Harry and Meghan’s Faithful Flack

REVIEW: ‘Endgame: Inside the Royal Family and the Monarchy’s Fight for Survival’

The Royal Family attend Church on Christmas Day 2018. (Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
January 14, 2024

It is always a disarming experience when you open a book for review and find that one of your own titles has been cited in the bibliography. However, when you discover that the author of Endgame, Omid Scobie, has got the date wrong of your publication—The Crown in Crisis was published in 2020, not 2021—it does not bode well when it comes to his accuracy. Scobie also wrote the New York Times bestseller Finding Freedom, detailing the emancipation of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle from the British royal family. He has been much criticized for manipulating facts to suit his own agenda, and for this agenda—the presentation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in the best possible light, and his family in the worst—to be one that has led him to be described, harshly but accurately, as "Meghan’s mouthpiece."

What Scobie certainly isn’t is a writer. We know this from the very first pages of the book, in which he describes, in mind-numbingly precise detail, what he was wearing on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s death ("a simple black sweater from a nearby Marks & Spencer") and how he reached the television station ("[I] took the fastest route, via London Underground, to the Hammersmith studio."). He then struggles to explain the enormity of the events that he is commentating on, and gives up, stating instead that "I started writing the book in the New Elizabethan age and finished in the Carolean era—a dynastic sea change happened in a matter of days." That this "dynastic sea change" is the same as has happened every other time a monarch has died, and their successor has taken over, is not remarked upon by the indefatigable Scobie.

It is likely that many of those coming to Endgame will already have ploughed through Finding Freedom and will therefore know what to expect. Describing himself as "a perceived source of trouble for the institution," Scobie writes boldly that "I know—and share—too much." In practice, this means that he sneers about the traditional members of the royal family ("Everybody already knows that King Charles might have preferred a life as Queen Camilla’s tampon") and writes about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in terms that even a sycophantic medieval courtier might have considered de trop. "With Meghan already preparing a family breakfast in the kitchen, Prince Harry is busy getting the couple’s children, Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet, ready for nursery school and toddler playgroup, respectively."

The implication is clear: Harry and Meghan are the young, vibrant face of the modern monarchy, multicultural and liberal ("Spending time with Harry lifts you up … he’s positive, happy and motivating, he’s in a great place," Scobie quotes one hanger-on as saying) and the old guard are conservative, repressed, and no longer fit for purpose. This isn’t a wildly original or daring argument, although Endgame advances it as if it’s little less than a second Declaration of Independence. Still, it is stymied in any provocation it might have had by simple dint of the book’s almost painful-to-read bias, to say nothing of its labored, gushing writing style. If the hand of an editor has been present here, it has certainly been applied in the lightest—the unkind might say detached—of fashions.

Still, let us be frank. Nobody is reading Endgame for finely tuned sentences or Wildean wordplay. Instead, the reason it will sell—apparently in far smaller quantities than Finding Freedom, but let us not rejoice at that—is in the gossip and scandal with which it titillates its prurient readership. And, unfortunately, this is where the book really fails to deliver. It is no coincidence that the major story that emerged around the time of its publication came from the suspiciously useful leak in the Dutch edition of the book that explicitly named the two "royal racists" who asked what the likely skin color of the Duke and Duchess’s first child would be. The revelation may or may not have surprised seasoned royal observers—and there is a fair case to make that the inquiry was made out of old-fashioned politeness rather than shocking bigotry—but there is nothing to compare to it in the rest of the published book.

Instead, Scobie majors in half-assed historical analysis and reheating old stories about the mutual animosities that lie at the heart of the royal family, occasionally attempting to draw parallels between the two. It is unlikely that anyone reading this will be surprised to find that Scobie’s major target is Prince William, who is criticized both for his unbecoming desire to succeed his father as king (just as Charles was attacked for his own wish to take over from his mother) and for his treatment of Harry, which Scobie decides is dictated by jealousy, rather than anything more principled. (In case we didn’t get the message that William is a bad ’un, Scobie includes the anecdote that the two came face to face outside Kensington Palace at one point, only for the Prince of Wales to give the writer "an unimpressed stare." How dare he.)

The treatment of the Princess of Wales, meanwhile, is cold, bordering on misogynistic, as she is dismissed as "the Stepford-like royal wife" and denigrated as "Katie Keen": The contrast between the apparently eager-to-please Queen-to-be and the more rebellious Duchess of Sussex (we learn that the princess "spent more time talking about Meghan than talking to her") is played out, in Scobie’s apparent estimation, to the advantage of the woman whom he half-heartedly denies is his friend and major source. His nonpartisan readers, however, are more likely to side with Kate, who comes across as more amused and human than virtually anyone else in the book: a reflection, perhaps, of having led a life outside the "institution in decline" that the author is so unimpressed by.

Is the British royal family really spiraling into existential crisis? The loss of its most popular and beloved figure, Elizabeth II, has undeniably hit it hard, and the actions of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have led to its reputation being diminished and compromised. Yet this has been the case for decades, if not centuries—Princess Diana and the Duke of Windsor, in wholly different ways, were similarly dangerous figures—and in the absence of a genuine upsurge in republican feeling in Britain, it seems likely that the monarchy will survive into the 22nd century and beyond. Which makes this poorly written, mean-spirited, and entirely ephemeral book irrelevant, even on its own spiteful terms. Chances are, on this evidence, that Scobie will not be getting a call from Montecito for a third round of carefully off-the-record denigration any time soon.

Endgame: Inside the Royal Family and the Monarchy’s Fight for Survival
by Omid Scobie
Dey Street Books, 416 pp., $32

Alexander Larman is a journalist, historian, and author, most recently, of The Windsors at War: The King, His Brother, and a Family Divided (St. Martin’s Press).