One small slip and Omid Scobie’s Harry and Meghan book goes stratospheric. Imagine his distress

<span>Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

A hugely intriguing week in Dutch publishing mishaps, as the Netherlands’ edition of a new book about the royals names King Charles and the Princess of Wales as the two family members who supposedly speculated about the skin colour of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s then-unborn son. The opus in question is Endgame by Omid Scobie – officially, a Sussex-friendly journalist; unofficially, a jacquard polo shirt influencer of quite substantial importance. Asked about the raging drama, Scobie declared: “To be honest, I’ve been operating a bubble of no emotion for the last 10 days.” Which you’ll know was the exact same thing Lytton Strachey said in the week of publication of his volume on Queen Victoria. Nothing becomes a contempo historian like the “I can’t even” of it all.

But we race ahead of ourselves. The details – I want to say facts, but I somehow feel that judgment is best reserved for now – are these. Omid Scobie, who increasingly looks like a felt-pen drawing of Omid Scobie, has this week published Endgame, which the publisher says is “a penetrating investigation into the current state of British monarchy”. Go on. “An unpopular king, a power-hungry heir to the throne, a queen willing to go to dangerous lengths to preserve her image, and a prince forced to start a new life after being betrayed by his own family … this is the royal family’s endgame. Do they have what it takes to save it?” You get the gist. For anyone who ordered the word salad, he recommends the Windsors “move forward with growth”.

The Dutch edition of Omid Scobie’s Endgame
The Dutch edition of Omid Scobie’s Endgame Photograph: Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters

This work has been printed in several languages, yet only in the Dutch version was material featured that names both Charles and Kate as the individuals in question. Was it inserted? If so, inserted by whom? The answer to all those questions – and indeed quite a few others – remains tantalisingly unclear. One of the poor Dutch translators has been tracked down by the Mail at her home, and says that, as always, she simply translated what was put in front of her by the publishers, who in the Netherlands were the firm Xander Uitgevers. Scobie himself told Dutch TV: “Unfortunately I can’t speak Dutch, so I haven’t seen the copy for myself, so if there have been any translation errors I’m sure the publisher’s got it under control,” If “under control” means pulping every copy, then in many ways the Dutch publisher has never been in more control. Industrial amounts of control happening right now in a series of chemical vats somewhere in the Netherlands.

In Scobie’s pre-publicity tour for the book, he made much of the fact that he wasn’t going to be naming the two royals who allegedly made comments – so imagine his distress to discover that it appeared he had indeed done just that. And, alas, that what happened in Amsterdam had not stayed in Amsterdam. After all, Scobie swears “on my life” that he never wrote any version of the book that included this revelation. “What a frustrating experience for me,” he reflected to Newsnight on Thursday, “that a book which was so heavily vetted, legalled … [is] now completely overshadowed.” Apparently there is “a full investigation going on into this series of events that happened”. HarperCollins, the book’s English publishers, have yet to make a comment – perhaps searching for the precise form of words that can crystallise their anguish at the story having splashed the book across the headlines the entire week. It will be fascinating to hear from them at exhaustive length once we have managed to get to the bottom of who did this.

As for the comments themselves, we should say that Charles and Kate are reportedly considering all options as far as a response goes, while the Sussexes retired this particular suggestion of racism after just the one oblique mention in their original interview with Oprah Winfrey. These days they prefer to talk about unconscious bias, which Prince Harry has announced is different to racism. Various people have angrily insisted it isn’t. But look – he can only speak his truth.

Aspects of Scobie’s truth remain in the process of being nailed down. I always get in a frightful muddle over his age, going back to an interview he gave Tatler a few years ago in which he claimed he had never fibbed about it, and in fact wished people would ask him it. Tatler went to Andrew Billen, the venerable Times interviewer who had recently profiled him, whose professionally transcribed record of their conversation included the exchange: “How old are you?” “I’m 33,” replies Scobie. “I just turned 33.” He seems to have been 38 or 39 at the time, and is now 42. Very few of us are without the odd silly little vanity, of course, and no doubt Scobie is grateful that particular investigation has dragged the truth into the sunlight.

While we wait for more significant investigations to conclude, then, what are we to make of HRH Omid Scobie? I can’t help feeling he adds to the total of human amusement, chiefly in the way he riles pretty much all the other royal watchers and commentators. Absolutely all of that particular professional class of pundits are hilariously ghastly: fawning, vain, hammy, given to intoning with preposterous reverence about the most obviously ridiculous things – and in many cases far grander-acting than the royal family themselves. Their distaste for Omid is the narcissism of small differences, born of the priceless conviction that he is – must surely be? – in some way different to their esteemed selves. In fact, he mirrors them, and if he’d ever emerge on to a balcony to accept a posy, I’d be very glad to offer well-wishes and thanks for that most valuable of public services.

  • Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist

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