TThe first thing Andrew Morton did when he heard Queen Elizabeth II had died was grab a black tie. The royal biographer – who has been writing about the British royal family for more than 40 years – knew he would have a busy week of media appearances ahead when the monarch’s 70-year reign ended with her death on September 8.
“Even though it’s intellectually and emotionally expected, you think she’s impregnable,” he says of his reaction to the news. “So there was that element of shock, and then you move on.”
Morton left the UK 10 years ago and, like his subjects Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now calls California home. Despite this, he says he was back in London covering the historic event for ABC News and saw Britain enter a period of national mourning as the monarchy entered a new era with King Charles III at the helm.
“You saw the respect that people had in the fact that they were willing to stand in line for 12 hours to honor her majesty,” Morton says, adding that he sees the closing of this monumental chapter as saw an opportunity to publish his latest book, The Queen: Her Lifefrom next year until 15 Nov.
Morton has now written 13 books about the royals, but he knows he will always be defined by a single work in particular. Diana: Her True Story, A 1992 “unauthorized, authorized biography”, as Morton calls it, of the Princess of Wales five years before her death. The book was written with secret recordings of Diana that she made during her lifetime and to Dr. gave James Colthurst, her friend and middle man, to pass on to Morton. It was only after Diana died in a car accident in 1997 that Morton revealed that she was the direct source for his work. He went on to publish an updated version entitled by the late princess’s tape recordings Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words.
Now Morton’s book will be depicted as a plot line in season 5 of Netflix’s The crown, premiering Nov. 9, as viewers learn the backstory of how the best-selling biopic came to be. The author spoke to TIME about his perspective on the future of the monarchy, the accuracy of the crown, and whether he will read Prince Harry’s forthcoming memoir Part.
TIME: The Queen is a figure that everyone already knows so much about. What does your new book bring to the retelling of her story?
Andrew Morton: It brings the whole story up to date and tries to give it a bit of my own perspective after writing and observing the royal family for 40 years. I tell about my experiences, my conversations with people who worked with her, and I think it’s a vivid and well-rounded portrait — but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Read more: Queen Elizabeth II’s death is a chance to examine the contemporary effects of Britain’s colonial past
Is this something you wrote in preparation for the death of the monarch?
I have collected bits and pieces over the years, stories here and there because you are never really off duty. The process started with the idea of writing about Elizabeth and Margaret, which was my previous book. It reminded me of the queen. Did the most [the royals], I thought I might as well do the “top lady”, as Diana used to call her. The reign was winding down and there was still an awful lot going on. Honestly, I think she came into her own then – the leadership she showed during COVID-19 was remarkable. That speech she made was probably one of the most moving speeches she ever made in her 70-year reign.
Now that we have the full picture, what would you say is Queen Elizabeth II’s legacy?
The legacy is change within continuity. His [oldest] grandson is happily married with three children, has been quite diligently trained by the queen, and follows many in her footsteps. Her legacy is also stability, and we can see how much she is missed immediately. It shows you how unstable our world is, when even a nation like Britain, which is supposedly sober and even handful and just, falls apart quickly.
You’ve devoted most of your career to the royals—what keeps you interested in them?
You begin to realize that the monarchy is a moving target. It is not a static thing. The queen has changed compared to her twilight years. See how the monarchy itself has gone from being quite nice – white handbag, white gloves, don’t touch – to a very involved exchange with its people.
After writing in such detail about so many royals, who has fascinated you the most?
No matter how many books I write for the rest of my days, I will always be remembered for one book, and that is the Diana book. And it is because of this extraordinary story that you will see the crown, of a future queen involved in a secret conspiracy with someone she barely knew—that was me.
Read more: As King Charles III sets out to win hearts and minds, the crown is creating its darkest chapter
When did you become aware that you are on the new season of The crown?
They used me as a consultant for that period almost two years ago. I would have a conference call with eight screenwriters, and they would ask very detailed questions like, “What was the color of your daughter’s wallpaper?” Because for a time I used her bedroom as an office. But they kept their cards very close and did not involve me in the writing process. They just wanted the factual detail.
And how true to life do you expect the season to be?
Someone who saw it says the bits that are authentic and accurate are the least flattering to the royals, and the bits that are made up aren’t so bad. I get the feeling that the episode involving me is probably the most authentic because you don’t have to exaggerate much. This is an amazing story. Here is a woman who rarely spoke in public, revealing the secrets of her heart, her problems within the royal family, a failed marriage and her sense of isolation and loneliness.
Read more: The real story behind Martin Bashir’s controversial BBC panorama interview with Princess Diana The crown
Do you think encouraging Diana to record those tapes was the right thing to do?
Natural. I am very proud of Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words. It told her story in a way that was compelling, convincing and compassionate. The book is 30 years old, and it has been described as a modern classic. It revealed what many people in the royal world knew and kept quiet about due to the deception and secrecy.
On the subject of books, you will read Prince Harry’s memoirs Part?
I will read it. Harry has every right to speak about his life within the royal family and his decision to leave. It’s not like he’s the first one in history to do that. I’ll just refer you back to Edward VIII, who wrote A King’s Story: The Memoirs of the Duke of Windsor, which annoyed the Queen Mother, who always blamed him for her husband’s early death, and annoyed King George VI, his brother. There is also The Heart Has Its Reasons: The Memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor by Wallace Simpson, and the now-King Charles’ authorized work by Jonathan Dimbleby, The Prince of Wales: A Biography, where he talks about his adultery, and attacks his mother for being a distant figure and his father for being a bully.
Diana always expected Harry to be a wingman to William, not an assassin, so it will be interesting to see how the book is received in the royal family. But if the monarchy cannot survive a book written by a former member of that institution, then it is not worth continuing. It has survived many things, and it will certainly survive Part.
What kind of monarch do you expect King Charles III to be?
Charles will not be remembered for his longevity as King, as he probably has 25 years at most. So people will focus on its other aspects. Climate change will be one cause, and people close to him also talk about his role as convener, as chairman, as opposed to an agitator. For example, you can see him meeting about an international conference held at Buckingham Palace. Also, unlike his mother, he is much more interested in music, culture and art. As the Prince of Wales, he used to visit art galleries at night—and so I would suggest that he would be the king of culture.
Do you think the monarchy will continue as it changes face?
For the last few years, any debate about the Commonwealth, the future of the monarchy, the distribution of the royal palaces—what will happen to Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle, and so on—has been parked out of respect for the Queen. , and now that she’s gone, King Charles III will use the observations he’s made over the years to reform aspects of it.
For example, what are they going to do with Kensington Palace now that William and Catherine have moved out? Should it be turned into a royal art gallery or a public building? What are they going to do with Prince Andrew? The Commonwealth is also going to change its form and [reduce] the number of countries in it. Prince Phillip, King Charles, and the rest of them all recognized that: OK, if you decide you want to go your own way, go your own way. But let’s stay friends.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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