Book Review: Finding Freedom by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand

Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand

Finding Freedom has attracted controversy because Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, stepped back from their roles as senior members of the royal family in January 2020 and departed from the United Kingdom. Excerpts serialized in British newspapers emphasized how Prince Harry and his elder brother Prince William have grown apart in recent years and how Harry and Meghan did not feel supported by the royal household in their conflicts with the British tabloid press. There was widespread speculation in the press concerning the degree to which Harry and Meghan approved the involvement of their friends in the interviews for the book.

Despite the media scrutiny and controversy surrounding this particular book, Finding Freedom has a great deal in common with other recent royal biographies written by journalists and royal commentators. There is an admiring tone toward’s the book’s subject, a blend of excerpts from published speeches/interviews/media coverage and quotes from sources close to the royal couple, critiques of the stories spread by the tabloid press, speculation about the thoughts of members of the royal family, and a mention of personal encounters with royalty during coverage of royal tours. (Scobie was nicknamed “passports” by Harry after misplacing his passport on a tour). While Harry and Meghan have chosen a unique path for senior members of the royal family, Finding Freedom is a typical popular royal biography in many respects.

Readers who have followed the media coverage of Harry and Meghan’s relationship, marriage, public engagements, and departure from royal life will discover little that is new or particularly surprising in Finding Freedom. The book has a behind-the-scenes tone but it would not have required much insider information to deduce that Harry needs to wear a lot of sunscreen or that he texted his friends and family when Archie was born beginning with the Queen or that Harry and Meghan’s residences were been baby proofed after Archie’s arrival. Events that took place behind closed doors, such as the January 2020 meeting between Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry about Harry and Meghan’s future role are summarized quickly.

Although Meghan spent years living in Toronto, there seems to have been limited research concerning Canadian geography, culture and politics. For example, North York is described as “near downtown” Toronto” when it was a separate municipality until 1998, Boxing Day is called a “British holiday” though it is also celebrated in Canada, and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau is described as Canada’s “First Lady,” which is not a title held by the spouse of a Prime Minister in a Constitutional Monarchy where the Queen is Head of State. There is little new information about the months that royal couple spent in Canada in early 2020 and barely a mention of Canadian press coverage of the royal couple. Considering Meghan’s interest in the Commonwealth, demonstrated by the Commonwealth floral motifs on her wedding veil and patronage of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the small amount of attention devoted to Canada (and other Commonwealth realms) in the book is surprising.

In terms of royal history, Finding Freedom emphasizes Diana, Princess of Wales and her sons as trailblazers who introduced increased informality to royal life. While Diana, William and Harry have certainly had a transformative impact on the monarchy and its public image, not all the changes attributed to them in book were absent before their lifetimes. Scobie and Durand credit Diana with being the first member of the royal family to make the kitchen a family space. However, there was press coverage of the young Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret learning to cook in the kitchen of Royal Lodge at Windsor. Harry was certainly not the first royal child to display childish high spirits and informality in front of crowds.

The book is most successful in recreating the celebratory atmosphere of Harry and Meghan’s wedding in 2018, including the various personal touches introduced by the royal couple. There are also thoughtful critiques of the British tabloid press and their coverage of royal personages, which provides context for recent lawsuits initiated by Harry and Meghan. Scobie and Durand note past instances of lawsuits between royalty and the press, including the 1993 lawsuit on behalf of Diana, Princess of Wales when the Sunday Mirror and Daily Mirror published surreptitious photos of the Princess exercising at her gym. The communication difficulties between the different offices at Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace as well as the role of palace staff in providing information for the press also receives extensive attention. There is mention of cultural differences between the United Kingdom and the United States that affected perceptions of Meghan by palace staff and the press.

Finding Freedom ends with Harry, Meghan and Archie living in California, having stepped back from their roles as senior members of the royal family. In a reigning family with multiple generations of adult heirs and their siblings, differences of opinion concerning the public image of the monarchy, the relationship between the press and the royal family and the comparative prominence of different royal households, were perhaps inevitable. It remains to be seen how Harry and Meghan will develop their public profile in the coming years and what influence their decisions in 2020 will have on the next generation of the royal family.

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: King Edward VIII

My new article in the Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia is a short biography of King Edward VIII.

Edward toured Canada on several occasions and purchased a ranch in Alberta. He is best known for abdicating the crown and marrying American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Edward is mentioned in novels by several Canadian authors, including Robertson Davies, Lucy Maud Montgomery and Timothy Findley.

Click here to read my article about King Edward VIII in the Canadian Encyclopedia

CBC News Interview: Princess Beatrice: A private — but not a secret — wedding

I discussed the circumstances of Princess Beatrice’s wedding with Janet Davison at CBC News. Media commentary on the event has sometimes used the terms “private wedding” and “secret wedding” interchangeably. Princess Beatrice married in private ceremony following precedents set by previous private royal weddings including the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in 1935 and Princess Alice and the Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1862. I also discussed the Queen’s role as Head of the Commonwealth.

Click here to read The Royal Fascinator Newsletter at CBC News

Updated Canadian Encyclopedia Articles: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

My Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia articles about Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex are now updated to include sections about Stepping Back from Royal Duties in 2020.

Click here to read my article about Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

Click here to read my article about Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Royal Tours of Canada

My new article in the Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia is about Royal Tours of Canada from the late eighteenth century to the present day, including early visits by King George III’s sons, the travels of Queen Victoria’s children, the 1939 royal tour by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), and official visits and working visits during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

Click here to read my article about Royal Tours of Canada in the Canadian Encyclopedia

New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Viscount Monck

Happy Canada Day! My latest article in the Historica Canada Canadian Encyclopedia is about Charles Stanley Monck, 4th Viscount Monck of Ballytrammon, governor general of British North America, captain general and governor of British North America from 1861 to 1867 and governor general of Canada from 1867 to 1868 (born 10 October 1819 in Templemore, County Tipperary, Ireland; died 29 November 1894 in Charleville, Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland). Monck supported Confederation and became the first governor general of the Dominion of Canada.

Click here to read my article about Viscount Monck in the Canadian Encyclopedia

CBC News Interview: Going their separate ways: Scrutiny grows on bond between William and Harry

I discussed the relationship between Prince William and Prince Harry with Janet Davison at CBC News as well as past royal brothers, such as Edward VIII and George VI, and royal parenting in the public eye.

Click here to read Going their separate ways: Scrutiny grows on bond between William and Harry at CBC News

CBC News Interview: Prince Philip turns 99

This weekend’s The Royal Fascinator newsletter includes the Duchess of Sussex’s address to students at Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, the 99th birthday of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and the 1959 royal tour of Canada. I discussed Prince Philip’s longevity with Janet Davison at CBC News

Click here to read “Prince Philip turns 99” in The Royal Fascinator newsletter at CBC News

Global News Interview: Here’s how the Royal Family is impacted by coronavirus

I discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the royal family and their public engagements with Meghan Collie at Global News. The interview includes Prince Charles’s experience of coronavirus, recent virtual royal engagements and the changes to the royal calendar in response to the pandemic.

Click here to read “Usually untouchable, here’s how the Royal Family is impacted by coronavirus” at Global News

CBC News Interview: Why the Queen’s isolation is rich in symbolism

I discussed Queen Elizabeth II’s decision to remain at Windsor Castle during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the experiences of past monarchs, such as Henry VIII and Edward III, in times of plague and pandemic with Janet Davison at CBC News.

Click here to read Why the Queen’s isolation is rich in symbolism at CBC News