Omid Scobie, Royal expert and author of 'Endgame'. Photo: Luke Fontana; Inset: The Royal family, L to R, King Charles, Queen Camilla, Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Buckingham Palace, July 10, 2018, London. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Omid Scobie Weighs In On the Future of the Monarchy in ‘Endgame’
In a Q&A, the Harper's Bazaar editor talks about how the Royal Family feeds the media, why Prince William has hardened and that time he went on safari with Will and Kate / BY Rosemary Counter / November 28th, 2023
In the three short years since British journalist Omid Scobie’s Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of A Modern Royal Family made big waves in August 2020, many predicted (or at least hoped for) a less dramatic period for the House of Windsor after the couple’s controversial move to California. Boy, were they wrong: By the summer of 2022, there had been so many developments in the Royal Family that Scobie started writing his follow-up, and in a hurry. This week, Endgame: Inside the Royal Family and the Monarchy’s Fight for Survival hit the shelves, prompting tons of chatter and gallons of newspaper ink to be spilled, especially in Europe, where – since we talked to Scobie – a Dutch edition included the names of two royals who speculated about Archie’s skin tone when Meghan Markle was pregnant with the spare’s heir: King Charles and Catherine, Princess of Wales.
Scobie had a lot of ground to cover in his book, namely: the Queen stripping Prince Andrew of his royal titles; the monarch’s death; the coronation of King Charles III (and how Camilla got her Queen title, after all); Prince Harry’s tell-all memoir, Spare; and The Crown, Netflix’s fictional take on the famous family, which currently dominates the streaming service.
“All this proved trying for a staid institution not exactly used to, or adept at managing, such rapid-fire disruptions or change,” writes the 42-year-old in his much-hyped new book. The British-born journalist, who was formerly the royal executive editor for Yahoo! News U.K., is now the royal editor at large for Harper’s Bazaar.
Juicy revelations include details on how “Operation Unicorn” unfolded after the Queen’s death, which Harry learned about via the press; Andrew and Fergie’s £250 bargain deal on rent at Frogmore Cottage; Kate “jokingly shivered” when Meghan’s name was mentioned; Camilla’s dedicated reputation rehab team, called “Operation PB” (for her last name, Parker Bowles); and the Prince and Princess of Wales’ disastrous Caribbean tour in 2022.
Since Scobie began his adventure on the royal beat at William and Catherine’s wedding in 2011, there’s been no shortage of drama both in the headlines and behind them. Endgame dives deep into the fascinating world of “churnalism” – that is, the palace-approved “good press” that, in turn, grants journalists more and better access – and the fallout when, like Scobie, journalists covering the Royals dare to break the code.
He is currently in the doghouse with both the palace and the British press for being “Meg’s pal” or a “Sussex mouthpiece,” for his sympathetic-to-the-Sussexes first book. Endgame might finally see him excluded forever from the pool of reporters called the Royal rota, where Scobie once had a cushy seat next to Wills and Kate (literally, on safari), but why is he going for it anyway? As the buzz surrounding his new book continues to climb, Zoomer spoke to Scobie via Zoom in lush Los Angeles, where he’s hunkered down awaiting Endgame’s explosion into the world.
Rosemary Counter: I read your book carefully and am so thrilled to talk. I have many thoughts and took many notes. But first, how are you?
Omid Scobie: Oh good, good. The last few days have been surreal, because when you write a book, you kind of operate in a bubble for such a long time. You have your editor and publisher saying, “Oh, we love it!” but of course they’ll say that. I’m waiting to hear what readers think, I’m waiting to gauge the mood, whilst also trying to avoid the ridiculous coverage at home. Some of the stuff they’re saying already is just – I don’t even know what – but it’s all wrong, since they haven’t even read the book yet.
RC: You’re in a unique position to expose how the British media works, which this book does so well. I’m not saying tell me your sources, but tell me about your sources.
OS: It’s tough when the de facto method of reporting on the Royal beat is through anonymous sources. I’d be a hypocrite to say we shouldn’t rely on that, because there’s often no other way to get information out there. Sometimes the most frustrating thing about covering this family is that I can’t put a name to a source quote, because if I could, it would carry so much more weight. If I could use a name, the reader could consider and measure their biases.
RC: People think of an “anonymous source” as just some random or possibly unreal person, but you tell a story of Prince William having a pint in a pub with an editor to feed him info. You claim Prince William is the anonymous source!
OS: It’s important to show it, to get into the details and the weeds to help people understand how media at the palace works. Prince William was once a man who hated the press – much more than Harry, who used to be a real suck-up to the press. I remember thinking, “They terrorize you, they terrorized your mom, and you’re trying to win over the editor of the Daily Mail even though you know they’re gonna stick it to you tomorrow.” It was a bit tragic. William, maybe because his role was more defined, couldn’t stand the press and didn’t engage. So, how sad it’s been to see William in recent years become deeply embedded in the press’s typical methods and techniques. If you see a headline or rumour appear and disappear, know that some bargaining or interaction has happened behind the scenes.
RC: Some of these, of course, are very positive. What’s your fondest behind-the-scenes personal interaction with a royal?
OS: I remember this great moment when I was in India at one of the national parks. I was the only journalist who went with William and Kate on this mini-safari looking for a one-horned rhino, which we were told to be completely silent around. Then it stopped right in front of us … and pooped. We were all trying so hard not to laugh. In those moments, you can’t help but feel like you’re part of something. You’re in. Another time, I left my passport behind and Harry sent one of his protection officers to go get it and bring it to me at the airport. Afterwards it became a joke and I was nicknamed “passport.” These moments are great to remind you that they’re just human beings doing a job.
RC: But so are you, right?
OS: Yes, and so it’s always this dance, because you always want to keep a relationship in a decent place. You want to be included in press briefings, you want a heads-up on info before the rest of the world, you want to be invited on tours and private receptions so you can chat with Royals. But the front row seat is wasted because you’re expected to not reveal the most revealing things, if that makes sense. I wanted to shine a light on this dark shadowing place, even if the cost of it is I’m completely cut off for good.
RC: Is there anything that you found that you didn’t put in the book? Or maybe a better question is: how do you decide what’s publishable and what’s just gossip?
OS: There are a few things that I don’t like to give oxygen to. I’ve been victim to online gossip, too, and it’s not nice. There are times when I discuss the rumours themselves – the fallout with Rose Hanbury, allegedly, for example – but I don’t spend a second talking about whether it’s true or not, because in my mind, unless you can come to me with evidence, it’s B.S. If there’s evidence, it goes in the book. If there isn’t, it stays in my notes.
RC: I was impressed you put the Rose Hanbury stuff in at all, since another journalist tweeted that her alleged affair with William was an “open secret” upheld by the U.K. press. How do we know you’re telling the truth?
OS: Everything about that appears to be nonsense. I discuss it in the book, but in the context of how it was presented to the public through a national tabloid. I wanted to analyze how those rumours were dealt with behind the scenes, without giving any credence to something that probably isn’t true. In this world, you need to be able to show and tell.
RC: As a mixed-race British person, what did you think when Meghan Markle entered the picture?
OS: In 2017, I stopped my other reporting to work full-time on the Royals, partly because I thought Harry and Meghan were so interesting. As the son of an Iranian immigrant, I know that entering a stuffy British institution is going to come with its troubles. I wanted to be on the ground covering it because I knew others on the ground didn’t have the lens that I had to tell that story to the rest of the world.
RC: It feels like the Monarchy had the moment to show us they had modernized, but they failed spectacularly.
OS: I know, I know. A lot of people have asked me about why this book’s called Endgame, if it’s because I think this is the end of the Royal family as we know it. I do think we’re at a pinnacle moment, based on many things, but the moment Meghan entered the picture could have changed the course of things in a different direction. It didn’t, so to me the endgame started there.
RC: I saw some of your salty tweets responding to the accusations that you’re a Sussex mouthpiece. How irritating is that?
OS: People love to say I’m just “Meghan’s friend” who randomly popped out of nowhere. It irritates me, but I’ve somewhat made peace with it. Once a nickname’s given in the tabloids, it sticks. I’ve been on this beat since 2011, I’ve seen many pinnacle moments years before Meghan arrived. She’s just one part of this story.
RC: In 12 years, which, if any, of the Royals have you changed your mind about?
OS: I wouldn’t say my mind has been changed, but the Royal whom I’ve seen the most change in is William, which has perhaps transformed my opinions along the way. I always thought William was the most fun member of the family – he was smart, good at his job, he understood the presence of the press despite hating them. He’d occasionally have these moments of banter where he’d let you in. I’ve since seen a hardening of character, a kind of leaning into his role. Whereas once he’d never let the media come between him and his family, particularly his brother, now he is himself involved in the media’s plots and scenes. I still think he has great potential as a monarch, but I don’t know how happy he is. People who work with him describe him as someone you have to test the weather with before you speak. Will he be in a good mood or a bad mood?
RC: Sounds like he’s turning into his dad. Remember that little man-trum about the leaky pen? Are moments like that just moments or something more telling?
OS: They’re both, I think. On one hand, he’s just a human being, and who hasn’t got mad at something that didn’t work? It’s forgivable, and I do think we should be forgiving. On the other, there’s an awareness that you’d think any public figure should have – especially if they’re smart – that everyone’s watching and anything they do could go viral at any time. About William turning into his dad, I think it’s almost impossible not to fall into that place in this job. There comes a point on the path to the throne that duty has to come before anything else. Until five or six years ago, family was first for William. Now duty is first, which is perhaps a necessary change, but it’s definitely affected him.
RC: I hear you’re a fan of The Crown, is that true?
OS: I’ll admit I haven’t seen much of the new season. I have a little bit of fatigue on the subject right now. I enjoyed the previous seasons and I find the rush to dismiss anything in it that they don’t like rather entertaining. Obviously it’s fiction and the dialogue is right from a writer’s room, but the response from the institution is usually pretty telling. Whether they like it or not, The Crown has become the biggest pop-culture reference to the royal family of our time.
RC: Is there one question that you’re completely sick of yet?
OS: Some people often ask me ‘why are you so obsessed with talking about this family’s gossip and fallouts and drama? Shouldn’t this be private?’ While I agree for any other family, even for other celebrities, this is a publicly funded institution that needs to be scrutinized just as we do politicians. We need to look at their morals and values. This tells a much bigger story about how they see people and treat people, because these aren’t just actors here. If Charles can’t get along with his family, what does that say about him as the head of state? The Church of England? That interests me.
RC: Have you heard anything from the palace yet? Where do you think you stand now?
OS: We’ll find out, I guess. I’m under no illusions that this book will do me any favours on that front, but I feel confident and comfortable enough to be able to report on this story. Since the death of the Queen, I think people are ready for more nuanced conversations about the meaning, purpose and relevance of the Royal Family. I wanted to write something honest, without worrying what they think. If that means I’m never invited to anything again, I’m okay with that.