After he watched the burial of his beloved mother Princess Diana, the 12-year-old prince and his older brother William (“the Heir”) returned to Eton College. They were both students at the prep school where, according to Harry, his brother had told him: “You don’t know me, Harold. And I don’t know you.”
William didn’t want his kid brother pushing into his social circle. As Harry explains, “Willy had always hated it when anyone made the mistake of thinking we were a package deal. He loathed it when Mummy dressed us in the same outfits. It didn’t help that her tastes in children’s clothing ran to the extreme; we looked like the twins from Alice in Wonderland.”
Twenty-five years later William is learning even more about Harry’s whinges – the British term for complaints. So are those who have purchased Spare, the best-selling tell-all of Harry Charles Albert David, now Duke of Sussex. Harry tells about disputes with his brother: about the time William demanded Harry give up promoting conservation in Africa because, as heir, Africa belonged to him. Or when William confronted Harry at home, calling Meghan Markle “rude and abrasive” and demanding Harry do something about his wife. During the ugly encounter William grabbed Harry and caused him to crash onto the dog dish injuring his back.
The book details Harry’s conflicts with his brother, but also with his dad and stepmother Camilla. Prince Charles had always refused to challenge false stories about Harry that appeared in the media, stories that branded him the naughty one and “Prince Thicko.” Charles told Harry: “Just don’t read them, darling boy.” The Palace policy of “never complain, never explain” was applied to Harry’s grievances, but not always to instances involving Prince Charles and Camilla, who had their own PR staff.
Harry tells of a lonely childhood, shipped off to boarding school at eight and refused a hug or even eye contact from his father. Charles told his son that he was “a backup” and “maybe not my real son.” Cruel rumors circulated that red-headed Harry resembled his mother’s ginger-haired companion, but Harry asserts that his mother’s boyfriend had not been around until years after his birth.
Harry accuses Charles, Camilla, and William of believing that his escape to Canada with Meghan and baby Archie was because he had been brainwashed, “kidnapped by a cult of psycho-therapy and Meghan.” Harry details how Meghan had encouraged him to seek therapy after years of coping with anxiety and depression. In his early adult life, he’d obsessed over what was ahead for him, concerned he’d never marry and worried he had no direction in life. He long mourned his mother’s death and, for a time, wanted to believe her funeral a hoax and that she’d reappear in his life.
Only when entering the military did Harry find purpose. He thrived through tough training exercises, persevered during a march through Wales with painful trench foot. Sent to a remote Afghani posting, Harry called strikes on Taliban before being extracted. He was recalled for his own safety and that of others when Taliban learned of his location and targeted him. Later Harry earned a helicopter license and returned to battle. He flew six strikes as a gunner, alleging he’d killed 25 Taliban fighters. He ended his service with the rank of captain.
His memoir tests the public’s appetite for too-much-information. Did we need to know about Harry’s return from the North Pole to attend William and Kate’s wedding with a frost-bitten “todger” (North England slang for penis)? Or about the doctor who said Harry’s affliction didn’t require a penisectomy – at least not yet? Or just before his first date with Meagan when Harry had trouble peeing over the side of a sailboat and jumped into the water to relieve himself, soaking his trousers?
Harry is just as frank when reporting how he lost his virginity as a teenager. He and an “older woman,” member of the horse-loving set, took refuge in a field behind a pub. After their encounter, Harry lay on his stomach as the woman slapped his naked posterior and called him a “stallion.” Harry also confesses to using marijuana, booze, and cocaine.
From birth Harry has been hounded by “paps,” the freelance paparazzi who can command up to five figures for a revealing photo of the royals. He blames the paps for the pursuit that may have killed his mother. He also blames them for scaring away young women whom he dated. Beyond his hatred of the paps who robbed him of privacy, he despised editors and reporters who trafficked in half lies and sensationalism. He most loathed an editor he calls Rehabber Kooks, his ill-disguised anagram for the woman who served Rupert Murdoch as CEO of News UK. Harry believes “Kooks” was unjustly acquitted over the notorious phone hacking scandal.
If Harry suffered these indignities, he is profiting now, telling his side of the story in media-pushed accounts. He received a $20-million advance for his book which is the fastest selling nonfiction book ever. Apparently the public wants to know still more despite being surfeited by Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah and with a three-part Netflix documentary. As one reviewer noted, “everyone loves to see obscenely rich, privileged people airing their dirty laundry.”
Much of the book’s success – it’s eminently readable — must go to the accomplished ghostwriter J.R. Moehringer. A Pulitzer Prize winner, he was acclaimed for Open, the book he wrote with Andre Agassi. His own 2005 memoir The Tender Bar became a movie, directed by George Clooney and starring Ben Affleck. Moehringer received a $800,000 advance for Harry’s memoir. It is an interesting coincidence that Agassi and Moehringer, like Harry, suffered from deep-seated father issues.
The original draft of Spare was 800 pages, later cut to 400 pages. Harry explained that he cut the book to save his father and brother’s feelings. But after reading Harry’s many whinges, it is difficult to imagine what we were spared in Spare. What looms is Harry’s ticklish situation. Will he be invited to Charles’ coronation in May? Will he be stripped of his title or perhaps discard it? Asked by 60 Minutes’ Anderson Cooper, Harry dodged the question, saying, “What difference would it make?”
More to the point is whether the book will damage the monarchy beyond repair. There have been past times of peril – one in particular after Diana’s death. As one comic joked, “Maybe some good will come of this. In destroying the royal family forever, Harry may have succeeded where Oliver Cromwell failed.”