Twice a week, somewhere deep inside Buckingham Palace, a retired footman sits at a desk and, with gloved hands, sifts through the late Queen Elizabeth II’s most intimate thoughts. “King Charles has assigned his mother’s most trusted aide, Paul Whybrew, to gather her private papers, including diaries and copies of letters she sent throughout her nine decades, to be preserved for posterity,” says a palace source, adding that the courtier, whom Elizabeth affectionately called “Tall Paul,” is known as her “secret keeper.”
What exactly will be revealed remains to be seen. “Charles knows the papers are full of bombshells, and he’s relying on Paul to make sure some of them never see the light of day,” says a source, noting that the royal family — to the great consternation of historians — has a history of destroying secret documents before they reach the official royal archives. And while the queen’s musings on world events and official duties will no doubt be saved, her thoughts on more private matters — including Charles’ first marriage to Princess Diana, Princess Kate’s relationship with Prince William, Prince Andrew’s scandals and Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s exit — “could seriously threaten the monarchy’s image. So the palace definitely doesn’t want certain things made known to the public.”
The Royal Vault
The queen’s diaries have always been heavily guarded. “It’s quite small, not like Queen Victoria’s,” she once said of her journal, noting that unlike her ancestor, who meticulously recorded every detail of her day, Elizabeth devoted only about 15 minutes daily to the task. “She jotted down what she did, the moments that made her happiest, like births and Christmas celebrations and, of course, things that didn’t go as smoothly,” says the source, adding that every morning, an aide got rid of the blotting papers that she used to dry her ink on the page. “They took every precaution to ensure nothing could be leaked.”
Still, some of her deepest feelings have already been revealed. Her private secretary once acknowledged that the queen felt terrible about her delayed response to a 1966 disaster in Wales that killed 116 children. Similarly, she was criticized for taking a week to speak out after Diana’s death in 1997. That, says the source, “is her biggest regret.”
Guilt and Shame
Diana’s treatment by the family weighed heavily on the queen. In 1994, Charles, 74, officially admitted to cheating on his wife (with Queen Camilla, 76). In a leaked tape recording of a conversation between Elizabeth and the queen mother from that time, the queen expressed her great disapproval: “It’s always a mistake to talk about your marriage.”
And while she granted her son the divorce he wanted, “the queen never forgave him for it,” says the source. “She was very disappointed in him, and both she and the queen mother wrote to Diana during that difficult time. Princess Margaret later destroyed their mother’s letters, but Elizabeth’s could still make Charles look bad.”
Andrew is another sensitive issue. “He fell from grace in an abhorrent scandal,” the source says of the 63-year-old’s relationship with late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. “The queen was truly traumatized because Prince Andrew was always her favorite.”
Another heartbreak? Megxit. “Elizabeth really doted on Prince Harry, 39, so when he left the fold, she was devastated,” says the source, adding that she truly liked Meghan, 42, but believed a longer courtship might have helped the actress to better adjust to life in the Firm. “She thought Meghan trapped Harry into marrying too soon.”
The biggest surprise might be her feelings about the new Princess of Wales, Kate. “Most people think they got along really well, but the queen was initially suspicious of her motives,” says the source, noting that Kate, 41, famously took a gap year before university so she could start at St. Andrews at the same time as William, 41, who still took more than 10 years to make her his bride. “The queen didn’t fully trust Kate until she gave birth to Prince George,” contends the source. “That’s when she knew Kate, like her, would do anything to protect the future king — and therefore the monarchy.”
That’s what Charles is trying to do. Like Queen Victoria’s daughter, who took 30 years to release the monarch’s heavily rewritten diaries, and Margaret, who simply tossed her own mother’s most sensitive papers into a fire, “he must be tempted to get rid of anything that will tarnish her memory or bring more shame on the family,” says the source.
But academics in Britain are fighting hard for transparency. “Queen Elizabeth was one of the most important figures of the 20th century, and her papers are of immeasurable historical value, so there are many people working to make sure they are properly preserved,” says the source. “And Charles should know better than anyone that the truth always comes out.”
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