The opening scene in Prince Harry’s autobiography is, of course, set in a graveyard.
It’s his grandfather’s funeral. He’s come to a secluded corner of the garden that houses the royal tombs – “by the old gothic ruin” – for a secret assignation. He’s going to break up for good with his brother.
The key to the book is laid out here. It isn’t his mother, or his grievances, or his great escape. If there is a Rosebud in Harry’s life, it’s Prince William.
You don’t need to be noble, rich or British to understand what’s happening here. This isn’t a book about a corrupt institution or a reworking of Cinderella. It is a platonic romance and a heterosexual potboiler. It’s a book about two guys who loved and depended on one another growing apart and trying to split up.
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One of them has responsibilities; the other has none. One of them has middle age in his sights; the other is resigned to perpetual childhood. One is priggish; the other is whatever the super-rich think punk rock looks like.
Harry recalls the conversation in the graveyard that launched a thousand media broadsides.
It’s difficult to accurately recreate any back-and-forth beyond one transition. After a bit, our recollections are smoothed into fiction. Maybe that’s why this one sounds so much like Emily Bronte:
“Willy, this was supposed to be our home. We were going to live here for the rest of our lives.”
“You left, Harold.”
“Yeah – and you know why?”
“You … don’t?”
“I honestly don’t.”
The following 400-odd pages are the collective line that comes after that: Then let me tell you all about it.
There’s a lot to that, most of it so trifling as to verge on satire. Do people like this actually exist?
Did you know that Kate was angry that Meghan didn’t give her an Easter present? Or that for many months, Harry and Meghan suffered the ignominy of reclining on a couch purchased at sofa.com?
This is the level we’re working at. It’s the sort of book wherein a guy who’d like to think of himself as a man of the people writes, “Meg and I were on the phone with Elton John and his husband, David, and we confessed: We need help.”
The book gets gauzy in these sections. It is vivid when it covers the time when Harry and William were alone together. After their mother died, it was suggested that William should walk alone in her funeral procession.
“I didn’t want Willy to undergo an ordeal like that without me,” Harry writes. He was 12 at the time.
There is a particular possessiveness that comes with being a brother to a brother. You want him to thrive, but maybe not quite as much as you do. You are not paired so much as conjoined. If your brother is tough, then you are presumed tough. If your brother is stupid, then same thing.
It is most important that no one take liberties with your brother, because that would be like taking liberties with you. No one will ever be so much your other half.
A lot of this is expressed through violence. Men who’ve made it through life without fighting anyone have fought their brothers. I love my brother and always have. As children, we regularly tore out each other’s hair and slammed each other into banisters. We bled a river together.
One time, I dared my brother to hit me as hard as he could in the face. Though three years younger and a foot shorter, he punched me so hard in the nose that you could hear the crack. In a blind, teary rage, I reached out and tried to twist his head off his shoulders. We still do Christmas together.
For this reason, when reading the now famous Battle of Nottingham Cottage, it is hard not to barrel-roll both eyes. The broken dog bowl, the necklace, the scraped back. This is a man who fought in a war, for God’s sake. But this “scared” him?
Every brother in the world has been in a scene like this. Every one of them knows how it works. Harry wasn’t scared. He was enraged at the taking of liberties with his person. And who would blame him?
This section is near the end of the book. It’s the first time Harold truly gets one over on Willy. This was the first shocker from the book leaked, and that cannot be a coincidence. What the leaks left out was Harry’s subsequent preening.
William makes him promise not to tell his wife. Harry congratulates himself for keeping his word (until he doesn’t). He calls his therapist and crows, “I’m proud of myself … I didn’t hit him back.”
For the first time, Harry is the older of the two, the more under control. Making this triumph public in the way he has gives him two direct hits on his “arch-nemesis.”
Why does Harry keep relitigating the same complaints? Because after nearly 40 years, he’s finally figured out how to pierce his brother’s forcefield of austerity. Now he can’t get his finger off the trigger.
We saw a hint of this during Harry’s 60 Minutes interview. Anderson Cooper read out a deliciously catty description of William, including “his alarming baldness, more advanced than my own.”
As that is bit is read, Harry – stone-faced through most of the sit-down – can’t help but let slip a grin. Another direct hit.
This isn’t cruel or “cutting” (Cooper’s term). It’s childish. If they weren’t estranged, it would be hilarious.
Despite all the accusations, Harry cannot bring himself to say that William is a bad guy. Nor can he articulate why William’s opinions irritate him so much. We may never hear William’s side of this, but I suspect it would come out a mirror image.
You love the guy, but he drives you dotty and sometimes you would like to murder him? That’s what being a brother is.
Rarely has a conflict with such banal roots prompted so much psychoanalyzing.
Now that it’s out, everyone wants to know from Harry if this is the end of it. Of course it isn’t. He can leave England and the Royal Family. But however far away from him he is, and whether or not they ever speak again, he can’t leave his original and still most-often-thought-of life partner behind.
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