meghan - referring to her dismissively as "this girl" and cautioning his brother not to be "blindsided by lust". But it was also a result of Harry growing tired of being a third wheel to his brother and sister-in-law.
Much of the tension, according to staffers, was due to money, and Harry having to ask his father for funding for work projects and being told William was "always the priority".
Finding Freedom reports Harry felt frustrated over the royal family's "no comment" policy, believing the palace was willing to bend the rules for higher-ranking members, such as when a spokesman denied Kate had Botox. A friend of Harry's also says he thinks his brother is "too concerned with press coverage".
Harry and Meghan shared pregnancy news at Princess Eugenie's wedding
Three days before announcing the news publicly, the authors claim the couple told family members they were expecting their first child at the wedding of Harry's cousin, Princess Eugenie.
According to the book, "it did not go down particularly well with Eugenie, who a source said told friends she felt the couple should have waited to share the news".
They fired a nanny in the middle of the night
The book states they were "forced to let go (a night nurse) in the middle of her second night of work for being unprofessional and irresponsible". There is no further explanation, though the incident reportedly left the couple uncomfortable sleeping through the night without checking on their son regularly, so they ended up letting go the second nurse they hired and taking on a weekday nanny instead.
Thomas Markle is no longer part of Meghan's life
Finding Freedom chronicles the collapse of Meghan's relationship with her father in the run-up to her wedding in heart-rending detail. Now, the authors write, Meghan no longer recognises Thomas Markle as "the man who raised her". She did, however, ask her mother Doria Ragland to text her ex-husband to share the news of Archie's birth.
Meghan, the book reports, "did not want him to find out after the rest of the world. But she didn't want to know whether her father replied to her mother's text".
Harry fought with Queen Elizabeth's dresser over Meghan's tiara
The book sets the record straight on a number of 'bridezilla' tales from Meghan's wedding, including that she demanded a different tiara from the queen.
The authors claim that the "dust-up" was between Harry and Angela Kelly, the queen's dresser. Meghan "loved" the tiara the queen chose for her, and made repeated requests to Angela Kelly, who handles the jewels, to borrow it for a hair trial ahead of the big day.
Weeks passed with no response, but Harry "didn't believe Angela was truly unavailable". There followed a "heated exchange", during which he accused her of "purposefully ignoring Meghan", the authors report.
Harry wanted to leave before he met Meghan
Though the book points out that the courtiers, and some family members, blame Meghan for their departure, it is clear throughout that Harry was leading the way.
He reportedly hated the public scrutiny, the press attention, and his position as the "spare". A source says: "Harry wanted out. Deep down, he was always struggling within that world. She's opened the door for him on that."
The couple published their exit plans without approval from the queen
The launch of SussexRoyal.com, the website outlining the couple's roadmap for their new life, took the family by surprise. According to Finding Freedom, Harry had been trying to discuss his plans with his father Prince Charles and the queen for weeks, but felt he was being "blocked".
When their plans leaked to The Sun, the couple decided to launch the site. The palace was stunned: aides had initially been presented with the "simple idea of spending more time abroad", and were now scrambling to sort through issues around funding, security and tax implications.
The "most painful" part of the exit agreement, Meghan told a friend, was Harry being stripped of his honorary military appointments, which she said was "so unnecessary".
However, the book notes, the frosty reception from the family at their final appearance in the UK, the Commonwealth Day service, confirmed that stepping away from the institution was "the right move".
They're taking a pause before their next steps
The couple were preparing to set up their new non-profit, Archewell, this summer. But, with a pandemic putting a halt to their plans, readers may have less sympathy for Harry and Meghan, holed up in a Beverly Hills mansion.
But after a whirlwind few months - and years - the admittedly "impulsive" couple are taking things slowly, the book states, and will launch Archewell only "when the time is right".
Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family, by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Duran (€17, HQ), is out now.