- Title: Spare
- Author: Prince Harry
- Genre: Autobiography
- Publisher: Penguin Random House
- Pages: 416
The Duke of Sussex has often remarked in television interviews that he is very much his mother’s son. No doubt the late Diana, Princess of Wales, would have understood Prince Harry’s desire to tell his story after breaking out of the royal fold, much like she herself did upon her separation from then-Prince Charles when she collaborated with Andrew Morton for his 1992 book Diana: Her True Story, In Her Own Words.
Before I sat down to review Spare, I reached out to Morton to see what he thought of Harry’s memoir. Morton’s book about Diana altered the way people saw the monarchy and the “fairytale” marriage between her and Charles. The book also set the tone of royals coverage and debate for a generation. Were the Prince’s revelations about the Royal Family as revolutionary as his mother’s? Does this new book have the potential to challenge (or dare I say, change) people’s perceptions of the monarchy as the Diana book did in its own time?
Morton doesn’t think so, citing Spare’s propensity for “petty point scoring,” which risks overshadowing “the genuinely sad story of a son unable to come to terms with the premature death of his mother.”
I’m inclined to agree with Morton – to a point. The book is spotted with a number of unnecessary slights, with Prince William bearing the brunt of them. But I believe that readers should look past Harry’s heated prose to the bigger, and I believe valid, claims he makes. If Harry’s claims are true, the monarchy is ripe for a reckoning.
In Spare, Harry navigates this struggle imperfectly. Some passages can certainly be seen as score-keeping – particularly when it comes to his “beloved brother” but also “arch nemesis,” Prince William. For instance, Harry highlights his brother’s “alarming baldness, more advanced than my own,” and his “fading resemblance” to their mother.
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He also notes that the late Queen may have played favourites: “Willy always thought Granny had a soft spot for me, that she indulged me while holding him to an impossibly high standard,” Harry writes. Of the fact that the late Queen allowed him to keep his own beard for his 2018 wedding, he writes: “After he’d come back from an assignment with Special Forces, Willy was sporting a full beard and someone told him to be a good boy and run along and shave it. He hated the idea of me enjoying a perk he’d been denied.”
Like his mother, Harry makes some shocking claims about Camilla in his memoir, writing that the Queen Consort leaked private information to the press. Harry’s feelings for his stepmother are understandably complicated. When Charles and Camilla married, Harry says he and William were sympathetic to the couple’s years of “star-crossed longing” but also that Camilla “played a pivotal role in the unraveling” of his parents’ marriage. He says he had trepidations of gaining a step parent who had “sacrificed him on her personal PR altar” as a way to rehabilitate her image.
The book doesn’t spare the King, either. Harry talks about how in late 2001 his father made a deal with the editor of “Britain’s biggest tabloid” who had called Charles’s office to say that she had uncovered evidence of Harry doing drugs at a number of locations, including in the basement beneath Highgrove that he and William had nicknamed Club H (The “H” stood for Highgrove, not Harry). “She was hunting the spare and making no apologies for it,” he writes. Harry told his royal aide and mentor Mark Dyer – who he calls “Marko” – to tell her that she had it wrong. When that didn’t work, he thought his father’s office would put a stop to the story; instead, the editor ran a piece engineered to revamp Charles’s public image in a sympathetic light, as a “single dad coping with a drug-addled child.”
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Through all this, it is clear that Harry is a young man still reeling from the untimely death of his mother. As a teenager, Harry saw his mother’s death everywhere and in everything. He writes of how his father tried to get him to read more books – particularly Shakespeare – in his adolescent years. “I was part of the Shakespeare-less hordes. And I tried to change. I opened Hamlet. Hmm: lonely prince, obsessed with dead parent, watches remaining parent fall in love with dead parent’s usurper … I slammed the book shut. No thank you.” Until the age of 23, he believed that his mother was still alive and that he would one day be reunited with her. He travelled through the same Paris tunnel where she died, hoping it would give him some sort of closure. The only thing it did was bring on what he calls “Pain Part Deux.”
And, in his relationship with his wife, Meghan Markle, Harry is haunted by the press’s treatment of his mother, as it has been echoed in their treatment of the Duchess of Sussex: “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces,” he writes.
With Megan, Harry has often said that he worries about history repeating itself. At the beginning of Spare, he quotes William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Throughout the book, Prince Harry’s past is very much alive. The book is, ultimately, a portrait of an angry young man struggling to make peace with his past, in the hopes that he may live a brighter future. Harry has the power to seek his own closure. Whether the monarchy itself, under a new King, takes any of Harry’s suggestions to heart, remains to be seen.