The British Monarchy is the most famous family in the world. But between “Diana: Her True Story,” Andrew Morton’s notorious 1992 biography of the late Princess Diana (in which she secretly participated), the fictionalized work of Peter Morgan (the 2006 film “The Queen” and the ongoing Netflix series “The Crown”), the scandal involving Prince Andrew and the 2022 Netflix documentary “Harry & Meghan,” is there still something we don’t know about the Windsors?
Read “Spare” by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (Random House, New York, 2023, 416 pages), and the answer is, oh, yes, so much more.
First, everything you have heard about what’s in this book is true. Yes, Harry (born Henry Charles Albert David of Wales in 1984) admits to smoking weed and snorting cocaine. Yes, he admits, bizarrely, that his penis was indeed frostbitten when he attended the wedding of his older brother Prince William and Kate Middleton. Yes, he comments on his brother’s baldness and goes to therapy. And yes, the book is obviously ghost-written.
That last fact isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The worst-kept secret regarding “Spare” is the identity of the ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer, a talented memoirist (2005’s “The Tender Bar”), who had already ghost-written a similarly revelatory autobiography (Andre Agassi’s 2009 “Open”). As a result, “Spare” is very well written—perhaps a little too well-written, to be honest—that it comes off as being overly poetic, but also a great read. But you can tell when it’s really Harry speaking his mind.
More importantly, “Spare” dishes out more than anyone expected. The book starts with the death of Prince Phillip, and we immediately pick up a tragic tone that will emerge throughout “Spare.” It turns out Harry was close to the late Duke of Edinburgh, and more: “My grandfather was (Diana’s) loudest advocate. Some said he actually brokered my parents’ marriage … But for him, I wouldn’t be here. Neither would be my older brother. Then again, maybe our mother would be here. If she hadn’t married Pa …”
“Spare” then dives into a deep flashback from Harry’s birth moving chronologically to the present, but one that also shows his growing unhappiness about being part of the Royal Family.
His very place in the line of succession becomes immediately clear to him: “This was the shorthand often used by Pa and Mummy and Grandpa. And even Granny. The Heir and the Spare—there was no judgment about it, but also no ambiguity. I was the shadow, the support, the Plan B, I was brought into the world in case something happened to Willy (his name for William). I was summoned to provide distraction, diversion and, if necessary, a spare part. Kidney, perhaps. Blood transfusion. Speck of bone marrow.” While he accepted it, it rankled him because of how everybody treated him for it.
It should also be clear to the reader that this is Harry’s book, so it carries forth his agenda, one with which readers may not necessarily agree. But there’s no telling what’s about to come up that you keep reading.
The weakest part of “Spare” is his remembrance of his school days at Ludgrove and Eton, because he did not care for them, and yet the book spends an inordinate amount of time on them, perhaps as a means of providing authenticity.
But the other stuff is dynamite.
Harry’s time with the military was retold with cutthroat detail—and, ironically, Harry admits to being happier in the army than at Buckingham Palace. But his stints keep getting truncated when he gets extricated because his photo had been distributed among enemy snipers as “Queen of all Targets,” but does admit to killing 25 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan under the call sign “Widow Six Seven.”
Want more? There is apparently a great degree of rancor between him and William from the start. There were even physical altercations. Harry explicitly states that his older brother Willy is always conscious that his younger sibling never outshines him, and Buckingham is the same. This explains why, shockingly, William did not want Harry to be his best man at his wedding. So while the institution would protect the future king, the Duke of Sussex is often fodder for the tabs and the paps, dubbing him “Hooray Harry.” By the way, the much-revered Kate Middleton isn’t spared the “Spare” treatment either.
Not that Harry doesn’t own up to his own miscalculations. The infamous Nazi uniform he wore to a costume party. The strip poker photos from Vegas. He doesn’t get defensive, but does try to explain, sometimes unsatisfactorily, why he did what. Not that it mattered to the media.
Tabs and paps
Oh, and how Harry hates the media. While he curses being born into his position in life, he doubly curses the media for making it impossible to grow up and live any kind of normalcy.
“The press was getting worse,” he notes. “They were now just peddling phantasms, while physically stalking and harassing me and everyone in my inner circle.”
The worst moment is when he covertly asks his private secretary for access to the confidential photographs of the lethal car crash in Paris that killed his mother, when he finds out, through the confiscated images, that the paparazzi continued to take photos of Diana after she was dead.
He loved his mother dearly, and had difficulty dealing with her death. That night, Prince Charles came to his room. “He sat down on the edge of the bed,” Harry writes. “He put a hand on my knee. Darling boy, Mummy’s been in a car crash.” Charles continued, “They tried, darling boy. I’m afraid she didn’t make it.”
Harry had such difficulty dealing with this that he came up with secret, elaborate fantasy that his mother had faked her own death and would reveal herself to the brothers later on. It took William years to disabuse him of this theory.
He had a very distant relationship with his father, whom he always wanted to please. But it becomes awkwardly obvious to Harry that Charles may just not know how to be a father.
But one surprising revelation is that both William and Harry did not want their father to marry the person that, for several pages, Harry only refers to as The Other Woman. Yes, the brothers did not want Charles to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles.
“Willy and I promised Pa that we’d welcome Camilla into the family,” Harry writes. “The only thing we asked in return was that he not marry her. You don’t need to remarry, we pleaded … We endorse Camilla, we said. Just please don’t marry her.”
But as with many things in “Spare” involving Harry, that was out of his hands, and we know the future King Charles would marry his longtime sweetheart in 2005.
There are moments of surprising lightness and insight in “Spare,” notably his trips to Africa, particularly Lesotho, where he engaged in the same charitable work his mother did. He even managed to fall in love with a girl from South Africa named Chelsy Davy that lasted quite a bit but, like others (and there were a few: Caroline, Florence, Cressida) would not survive the glare of the public. In fact, Meghan Markle would not appear at all until page 267.
But what an appearance she makes, setting off a chapter and an entire new part of the book by herself. Harry’s first sighting of Meghan is on his Instagram feed—and he has no idea who she is. “I had never seen anyone so beautiful,” he thought. He messages his friend Violet, “Who … is … this … woman?”
The next day, up pops a message on Instagram: “Hello!” And the monarchy would not be the same again.
The Harry-Meghan romance is the sweetest part of “Spare,” and it takes up a substantial part of the book’s latter half. It reads like a movie script, particularly “The Plan” that, this time, would make this long-distance relationship work: “a vow never to let more than two weeks pass without seeing each other.”
Once their romance is outed (as it inevitably would), the Palace seemed to be cool with it, and so, it seems, were the public, seeing Meghan as a modern-day princess who could change the stodgy Royal Family. But not the tabs. One of the first headlines: “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight out of Compton.”
This was the beginning of a relentless and patently racist and misogynist attack by the tabs on Meghan and—to Harry—the Palace’s tacit approval through inaction. This is where the best parts of “Spare” turns into the most heartbreaking.
But Harry does not take it with a stiff upper lip. This time, he stands up for Meghan—and there are consequences. Read “Spare” to see just how damaging this stance Harry takes goes with his family—and the tabs blaming Meghan, of course, but ultimately, it leads to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex stepping down from their royal duties—but not the way we’ve all been told.
It bears reminding that all this is Harry’s take, and the reader is free to take or leave it. In the book’s first pages, Harry is walking through Frogmore, the Royal Burial Grounds, and takes note of the graves of Edward, who abdicated the throne for love, and that of the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, whom he married. This is how the crown eventually came to the late Queen Elizabeth. Apparently, Edward and Wallis were desperate to be buried here, and Harry thinks: “Did any of it matter at all?”
More like Diana
Though some of the circumstances are similar, “Spare” makes it clear that this would not be something that Harry or Meghan would agonize over. In many ways, “Spare” is a book of rebellion, of a sibling against sibling, of a child against a family, a symbol against what he symbolizes. And Harry regrets nothing. It is also a love story, of which Harry regrets nothing as well.
It slots in with the moment that Harry finds out the Palace will not support him and Meghan or even allow them to continue to carry out any royal duties even if they wanted do (he says they did). “Pa might have dreaded the rising cost of maintaining us, but what he really couldn’t stomach was someone new dominating the monarchy, grabbing the limelight, someone shiny and new coming in and overshadowing him.”
Because in the end, Prince Harry’s memoir (and his “exile” from Buckingham Palace) has a lot more in common with that of his mother’s than anyone else’s—save that he and Meghan are getting the chance to live their own lives even if it had driven them from England to Canada and now to California.
And perhaps Harry does have a lot more in common with Diana, and William with Charles, period.
It has been pointed out that, for a Royal couple wishing to stay out of the public eye, Harry and Meghan sure are actively stayed in the limelight—but this is by choice, under their control, their way of fighting back, and “Spare” is Harry’s weapon of choice, just like “Diana: Her True Story” was his mother’s.
There is a reason “Spare” has become the fastest-selling nonfiction book ever in one day; it sold 1.4 million copies on its first day of release. In this book, he is, to the Royal Family, to use a word much beloved by Gen Z, savage.
In the wake of the book’s release, there has been radio silence from Buckingham Palace, though there have been rumors Harry and Meghan may not be attending the forthcoming coronation of King Charles III. Harry has also since revealed “Spare” is only half the book it is supposed to be, that he actually took out content from the first draft that would really upset the Windsors. Imagine, for all the outrageous claims in his memoir, he kept something in spare in “Spare.”
“I realize it’s crazy,” Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales, Duke of Sussex, writes. “But all of this is obviously crazy.”
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