Prince Harry’s memoirs Spare were published only six days ago but it is already difficult to have something new to say about them, given the flood of opinion articles and blog posts that has greeted them. I’ll try, though.
I’ll begin by noting that I remain flabbergasted by two things: that this man still presents himself as a Prince and a Duke (of Sussex) after renouncing his life as a Royal, and that he insists on being called Prince Harry. I understand that he can be Harry for his friends or family (even though his actual name is Henry, Prince William and King Charles call him Harold and Meghan Haz), but I don’t understand that he uses the informal Harry as a Prince. His brother, after all, is Prince William, not Prince Willy. The USA have had Presidents called Bill and Joe, but I take the moniker Prince Harry as an indicator of this man’s confusion about whether he wants to be a Royal personage or a plain citizen.
As a memoir, Spare has a great title. I didn’t know about the concept of the ‘heir and the spare’, that is to say, the second in the line of succession whose function is as ill-defined as that the Vice-President of the USA unless the officeholder is, somehow, incapacitated. Prince Harry claims that when he was born his father thanked his wife, Princess Diana, for having given him an heir and a spare, one of the cruellest anecdotes in the book. Precisely, as a text intended to build an alternative narrative to the official one presented by the British media and the Palace, Spare relies a little bit too much on the anecdote, an effect increased by the media’s highlighting of certain passages.
In his interview with James Colbert (which was quite good), Prince Harry insisted that the anecdotes need to be taken into context. Yet, if his intention is to demolish the way the British monarchy currently operates, there should be no room in Spare for the (long) anecdote about how his ‘todger’ got frostnip during a charity trip to the North Pole for which Prince Harry was not well-equipped. The long section on Afghanistan may be relevant to spell out the message that Harry is a regular chap that would have been happy in the military, the career choice he seems to prefer, but even so in many points the narrative is unfocused. I believe that most readers would have preferred a sharper memoir exclusively centred on Megxit, with less detail about Prince Harry’s life before he met his future wife. As it is, Spare does not truly go into the process by which the couple decided to leave Britain and the Royal family in much depth and, disappointingly, adds few details to what was more or less publicly known.
Overall, the impression is that Spare is designed to convince readers that the British Royal family is highly dysfunctional—cold in a very English way—and that, reversing the roles, Meghan Markle, the warm-hearted American, rescued the prince from the ivory tower, paying a high price for it (and for being biracial). Harry himself is not presented as a tragic figure, but as a man who is at a loss about how to live his life apart from the Palace, his bodyguards and the paps (his hate name for the paparazzis) that pester him at all times. Logically, Prince Harry complains throughout Spare about the bizarre persecution by the tabloid press of the Royal family, which cost his mother Lady Diana her life, and which no human being should have to endure. Yet, he seems less aware of how odd it is to grow up in the constant presence of bodyguards. I cannot imagine what sense of privacy he, or any other privileged person, has if they are always in need of security.
If being privileged amounts to living in constant fear of being kidnapped or killed, then this is not really privilege, but a strange form of captivity. Spare, however, insists on Harry’s fear of having no security team nearby, particularly in Canada and the USA, where his different homes have been always at risk of being invaded by prying members of the sensationalist press, whom he presents as a pack of slavering wolves. His two main British tormentors, nicknamed Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber, turn out to have enriched themselves with the lucrative sales of images that should have always remain private, a point that the raging negative reviews of Spare published in the tabloids are, of course, ignoring.
The function of the memoir, then, is not so much to justify Megxit as to describe what it is like to grow in a family in which people don’t hug and always in the presence of bodyguards and paparazzi, as Prince Harry tries to convince his readers that he is overcoming his childhood traumas, among which the main one is the untimely death of his mother in that appalling car crash in Paris, on 31 August 1997. One of the most interesting questions Stephen Colbert asked Harry is how he feels about being older than his mother was when she died, aged 36 (the prince is now 38). Prince Harry replied that there must be some symbolic significance in the fact that he decided to abandon his duties as a Royal aged 36.
Indeed, Spare can also be approached as a Freudian text in which Prince Harry closes a long process of mourning lasting twenty-five years by finally coming to terms with the death of his mother. I found the recollection of the night when Prince Charles announced to him Diana’s death absolutely chilling, since, if we are to believe Harry, he was left with no comfort from any member of his family for many hours (if not permanently), and then made to walk behind his mother’s hearse the next day while processing a loss he could not understand for many years because he never saw his mother’s dead body. There are also cheesy moments in which Harry claims that he can feel his mother’s ghostly presence at key times and quite a few jabs at current Queen Consort Camilla, whom he refuses to present as an evil stepmother but who emerges as a cunning manipulator bent on marrying Charles and being his Queen. Many children have the experience of seeing their father marry his former mistress after a bitter divorce, but given the very public circumstances it must have been truly difficult for William and Harry to accept Camilla’s presence in their lives. It seems quite clear that Harry’s hidden rejection of the third person in his parents’ marriage is one of the main sources of the indignation expressed in Spare.
Prince Harry acknowledges that he was always a bad student, unlike his father, whom he presents as a fine scholar very much interested in History and a man of extensive culture. This is a flaw that has made it necessary for Harry to engage the services of ghost writer, J.R. Moehringer (he earned $1 million for his professional help, lasting for about one year, against Harry’s $20 million advance). Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his journalism, is well-known for his ghost writing of celebrity memoirs, including tennis champion Andre Agassi’s Open and Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog. He is also the author of The Tender Bar, an autobiography adapted into a rather good film by Ben Affleck, in which he narrates how he found comfort as a child in his Uncle Charlie and his barfly friends after his father abandoned his mother.
I assume that the collaboration between Prince Harry and Moehringer is based on hundreds of hours of interviews from which the journalist extracted a draft which the Royal accepted as the closest possible version to what he would have written on his own. There is, however, always less pleasure in reading a ghost-written memoir for obvious reasons: the reader never knows where the presence of the ghost writer is intruding too far into the text. One thing is an editor, who would shape up a text originally written by the memoirist, and quite another a ghost writer who, I assume, acts as editor and author on the basis of interviews. In a way, I would have preferred in this case a collection of interviews (in the style for instance of Mark Salisbury’s Burton on Burton, on filmmaker Tim Burton) than a memoir in which readers never know which words are truly Harry’s. Particularly, because this is a book in which revealing who Prince Harry truly is appears to be primordial.
Spare is not radical enough to shake the foundations of the British monarchy and, anyway, as I am seeing these days in newspapers like The Daily Mail or The Daily Mirror, it has reinforced the (racist) hatred for Harry and Meghan that led them into their peculiar self-exile. When Prince Harry considers why the Royals tolerate the impertinence of the tabloids he speculates that King Charles finds much solace for his battered ego in the moments when he is praised (Charles endured a long history of bullying as a child). Perhaps Harry and Meghan serve as scapegoats to sustain the whole unstable fabric of the British monarchy for it seems clear that, once Elizabeth II is gone, the tabloids could easily sink Charles and Camilla, William and Kate, if they decided that Republicanism is more convenient.
The situation by which the Royal family puts up with the tabloids for mutual benefit is outrageous but at the same time it seems to, more or less, work. A problem, as I am arguing, is that Harry and Meghan have gone far, but not far enough to dismantle it. If they had renounced all their titles, chosen to live in a far modest home, and had taken regular jobs instead of monetising their private life, they would have gained much respect. Perhaps Harry Wales might even head a new British Republican party and present himself as the future first President of the British Republic (though Oliver Cromwell casts a heavy shadow). As the man signing a book he has not even written, however, Prince Harry is a sort of modern Prince Hamlet, with an Ophelia that often seems closer to Lady Macbeth, if only according to the tabloids. Besides, he is a very rich guy, no matter how penniless he claims to be in Spare, which plays against our possible sympathies.
In any case, as a Republican Spaniard, I marvel at this type of Royal memoir. In our case, the one who has chosen self-exile is rogue King Juan Carlos I; the last thing his son King Felipe VI might need is a memoir by him (Call Me Don Juan…). It would be interesting, however, to get an insider’s look for instance from the former sons-in-law of the emeritus, Jaime de Marichalar or Iñaki Urdangarín. I assume, however, that they are under NDAs in both cases. So, thanks Prince Harry for Spare, I hope it sets an example and rocks all monarchies to their core. But, please take the full steps to stop being a Royal, become plain citizen Harry and clarify whether sales of Spare, including the juicy advance, will really go to charities as you announced. That would be great and much to your credit.