SPARE by Harry, Duke of Sussex tells of a life that seems so bizarre it is hard to credit.
So should we believe everything he tells us?
IMHO no. Knowing human nature as I do, I think this book is a mixture of The Truth, and The Misleading and, as always, it is up to us to figure out which is which.
What seems True
The part that rang the truest for me was the beginning which covered the tragic death of his mother Princess Diana and how that traumatized a vulnerable 12-year-old boy.
Those of you who didn’t grow up in England may not know how typical his family’s response was. Like other Northern European cultures (think Norway), Brits don’t deal with emotions well. Emotions are those bothersome, messy, embarrassing things that are best squished, shoved under the rug, and ignored.
Of course, such strategies don’t work. But you can be sure that 12-year-old Prince Harry was encouraged to get on with life and ignore his maelstrom of emotions after his mother’s coffin was lowered into the ground Needless to say, he had a terrible time processing her death, couldn’t concentrate, engaged in magical thinking and became angrier and angrier as he got older.
What seems Misleading
The part that didn’t seem so true was his characterization of wife Meghan’s time at the Palace. He dismisses as a “total fabrication” the claims that she was so demanding she brought other people to tears and caused half her staff to quit.
I have no idea how much of the bridesmaid tiff was true. I don’t know who made who cry (Meghan or Kate). I don’t know if Meghan was difficult about the tiara choice (as reported in the newspapers). Or if the allegations of bullying her Buckingham Palace staff were true.
But (putting on my novelist’s hat) I can see that a woman plucked from the kind of life most of us live up into the hemispheres of the British Royal Family might have become at least a little power-drunk and diva-ish, which might have caused her to behave badly to her staff. So I think it misleading of Harry to dismiss these claims out of hand without discussing them. After all, his Granny, the Queen of England, did say “memories may vary” when discussing the bullying incident.
What is controversial
The most controversial part of Harry’s book is his repeated claim that his family is in bed with the devil (meaning the British tabloids.) According to Harry, each senior royal (Charles, Camilla, William) has a communications team. The mission of the people who work on each team is to make their boss’s image as burnished as possible. Things get nasty, when they do this at the expense of other family members.
At various times throughout the book, Harry claims that his father Charles and stepmother Camilla let their comms team plant negative stories about him (the kind of “Hooray Harry” stories about his drug-taking and other capers, which include wearing a Nazi-style uniform when he was twenty-three and playing strip-poker with his mates.
Now, it has to be said that Harry doesn’t help himself with regular bouts of bad judgement, fueled by the whopping amount of alcohol he consumes. But these allegations are disturbing and should make every person who reads the Tabs question whether they should pay money for stuff that is essentially fiction. Speaking for myself, I enjoy reading fiction when it is presented as such. But when I open a newspaper, even if it is the Daily Mail, I do expect those stories to be essentially true (minus a little exaggeration and embroidery.) So the idea that these papers are printing fiction, especially spiteful fiction is disturbing. (Silly me for being so naïve, but I do not believe I am alone.)
What seems plausible
However, I do think it plausible that a bunch of (white, male) Private Secretaries (nicknamed The Bee, The Fly and The Wasp by Harry, as he obviously cannot use their real names) would maneuver themselves into positions of power by using a bag of dirty tricks such as planting unflattering stories about their boss’s rivals. It might even be said that these people are the real power behind the throne, as they arrange schedules for their Royal Personage, brief them on who they are to meet and even remind them of “the rules.” Thus they have the power to control lives, mislead and even imprison their Royal Personage behind a morass of “rules” and “duties.” The most telling example is when Queen Elizabeth tells Harry she is free to see him, only to back down and say she is “too busy.” Obviously, at least according to Harry, one of these Private Secretaries didn’t want her to meet her grandson, blocking all of Harry’s attempts to see her.
Harry gives no quarter to brother William
From reading the book I get the impression that while Harry thinks Camilla is just plain spiteful, he puts his father’s lapses down to inattention. But he saves his real wrath for brother William.
As many have noted, SPARE doesn’t spare anyone. But the person who comes out of this looking really bad is Prince William, who is very popular in England. So popular, in fact, that many wanted him to be King rather than his father.
We learn from Harry that William has a temper (this seems to be true, I’ve heard that before). But Harry also states that his brother is cold, spiteful and stupid.
William “didn’t want to know” Harry when they were at tony High School Eton. William “wouldn’t give Harry” a seat on his private plane so that he could visit their granny just before she died. William regularly lets his team plant negative stories about his brother, because he is so insecure he cannot bear to have his brother look better than himself. William naïvely believes everything his staff tell him, and is blindly obedient to the institution of Monarchy.
Another bout of bad judgment?
And this is where Harry loses me. I really have no idea how much or if anything he says about his brother is true. But if Harry’s stated aim is “to get his brother back” then he is going about it the wrong way.
William, of course, cannot respond to this barrage of criticism (as Harry well knows.) But I imagine he is deeply upset and offended. Why should he reconcile as Harry wants? Hasn’t Harry just demonstrated that no-one can trust him, least of all his brother?
When some reacted to this tome by saying that William would never forgive him, Harry replied by saying that “he left out” all of the really damning parts. This book is currently around 400 pages. The manuscript was 800. So Harry apparently has another, even more spiteful book in the offing, to hang over his family’s head.
But, as we all know, people do not take well to being bullied. You cannot force people to love you, forgive you or even reconcile with you. And I think that by writing this book Harry shows himself to be (yet again) dogged by bad judgement. He is being naïve if he truly thinks his family will welcome him back into their fold, apologize, or even meet with him.
Charles’ coronation is four months away, on 6 May 2023. It will be very interesting to see what happens next. Four stars.