After all the sound and fury, at last the book itself – delivered to my desk via the click of a computer mouse as if the risk of handling it might be every bit as explosive as the bombshell revelations it was said to contain.
How do we know this? Because the ‘fact-driven’ authors say so themselves, claiming that Finding Freedom is the fruit of hundreds of hours of conversations and interviews with ‘more than 100 sources’.
But after ploughing through all 354 pages many will be left wondering if those numbers are mere window dressing and that there are actually only two sources who mattered – Harry and Meghan themselves.
Certainly, page after page drips with self-pity and indignation sandwiched between dollops of oily sycophancy.
What possessed the Sussexes, however tacitly, to support the authors of this book is utterly baffling, writes Richard Kay. Pictured: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
This is not a spectacular coup of the kind that Andrew Morton dished up with his jaw-dropping 1992 account of the misery of the Princess of Wales in Diana: Her True Story. What we have here amounts to a moan-athon.
What possessed the Sussexes, however tacitly, to support the authors of this book is utterly baffling.
If they believed that the primary aim was to portray ‘the real Harry and Meghan’ – a couple who claim they have been victims of inaccurate and mischievous reporting – and to promote their philanthropic and activist agendas then they have been spectacularly let down.
For what emerges over 24 chapters is a partial and one-sided account, a story of score- settling and swipes at Harry’s family, at the institution of monarchy, royal aides and the media.
And those admirable charitable endeavours? They are simply swamped by bitter recriminations.
I fear it will backfire horribly on them, inviting both ridicule and scorn with the only real winners being the authors cashing in on the hype it has created.
There are some truly cringe-making moments: how on their romantic break to the African bush in Botswana Harry was ‘delightfully surprised’ by his then girlfriend’s ‘down to earth attitude.’ Why so? Because while camping she cleaned her face with baby-wipes and ‘happily wandered into the woodlands if she needed a bathroom break’.
The ‘fact-driven’ authors claim that Finding Freedom is the fruit of hundreds of hours of conversations and interviews with ‘more than 100 sources’. Pictured: Authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand
We learn that Meghan ‘Face-times’ from the bath, what she has for breakfast (steel-cut oats with almond or soya milk, dressed with banana and agave syrup) and how she ‘rolled her eyes’ when reading a tweet from US president Trump that said he would not pay their security bills.
In the scheme of the major issues that the book purports to address – Harry’s fractured relationship with his brother William, for example – does this trivia matter?
Actually yes. For not only does it fuel the suggestions that the couple either hand-fed these anecdotes – so precise and so private – to authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand themselves, or allowed others to do so on their behalf, it also invites the kind of intrusion they are so quick to deplore.
The fact they have said nothing – beyond the routine denial that they had not been interviewed for the book – leaves readers to make up their own minds.
Because for a couple so obsessive about their privacy, the book is all the more remarkable because it is, from start to finish, an extraordinary invasion of their own privacy.
Pictured: The explosive royal biography, Finding Freedom
At the same time it is laced with a special sense of grievance.
This is a couple who can take offence from the set of someone’s face at a public event to refusing to go to a wedding because a newspaper had speculated about Meghan’s bottom.
The wedding was that of Pippa Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge’s famously perky sister and a newspaper had jokily headlined its story: ‘Meghan v Pippa in the Wedding of the Rears’. That was slight number one.
Number two occurred at the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey when Meghan tried to make eye contact with her sister-in-law Kate but the duchess apparently barely acknowledged her.
According to a friend, Meghan never wanted to set foot in ‘anything royal ever again’ after that.
There are countless more examples in this petty vein, not least the absence of their picture on the Queen’s desk as she gave her 2019 Christmas message.
They failed to grasp the significance of those photographs that were there – Charles, Camilla, the Cambridges and their children – in other words, the direct heirs to the throne.
And take the great air freshener row. Just what kind of fragrances had Meghan requested to spritz up musty old St George’s Chapel on their wedding day in May 2018?
At the time newspapers reported Meghan had insisted on having spray-bottle air fresheners.
Not so, says the book: The duchess’s ‘discreet, Baies-scented air diffusers [which] had been okayed by all parties involved’.
Prince Charles, Camilla and the Duchess of Sussex attend the Prince of Wales’ 70th Birthday Patronage Celebration held at Buckingham Palace in May 2018
Pictured: The Queen with Prince Harry and Meghan during a flypast to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force in 2018
Then there is the row that simmers menacingly throughout the tome. It concerns William and ‘snobbishness’ – or at least that’s what the authors quote a source telling them. It apparently was triggered by William’s brotherly nod to Harry to take all the time he needed to get to know ‘this girl’.
I should say that the Harry I have known and written about for 35 years would never ever have used the word snobbish to describe William. But here it is set in tablets of stone that will haunt these once closest of brothers for years.
Finding Freedom claims that the very future of the monarchy could be imperilled by the breach between William and Harry.
It says that Harry felt royal aides ‘pushed him under a bus’ in order to protect William by prioritising his work over Harry’s.
This is, of course, all saccharin-wrapped as a fairy tale of a prince meeting the love of his life – with the absence of ‘happy ever after’ always someone else’s fault.
Meghan herself is presented as a paragon. Who could resist her? Certainly not Harry, who in the four years since they met, has gone from a fun-loving royal – the most popular member of the ‘Firm’ – to the angst-ridden ‘woke prince’ of LA.
It is likely the book will make particularly hurtful reading for the Queen, the grandmother Harry has said he ‘adores’, if indeed a copy finds its way to Balmoral, where she has just begun her summer break.
And it will no doubt bring back painful memories of the Diana years which soured many a holiday on Royal Deeside.
So will she read it? Says a lady in waiting firmly: ‘She won’t!’
That could be the wisest verdict on this whole sorry saga.