By all accounts, this is a dramatic book. A bombshell. The British royalty inspires awe not only in the UK but also around the world. And here is a prince willing to cook up a perfect storm.
Spare is an account by an insider, one that starts with a bang — right from the book jacket: It was one of the most searing images of the twentieth century — two young boys, two princes, walking behind their mother’s coffin as the world watched in sorrow — and horror.
This is Prince Harry in an epic, settling-the-score, part intimate, part scathing — emotional roller-coaster story of the decade. To those of us who only get a smattering of the actual workings of The Palace, this tell-all by one of their own is a revelation of what goes on inside the world’s most famous family.
It is a royal memoir like no other. While the book is about Harry — his life, trauma and experiences, it also humanises the house of Windsor.
Often enough people and press alike have a certain imagination of what life must be like in those castles and behind the palace gates but as you turn pages of Spare, you also begin to wonder how aristocratic existence can be a gilded cage.
The book is ghostwritten by J.R. Moehringer. The prose is floral and fluent, but what works for the book is its novel-like pace — confessions, romance, angst and drama — all rolled into one.
A deep, private grief
There is bickering between the princes. William’s refusal, for instance, to let Harry keep his beard for his wedding. “When I informed him that his opinion didn’t really matter, since I’d already gone to Granny and got the green light; he became livid,” Harry goes on.
“He raised his voice ... At one point he actually ordered me, as the Heir speaking to the Spare, to shave.” When he confronted him as to why it mattered so much, William turned around and said, “Because I wasn’t allowed to keep my beard.”
It is a story of heartbreaks too and you cannot help but feel something stir in you. Harry writes about his mother Princess Diana’s death — the car crash that changed history, and the lives of Harry and William. He gives a glimpse of how his father Prince Charles (now King Charles III) broke the tragic news. “Darling boy, Mummy’s been in a car crash.”
Those not conversant with the contours of Harry’s life may let out a gasp. This is a 12-year old, holding his father’s hand in the bed, wanting to know if his dear mother survived the accident. “I am afraid she didn’t make it,” his father replies. These phrases remain in my mind like darts in a board, Harry writes.
The pain of losing his mother is a recurring theme in Spare. Mentally, it appears, Harry was unable to get over Diana’s death.
Pages on his mother read like moments of genuine emotional intensity. Years later, he asked his driver to take him through the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris, site of Diana’s fatal crash, hoping in vain that it would help end a “decade of unrelenting pain.”
Harry’s dislike for media, especially the British press, pervades the book. He trashes news reports, including a rumoured flirtation with American actress, Cameron Diaz: “I was never within fifty meters of Ms. Diaz, further proof that if you like reading pure bollocks then royal biographies are just your thing.”
A sanctimonious tome?
Somewhere the book degenerates into a tiresome back-and-forth about who Harry dislikes and he sounds like a petulant prince, born to privilege, but who complains about everything. I don't know if it was deliberate but he weaponises “the spare” and uses it as a crutch.
Here is a prince charming who has the world as his oyster from the moment he was born, yet complains about lack of privacy.
He calls out the rapaciousness of the British press and takes aim at his family for supposedly selling him out to the tabloids but then goes on Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper and other top-rated American late night shows, excoriating the palace and telling stories of other royals.
A more close study of the Spare and it appears like a changing stream of consciousness and whatever message Harry wanted to send out gets lost. Again and again, one gets a sense that this is a super-privileged white boy whose basic grudge is about not being a heir.
That is not to suggest that the book is not good. Harry may be bad with dates but his sense of visual is great. His representation of Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth’s beloved retreat in Scotland, is almost poetic.
“Its massive, whisky-coloured oak front door was often propped open by a heavy curling stone and often manned by one red-coated footman ... Everything at Balmoral was either old or made to look so.”
Spare becomes a slog and we have to endure long passages of his courtship and romance with Meghan Markle. The dalliance goes from Soho House to Botswana’s lion country and there are many reunions along the way.
Zero moral points
In the part where he describes his military service, Harry reveals he killed people in Afghanistan. He compares it to playing video games.
In keeping with the tradition of many western apologists of the war, Harry uses the words “take” and “remove” when describing his own actions. Anyone trying to paint the invasion of Afghanistan, as somehow moral gets zero points.
Aside Harry’s wrong ideas of war, his squabbles with his older brother is what this memoir might be ultimately remembered for.
Some might call it an entitled whingefest or familial dysfunction but he’s at least got a few things right. British media indeed can be ruthless. Harry also seems to be accepting his own faults, which is always a nice, humbling quality.
Prince Harry has suggested that he sees his book as an appeal for reconciliation, addressed to his father and brother. Going by the copious amount of score settling in Spare and his subsequent tirade against the palace (both Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace have refused to comment) in media, that clearly seems out-of-question.
Spare | By Prince Harry | Published by Penguin Random House UK | Price Dh160; Pages 407