Queen of dirt diggers ready for a royal row

A new book on the Windsors is out next week.
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The Independent Online
Just as half the nation is pledging to swear off the palace soap opera and give back a modicum of privacy to the Windsors, in the wake of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, fresh and dastardly temptation is upon us.

With timing that is either brilliant or unspeakably distasteful, the American publisher Warner Books is releasing next Wednesday The Royals, a biography (decidedly unauthorised) of the Windsors going back to the First World War, written by the poisoned of pen, and famously ruthless, Kitty Kelley.

It will be little solace to the Palace that the work will not be published in Britain. That, of course, has to do with unkind content and tough British libel laws. Thanks to the wonders of e-mail, not to mention the postal service, its pages will not take long in reaching British shores.

The least that the book promises to do is furrow brows of British editors, who must decide now much can be passed on to readers without risking breach of the new puritanism of the post-Diana era.

In the US, People magazine decided to scrap plans to run excerpts of the book next week, precisely, a spokesperson said, because editors thought it was "just inappropriate right now". Instead, the magazine, which is also part of the Warner media empire, will run an interview with Ms Kelley.

At worst, however, the book, which has been four years in the writing and, according to Ms Kelley, is the fruit of 1,000 interviews, could trigger fresh crisis for the Windsors at a time when their standing is already low.

The anticipation is considerable for multiple reasons. First, there is the reputation of Ms Kelley as a merciless digger of dirt that was established by her previous biographies, most notably of Frank Sinatra and of Nancy Reagan, the former First Lady.

In Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorised Biography, published in 1991, Ms Kelley portrayed the First Lady as a domineering and deceitful wife who had almost as much power in the presidency as Ronald himself. One scene had her seducing Sinatra over lunch in the White House. The Sinatra work included a description of him eating eggs and bacon from the breasts of a prostitute.

Tellingly, both Sinatra and Mrs Reagan threatened to sue over the books; neither did so successfully. Indeed, Ms Kelley has never been successfully sued. And while critics and journalists have energetically questioned the veracity of some of the details of her past books, most also concede her commitment to serious research. She never throws away records of her interviews. Warner Books in New York, meanwhile, has further stirred fascination by throwing an impenetrable blanket of secrecy around the book. British journalists trying to find it - it was printed at a secret location - have been frustrated.

Showing no restraint, Warner actually moved up publication from 23 September to next Wednesday, citing irresistible pressure from bookshops themselves evidently anxious to cash in on the surge in curiosity.

Not that titbits of what the book alleges have not been widely reported.

Ms Kelley herself has herself been offering obscure hints. In an interview with the Kansas City Star in June, she responded thus to a question about the Windsors: "Have you ever been around a dysfunctional family? This book is going to make us all feel reassured by our own dysfunctions. Our dysfunctions are going to look like mere eccentricities. Theirs are played out on a huge scale."