This is my favorite podcast episode ever!!! Author Gareth Russell was initially a friend online but we met in person at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and our instant BFF radar went off.
Gareth is the author of Do Let’s Have Another Drink: The Dry Wit and Fizzy Life of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother coming in November of 2022! But you can read his book Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII right now!
We had the privilege of covering the Jubilee together and discuss the experience, Princess Diana‘s relationship with the Queen Mother, and a surprising revelation about Prince Charles in this episode of the To Di For Daily podcast.
Please note: We do not heavily discuss Gareth’s new book on the Queen Mother because we are scheduled to dedicate an entire podcast episode to it later this year!!! Can’t wait!
You can listen to the full interview wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Otherwise, we are still on YouTube!
Kinsey Schofield: It’s so hard to like try to be professional because… I really like you. You’re really my friend. So, it’s so hard for me to be like, ‘Hey, and thanks for talking to the To Di For Daily podcast!'” I am with author Gareth Russell. You know, you not only have The Queen Mother coming out, I cannot wait to get The Queen Mother… Everybody’s talking about it on Instagram. That’s how we became friends! But Young and Damned and Fair. First of all, how did you come up with that title? I like how I’m just jumping into it. But I love the title Young and Damned and Fair. Tell me how you came up with that title. I was lucky to discover it on audiobook.
Gareth Russell: With Jenny Funnell! Who narrates it. She’s so good. She’s just brilliant. So Young and Damned and Fair, which is my biography of Henry VIII‘s wife Catherine Howard, was my book that kind of started my career in America. It’s how I got my agent in America. I had done my dissertation on Catherine’s household staff but when my agent Brettne and I were talking about maybe turning it into a book, we decided to go for a more lyrical title. And there’s a poem by Stevie Smith that talks about sort of a mythical woman trapped on a rock…young and damned and fair… and that’s where I pitched it.
KS: Brilliant, brilliant. Okay, so for people not familiar with you, you are has a historian, a broadcaster, a very good Instagram follow! We found each other on Instagram. I loved your content. I work with a couple of American broadcasting companies, and they asked me for references for really good royal commentators during the Jubilee. I threw your name out there but I didn’t anticipate to walk into a green room and see you because you had a really busy schedule during Jubilee. And we sat there for half an hour… had a blast! It was the most fun! And I wanted to just do a quick Jubilee recap with a friend that I actually got to spend part of the Jubilee with… which is you! The environment was amazing, right? Can you explain a little bit about how the city was?
GR: Yeah, well, firstly, I think we need to acknowledge the MVP, which apart from Prince Louis was your hat! I remember when he walked around the corner in the green room, I thought, ‘Oh, she has come to play!’ Like, it’s so good. Yeah, look, you’re absolutely right. It was this environment in the city was really upbeat and exciting. And it sounds strange because we’re in the green room, you know, with other correspondents and commentators and there was a vibe, even there. You felt, you know, obviously, it’s a really impressive moment, 70 years of service to the country, but also, you know, two, three years of things being difficult and locked away. And you know, so it was sort of this like symbiosis between the theme… the celebration of the Jubilee and also people seeing each other again. I find the pageantry and everything to do with it really uplifting.
KS: Oh, absolutely. Also, this is my first go-round in London as a royal commentator. And so to be in a room with Dickie Arbiter was next level! During the mass, Dickie is standing with his hands on a chair, three inches from the television watching Prince Harry and Meghan Markel enter and he’s like, ‘Come on, smile!’ And, to me, it’s crazy because this is a man that has been in the same room with Prince Harry. He’s been in, you know, strategy meetings with the Queen. This is a man who is so entrenched in… not only the pageantry, not only the protocol but the deep, deep family ties. He knows it all. So that was really interesting to me, to witness him witnessing some of the Jubilee.
GR: You’ll know this as well… I mean, he was really close to Diana. He saw a lot of Diana. He tells these really funny stories about her and I think it’s… it’s strange, I suppose, if you’re like us and you’re sort of coming up and you’re doing the royal commentary. You’ve seen Dickie Arbiter many times on TV, you know what he’s done. And it was quite… it was just a generally surreal day and in a really good way! There was a slightly strange moment where I think I was getting my makeup done or something… not that this isn’t just a natural glow… but I was getting my makeup done and you could see on the screens that they had in the green room, the fly-by and then you heard it go right over our hotel where we were shooting… so it was… there was a buzz. There was a real excitement to it. Although, I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to stress any of our colleagues at the network but… I was initially due at 11:40 and I got to the hotel at 11:39 because of everything… the traffic… everything. I had dropped my earphone down the side of the car, had reached on cut my finger, and kind of bled on my shirt. I looked like… I turned up cosplaying like a hemophiliac Romanov! Not the vibe I was going for! But luckily I think things were running a little late for everyone that day. So I went in and that was good.
KS: Well, that’s what I was gonna say to you. I felt like even though I was not in the mobs of people that we saw with their Union Jacks, I was not in those mobs. But because the traffic was so bad and so many streets were closed off, they would send a car for me an hour or two hours before it was time for me to do a hit. So, no matter what I planned to see, I didn’t get to see anything because I was in a car, navigating it. But I had the craziest… I shouldn’t say that… I had the most eccentric taxi driver one time, okay. And he had so many Diana stories! He met Diana one time when he was in the hospital. She sat there and talked to him for 20 minutes. I love hearing those stories because sometimes we hear these Diana stories over and over again and it’s like, ‘Is she really this martyr?’ You know? So to hear a stranger say, ‘I met her at the hospital. She stood there and talked to me for 20 minutes, she was the most sincere person ever. I’m really resentful of the current royal family because I was so touched by her compassion and generosity.’ That was really interesting to me. Did he go into a few conspiracy theories? Perhaps he did. We won’t go into that. But it was really, it’s so interesting to meet people that actually met her and have nothing to gain from the story. And talk about how really wonderful this woman is.
GR: It’s interesting… I was going to ask you about conspiracy theories because I feel like it’s a rite of passage in London to have a taxi driver tell you a conspiracy theory, it’s luck of the draw. It’s luck of the draw which one you get. I think it’s really interesting. I mean, you mentioned my book on the Queen Mother… I interviewed a lot of people who knew her and there is something special, I think, about people who knew the person. Who saw the person. Because you’re seeing someone like Diana, who you know, is sort of still kind of imprisoned in the fame we now project onto her. There is a sense, as you say, of someone frozen and martyrdom who’s not a real person. And then when you hear these stories of people who are really touched by the time she took to talk to them, I think it’s really moving. I mean, you’ve worked on a book on Diana… I think if you’re doing anything like this… to hear a firsthand source of someone who had a special moment with them is really, really special.
KS: Especially when it’s not someone like… oh, am I going to do this right now? Paul Burrell. No, and I will say for the record, I would love to talk to Paul. But Paul has created an entire brand on that relationship. So, when you talk to him you wonder, ‘Is this to sell a book or is this to get the next thing?’ and… I might fix this in edit. I don’t know, I might remove this.
GR: That makes me laugh! I think he liked a few of my posts, actually, which I thought was quite nice of them. But I’ve never met him. It’s a really tough line to walk because you can get the reputation of someone who is a talker and that’s not always the best thing. I mean, I will say I was kind of lucky that season four of The Crown was so anti the Queen Mother and so hostile to her because it meant that a lot of people who knew her who usually would not have spoken to someone, because they’re a more discreet generation, I think. But they were very willing to talk.
KS: Yeah, because they had to defend their friend.
GR: That’s it. And, you know, I did speak to people who were not fans and were very critical. But there is something… And some of them were sort of in the middle and they just met her a few times. But there was something special about talking to the friends, I think there was just something about… because a lot of quite a few of them were a little bit more elderly… and it felt like they were sort of reminiscing with you, which was very special.
KS: All right, talk to me about The Crown because that’s one of my biggest issues. Whenever I do American media, they say, ‘Well, on The Crown, this happened…’ and you don’t want to correct a person on live television and say ‘That is not authentic. That is not true. Not what happened.’ It’s great entertainment. I especially think aside from the Queen Mother, I think that they make the Queen look really negative and nasty. And I don’t appreciate that. And I don’t think it’s true. Can you give me your thoughts on that?
GR: I mean, I should say that I have I’ve had friends who were in that. So I’m always a little bit hesitant.
KS: No, I love it. I’ll watch it forever. I’ll watch it on repeat. But I don’t like the idea that people think there is truth… there’s so much truth to it.
GR: You’re absolutely right. This is where you sort of can’t have the proverbial cake and eat it too. You cannot say we are allowed to get away with massive inaccuracies because we’re a drama but then, as quite a few people with The Crown do, trumpet the accuracy and the research. You can’t do both because that’s blurring the lines. And I think for me, seasons one and season two, were extraordinary. I mean, really, really brilliant. I, and to give credit to those earlier seasons, I think part of that is that that was a period drama that was so long ago. With the exception of the Queen and Prince Philip, nearly everyone they were dramatizing had passed away. The closer in time you get to the present, the more difficult it becomes. And whenever you think of the breakdown of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ marriage, I felt Charles and season three and Charles and season four were two completely different people.
KS: I was in love with season three, Charles, I was in love with him.
GR: So sensative and so… kind of heartfelt. And lost. And then season four, he was a monster!
KS: And then no justification as to why that shift!
GR: No, there was nothing. There was nothing really done with that at all.
KS: I think we’re supposed to assume he’s just bitter that he can’t be with Camilla. I think we’re supposed to assume that. But there’s also not enough engagement between them.
GR: No, there wasn’t enough, you know, and I loved the portrayal of Camilla. I thought actually, they didn’t go down the line of demonizing the other woman. I thought that was really sensitively handled. There have just been some questionable decisions. I was horrified by… I mean, obviously, because I’ve worked on books, a book about her… I was really horrified by the episode about the Queen Mother and nieces. And I go into that in the book and say, ‘Look, this is what actually happened.’ And when you’re getting into the area of misrepresenting how people with physical and mental disabilities were treated at that time… then to sensationalize it for the sake of a royal drama… to me… you’re maybe treading into pretty dangerous moral ground there. I get frustrated when people say all you need to do is watch The Crown. It is an extraordinary production. It really, really is. I’m really excited to see Elizabeth Debicki as Princess Diana. I think what great casting! But if I’m honest, and I’m interested to hear what you think… and what your listeners and viewers think as well, because I bounced back and forth on this… There are certain shows… The Loudest Voice, Bombshell… they kind of stick in my head about modern things. I’m just not sure this was the time to tell the story. It felt a little too fresh.
KS: Right… so with Charles and Diana… you think that that’s when…
GR: I think we have to bear in mind… and you know, maybe they won’t watch it… But I try to bear in mind that she has two sons who are still alive and clearly in their own ways… have obviously as you would… struggled to deal with what happened. I think to be getting that close and depicting her death and the breakdown of their marriage… I just don’t know. But then again, I understand it. I’m like you. I’m torn because there have been moments in The Crown where I have felt, ‘Oh, I really think you could have done this in a different way.’ I had a big issue with the scene in season two where Philip is shown in a nightmare clambering through the corpses of his dead relatives in the airplane. You just go, ‘There’s not a need for this!’ Whatever your views on the monarchy are… these are human beings.
KS: And Prince Philip, I believe he was alive when that came out. I just got goosebumps thinking about that. That’s not something that I would want to experience in my lifetime.
GR: You can tell from my accent I’m from Northern Ireland. I did have problems with the way the Northern Irish Troubles were presented. It really bothered me that it was… it is still part of the United Kingdom… it was a civil war that went on for 30 years. It got about 10 minutes of coverage in The Crown. There was a lot more spent on Diana’s shoes than there was on The Troubles.
KS: Literally her wrapped around a toilet… which was my biggest issue but, yes.
GR: I have to say, I’m very aware of eating disorders and I find the depiction of it, for me, it went over the top. I just think it was too much. It was too much.
KS: Between The Crown and Spencer, I was so spent I was so done. This is not a woman that lived her life and 16 years… she didn’t live 16 years wrapped around a toilet. I don’t like that. That’s the way that modern, you know, this modern age has decided that they’re going to represent her.
GR: It’s interesting because… I mean… obviously you’re the, between us, you’re the Diana expert so I’m interested to hear what you think… A lot of people said, ‘Oh you know… they’re so anti-Charles and pro-Diana in season four but I actually thought with Diana in season four came across as really stupid. I thought they really downplayed a lot of what Diana did. Diana really, really went out to bat… as did Princess Margaret I should say… but at the height of the AIDS crisis, the two of them really were being seen sitting next to people with AIDS and hugging people with AIDS. That was a revolutionary act of kindness the both of them did. And I felt with Diana… I felt everything was shrunk to the marriage. And I thought, ‘You could have gotten this across and maybe fleshed out a bit, all of them, a bit more.’ It’s so strange.
KS: We love The Crown! We should say, we love The Crown!
GR: My favorite season was the first season. I think Claire Foy‘s performance will go down as one of the greatest in tv history. I really do. I think where I will give credit where credit is due… there were topics in seasons three and four that were so vast that, of course, they have to shrink them down. I personally just, as a viewer, wonder about shows that get really close to the date in real life. That’s just something… I don’t envy the writers because obviously they are contractually bound to finish this and I think it will be difficult for them. I have heard, I’m sure you have as well, but Netflix has picked up the prequel options so they’re going to, I think, go back to like Edward VII. I think we will see… if it’s the same writer on the same team during the prequel, I think we’re gonna see some absolutely extraordinary television. I really do.
KS: I totally agree. When as I was watching one and two with you, I absolutely loved the first two seasons and it killed me that we didn’t go back to Wallis and Edward. I was so… I thought ‘Wow, how do you skip over these two fascinating creatures?’ Who… you know… now it’s so much more interesting to look at them and to look at their story because there are… no matter what anybody wants to say… parallels between Prince Harry and Meghan Markel and Wallis and Edward.
GR: I will. Sorry, I shouldn’t have interrupted. I will take a [inaudible] because in 2014 in an interview, I was asked who I thought the Duchess of Cambridge Kate was basing herself on and I said the Queen Mother. And in the last I think week, a few weeks, people who worked for her and worked for the Queen Mother said they are very similar.
KS: Oh, that’s really interesting!
GF: I mean, she was Duchess of York first and she was someone who, I think, like the Duchess of Cambridge plays a long game. She’s very aware that if you’re in the monarchy, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Yeah. And I mean, the Queen Mother has a less stellar reputation today but the Queen Mother from 1923 to 2002 was pretty consistently one of the most popular people in the country.
KS: Everybody loved what she wore. She was really this icon.
GR: There’s the photograph… and she… and it’s interesting because what happened with her has happened with all the women who’ve married into the Windsor dynasty, which is they’re popular for the first five to 10 years, and then a younger prince marries another woman. And then they’re characterized as being jealous of her. And that’s what happened with Elizabeth and Wallace. It happened with Diana and Sarah Ferguson, people forget that. There’s always this cycle of like, the woman has to be pitted against the other woman, which is…
KS: Unnecessary. Yeah. Okay, so you just reminded me of something back to the green room. Sure. We’re waiting to go on. And…
GR: I had that fear… you know before you film? I had this fear where they put out so much food in the green room, like I’m really hungry, but I just know today is the day that it’s going to get stuck in my teeth.
KS: That’s why I carry those little floss picks in my bag. You should carry the kind in the plastic in your wallet. Also, when you’re running around like that to do commentary, you don’t eat so you have to stop and eat. I know what you’re saying that you have to eat something because it’ll be six or seven o’clock. And you realize that you’ve been up since 4am. And you haven’t had anything to eat. And you’re about to die.
GR: I was at a dinner for the Jubilee, like a friend was hosting a dinner that night and when I arrived and sat at the table… I realized that I was going to have to remember that civilization has rules and I could not eat the way I wanted to. It’s just all of a sudden, like this sort of Viking warlord appetite settled right over me.
KS: It’s just go, go, go and it was just like you said… this magical atmosphere. So you’re just going with the flow. And just… it felt so great. Well, we worked with Piers Morgan together during the Jubilee. I like him. I like anybody that has the courage to say what they think. But we were pretty intimidated by the thought of not knowing what questions were coming because some people provide questions before… we had no idea. Now one thing we suspected you might be asked because of your background, is what the Queen Mother would think of Harry and Meghan. I’d like two answers from you: #1 What you told me that day. And #2 How would the Queen Mother have responded to the way that Harry and Meghan did act? Because I thought they did a pretty decent job.
GR: So did I. I really did. I think… to answer in order… I think the Queen Mother really was someone who… there was an Edwardian concept of duty. It did not matter how unhappy you were. And really, in many ways, Harry is leading a kind of rebellion against the values of the Queen Mother that still existed at the heart of the royal family. Which is, you know, it was the Queen Mother who coined that very famous phrase, ‘Never explain, never complain.’ And that is why she did not give interviews. She really resented giving interviews. But one of the things I found out from my book, which blew my mind, is that there was a journalist at the time… I think of Prince Harry’s christening… who chanced his arm and put the microphone in front of the Queen Mother, and asked, ‘What advice would you give to your great grandsons?’ And the Queen Mother said something like, ‘Oh, I never give advice!’ Which was a polite way of saying, ‘Go away.’ And he asked, ‘If you were?’ And she said something like… I’m paraphrasing here… it’s in the book but she said something like… ‘Always put your country first.’ Yeah, that was the advice.
And I think a lot of us will have had grandparents or great grandparents who lived through the years of the war. They were built differently to us. That’s just the nature of it. So, I think she would never have understood a member of the royal family wanting to live abroad. That just is not something that would have sat with her.
That’s not to say that she was right and Harry’s wrong or vice versa. I can’t usually speculate but with Elizabeth’s views on things like that, there’s no doubt that she she did not… would not have thought that was the right thing to do.
And in fact, she did at one point, get a whisper that Prince Charles was considering going to live in Italy because in the early 90s… he was really struggling with how much the press was… sort of… he was very unpopular at that point.
KS: So, is this this is early, this is early 90?. Is this still with Diana because the divorce… there was a separation…
GR: [inaubile but I think he’s confirming before the divorce] and he was considering going to live in Tuscany for most of the year. And the Queen Mother broke… she never really spoke about Wallace and Edward. And she invited Charles to dinner and all of a sudden just started talking… about his his great uncle and his great aunt. And the way she phrased it… it became very clear to Charles that she was telling him, ‘Do not leave this country.’ The Queen Mother never went in a straight line. She kind of wove in her point.
And in regards to what she would have thought of how the Sussexes behaved at the Jubilee… I don’t think there was anything to criticize with them in regards the Jubilee. I think if you’re someone who… it’s the same thing with the Cambridges… I think if you’re someone who… in fact many famous people… if you’re someone who’s already decided you don’t like them… you’ll find something there. But I think if you’re going to be fair… they turned up. They they did not… in fact no member of the royal family, I thought, tried to pull focus. Everything was, you know, directed towards the Queen… for the Platinum Jubilee. I thought all of them behaved immaculately and I thought there was this spirit, about the criticism. [Inaudible.] And there’s also something else that just drives me nuts… and it’s something that happens with famous people all the time, people will see a single photograph or footage from afar and they will start to extrapolate psychological reasons. ‘This is what this person’s thinking.’ ‘This is what they’re doing.’ You think… they might just have had, like, stubbed their toe? You don’t know!