Kitty Kelley’s Book Crowns Windsors a Royal Shame
The timing is to die for.
A stunning event rocks the world, and you just happen to have a new book on the subject ready to go. One million copies, in fact, and a publicity blitz driven by prime-time TV.
Normally, you’d beg for such good fortune. But not when the event is Princess Diana’s death. And not, perhaps, when the author is Kitty Kelley, queen of the unauthorized biography.
Today, Kelley’s latest work, “The Royals” (Warner Books), hits stores across America, and her decidedly unkind look at the House of Windsor is similar to her previous treatments of Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Indeed, she alleges that Queen Elizabeth may have been conceived by artificial insemination; she suggests that the queen mother was born out of wedlock; she teases readers with allegations of Prince Philip’s bisexuality; and she tells a disturbing story painting Princess Margaret as an anti-Semite.
There also are nasty tales about Diana, and Kelley is now facing questions she never dreamed would arise: Do we really need this book? Haven’t we bashed the royals enough?
Already there have been media repercussions. People magazine abruptly canceled an excerpt from the book it had planned to run this week, citing bad timing and “tragic circumstances.” Meanwhile, the New York Daily News trashed the book Tuesday with a caustic prediction: “New Yorkers Won’t Read It.”
Kelley’s publisher is counting on huge American sales, but “The Royals” won’t appear in England, where strict libel laws would all but guarantee lawsuits. In the days leading up to publication, British tabloids have been filled with gossip over the book, some hinting that a backlash may develop.
“I worried about this,” Kelley said this week during a day of nonstop media interviews in a Manhattan hotel. “I worked hard on this book, and I didn’t want it to come out in a time of grieving and mourning for the princess. It was very sad.
“[Diana] is the only one in the book who comes out like royalty. But I thought maybe we should wait on publication.”
Fat chance. Warner Books shelled out a reported $4.5 million advance for “The Royals,” and Diana’s death on Aug. 31 prompted it to speed up publication, which had been scheduled for next week. There was no time to add material to the book, Kelley noted, because the copies had been printed and were waiting in warehouses for delivery.
Kelley’s publicity tour was supposed to be triumphant, but now the author is fielding questions about the integrity of her work. How, a reporter asked, is her assault on the royals any different from the paparazzi who spark worldwide revulsion?
“I would say there is no common ground between a photographer’s flash in the night in a Paris tunnel and four year of research on a book that entailed over 800 interviews,” Kelley answered firmly. “There is no common ground between those two things. Nothing in this book endangers anybody’s life.”
Good taste is something else. Kelley speaks of her grief over Diana’s death and still appears shaken by events. Yet she doesn’t exactly treat the princess with kid gloves.
At one point, a former lover of Diana’s is quoted as saying: “She’s got bad breath and she wants sex all the time.” Elsewhere, reprinting materials from the British papers, Kelley reports that Diana’s yearly “grooming” expenses included $4,300 for colonic irrigation, $20,000 for psychotherapy and $65,000 for astrologers, psychics and holistic counselors.
Interested in Prince Philip? Kelley has him complaining about Cairo traffic: “The trouble with you Egyptians is you breed too much.” In Scotland, he asks a driving instructor: “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them to pass the test?” He warns British students in China: “If you stay here much longer, you’ll get slitty eyes.”
One of the more depressing revelations comes at the beginning, when Kelley has Princess Margaret leaving a showing of “Schindler’s List” in a huff, five minutes into the film.
“I don’t want to hear another word about the Jews or the Holocaust,” the queen’s sister allegedly says, subsequently referring to the award-winning movie as “a tedious film about Jews.”
Kelley covers the waterfront, giving readers enough adultery, boozing, venality and racism to bury the House of Windsor once and for all. But how does she prove her stories, many attributed to confidential data and other vague sources?
In the anecdote about Margaret, for example, a butler apparently is the main witness. There may be others involved, yet the author is reluctant to provide any further details.
“[The butler] is not mentioned by name because to document sources is to destroy sources sometimes,” Kelley said. “You can’t do it. These people have signed confidentiality oaths.”
To buttress her findings, Kelley lists an impressive number of on-the-record sources who helped her with “The Royals,” plus revealing information about places and settings to which she gained unprecedented access. The 547-page book, she added pointedly, “has been lawyered to a fare-thee-well.”
Still, the questions come thick and fast: Why does she print such cruel and invasive information about celebrities?
Kelley chuckles when the issue is raised, because she’s seen it all before. Critics hounded her when she suggested that Jackie Onassis had electroshock treatment. Others blasted her when she insinuated that Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra had sex in the White House.
Each time, she has relied on an engaging mixture of wit, charm and intelligence to justify her work. A former journalist and aide to a U.S. senator, Kelley is famous for her tenacious reporting, and that toughness comes across in an interview.
Tart and insinuating one minute, gentle and engaging the next, she is notorious for tracking down people who won’t talk to anyone else and getting them to reveal remarkable secrets.
The formula has worked well in the past, making Kelley one of America’s highest-paid writers. But in the continuing grief over Diana’s death, some wonder if a celebrity-mad culture has gone too far. Maybe we all need a rest from this stuff.
To be sure, Kelley criticizes those journalists who hounded Diana before her death and crossed the line of propriety. It is a line, the author firmly insists, that she has never crossed.
“I have thought about this a lot, because I write unauthorized biographies and I have a definite zone of privacy that I maintain,” said the elegantly coiffed Kelley, 57, who lives in Washington, D.C., with her second husband, Dr. Jonathan E. Zucker.
“I’d never publish your home address. I would never publish your phone number. In this era of Internet and investigation, knowing now what can be done with your Social Security number, I would never publish your Social Security number.”
In addition, she won’t publish where someone’s child goes to school (“I might characterize the school as private or public, or it’s in the Northeast”). Answering critics, the author said she would never pay money for information, however enticing.
There are standards, whether people believe it or not, Kelley said. Yet as the interview ended, she defended her work, saying celebrities will never lose their grip on the public:
“It’s not about celebrities; it’s a need for heroes. Someone you don’t need to apologize for. There was one person within the royal family who, for all her vulnerabilities, met that need. Which accounts for the outpouring of grief.”
And, presumably, the release of Kelley’s new book. Good timing or not, the Rules According to Kitty never seem to change.
“I seek out most of my sources, and others come to me,” she said matter of factly. “They know who I am.”
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