It has become impossible for me to look at King Charles without imagining him throwing the remote at the TV while watching the BBC.
That is one of the images that has stayed with me after spending the last few months listening to Prince Harry read his surprisingly candid memoir, Spare, which includes some fascinating tidbits about royal life.
Writing about a weekend at Balmoral, Harry mentions that Granny’s specialty was salad dressing and that she had whisked up a large batch. It took me a moment. Wait, Queen Elizabeth made salad dressing?
In his lonely bachelor days, Harry would dry his laundry on the radiators, fold his underwear and binge-watch Friends. (Royals! They’re just like us!)
But, more to the point, the book offers rare insight into the royals themselves. How will I ever look at Charles, especially this weekend, and not think of everything his younger son’s tell-all has revealed?
There were countless hot takes on Spare when it was published in January. It has taken me a long time to get through it – so many details, so unnecessary – but the window into royal life was worth slogging through accounts of Harry’s magnesium-afflicted bowels, nights out with his mates, and recreational drug use (including, famously, mushrooms that made him think Courteney Cox’s toilet was speaking to him). Actually, come to think of it, that talking toilet part was pretty interesting.
I listened to the audiobook, so I heard it all in Harry’s voice. Listening, you can hear the inflection, the humour, the spite. The petulance. Nuance that might be missed when reading the text.
Widely reported when the book was first published was the fact that Harry had suffered a “frozen todger” after a trip to the North Pole, and had used moisturizer on the frost-nipped extremity. In the unbottling, he was reminded viscerally of his mother. People cringed.
But there is a really moving later chapter, where Harry brings a bottle of Diana’s perfume (First by Van Cleef & Arpels; Harry’s pronunciation of “Arpels” is interesting) to a therapy session. It unbottles deeply buried memories of his mother: smuggling sweets for him into boarding school; speeding away from photographers on their way to tennis lessons; tossing water balloons at the paparazzi (“paps”).
Throwing shade at journalists is a big theme of this book. Spare demonstrates how writing a book armed with a grudge can be counter-productive. Harry’s abhorrence of the paparazzi is understandable and justified; they chased his mother to her death. But it does not help his cause (revenge? Setting the record straight?) to stoop to petty insults and name-calling, the holier-than-thou revulsion dripping from his voice.
One pair of photographers he calls, repeatedly, Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber. Elsewhere he describes journalists as “dweebs,” “sadists,” and, in one case, “a sad little man.”
Harry nurses his grievances like a pro whiner. Against the media primarily, but also Charles and Camilla, and William and Kate.
Over tea meant to clear the air over a rift, William and Kate explain that they were upset that Meghan and Harry didn’t buy them Easter gifts. Then Kate freaks out because Meghan had said Kate had baby brain. “You talked about my hormones. We’re not close enough for you to talk about my hormones!”
Many of the Prince’s critiques seem justified (I am forever Team Harry) but I’m not sure he needed to air laundry this dirty to get his point across. How will his family ever talk to him again?
And there can be a stunning lack of self-awareness. When we learn what really went down (from his perspective) with “tiaragate” as the tabloids dubbed it, Harry provides a detailed whinge-fest: Granny (Queen Elizabeth II) had invited Meghan to choose a tiara, the future Princess chose one, they were waiting for it to arrive so they could have a proper fitting ahead of the nuptials, and one of the Queen’s people kept stalling. It was not great.
But then Harry throws in this line: “Meghan’s hairdresser had come in from France for the rehearsal, and the tiara still wasn’t there.” Listening, you can hear Harry’s tone: reader, can you believe that? We brought in Meghan’s hair stylist from France and the tiara still hadn’t shown?!
Dude, read the room. Your readers are lucky these days if they can afford a trim at Great Clips.
There are much more salient points that have created the lens through which many readers, I’m sure, will view the pomp and ceremony of this weekend and royal life beyond. The knock-down, drag-out fight with William. How, when Diana died in that car crash when Harry was 12, Charles came to his room, put his hand on his knee, and told him the news. But he didn’t hug him. He didn’t hug his son.
This is the man being declared the “undoubted King” this weekend. And the man who will be King after that.
Readers of Spare can be forgiven for having some doubts.