Prince Harry’s memoir, packed with explosive revelations about the British royal family, officially went on sale on Tuesday after days of leaks, television interviews and a publicity blitz.
There had been strong pre-orders for the book, a best-seller on the UK, US, Australian German and Canadian websites of Amazon. Waterstones, a British book retailer, said the book has been one of its “biggest pre-order titles for a decade”.
Titled Spare, in reference to Harry’s role as a spare heir, the memoir is the latest disclosure from Harry and his wife Meghan Markle and follows their Netflix documentary last month.
The book, published around the world in 16 languages, details Harry’s struggles and discloses about other royals, including his father King Charles, stepmother and Queen consort Camilla and elder brother Prince William.
The 410-page memoir opens with the quote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” from US writer William Faulkner’s book Requeim for a Nun. It reveals the conflict and personal tensions of life inside royal palaces.
The New York Times said, “the memoir with its scorched-earth details about his rupture with his family seems likely to dash any near-term prospects that Harry will return to the fold” by reconciling with his father, Camilla or William.
The unfiltered details in the book, published by Penguin Random House, talk of Harry’s trauma over Diana’s death, Meghan and Kate’s difficult relationship, views on Camilla and Harry’s version of life as a royal. It also said that Harry begged his father not to marry Camilla, that he killed 25 Taliban fighters during duty in Afghanistan, and that he took drugs.
Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace have not responded to the allegations in the book, which the 38-year-old promoted in a series of televised interviews. But, the British press, quoting palace sources, said Harry had crossed a line in attacking Camilla. “He has been kidnapped by a cult of psychotherapy and (wife) Meghan,” a source told The Independent newspaper. “It is impossible for him to return (to Britain) in these circumstances,” it said.
Some palace sources accused the Duke of Sussex of betraying his father and brother.
“Dignified silence is a tried and tested format,” the Time quoted Katie Nicholl, Vanity Fair’s royals correspondent and author of The New Royals. “The palace is reluctant to engage at any level because once they do, it just fuels the narrative, and Harry has made so many allegations it’s almost impossible to address everyone.”
Many royal watchers feel the disclosures will peel away the aura of the royal family. Ed Owens, a historian who has written about the relations between the monarchy and news media, told the New York Times that William, a popular royal, had been particularly damaged by Harry’s portrayal of his elder brother as ill-tempered, entitled and prone to violence.
Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC, said Harry’s disclosures will rob the royal family of its mystique with the public. “It’s harder to have that mystery when we know they fight and call each other names,” he told the New York Times.
Jonathan Dimbleby, a former royal biographer, told The Independent that King Charles will be “pained and saddened” by the memoir. Speaking on Good Morning Britain, he said: “I’m absolutely sure that the loving father will want reconciliation and will do everything possible not to make it worse.”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak dismissed the impact of Harry’s book on the public’s perception of the royal family. “I think the public, like me, have enormous regard for the royal family; they’re deeply proud of them. I certainly am; it’s one of the things I’m most proud of when I think about what It is to be British,” he told the BBC.
“It’s (the royal family) something that I’m proud of, and I think the country is proud of. We saw that last year very movingly multiple times. I’m confident we’ll see it this year with King Charles’ coronation, which will be another fantastic occasion for the country to come together and celebrate something that’s special about Britain,” Sunak added.
Recent polls showed that Harry and Meghan, who relinquished royal duties in 2020 and moved to California to forge a new life, have suffered in the popularity stakes in the United Kingdom. A YouGov poll on Monday found that 64 per cent have a negative view of Harry (his lowest-ever rating). Meghan too was rated poorly.
“Even in the United States, which has a soft spot for royals in exile and a generally higher tolerance than Britain does for redemptive stories about overcoming trauma and family dysfunction, there is a sense that there are only so many revelations the public can stomach,” New York Times former London correspondent Sarah Lyall wrote.
Who’s the ghostwriter?
US author John Joseph Moehringer, who writes under the pen name of J R Moehringer, helped write Prince Harry’s memoir Spare.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, America’s most prestigious journalism prize, Moehringer had also ghostwritten two other celebrity memoirs — tennis star Andre Agassi’s Open and Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s autobiography Shoe Dog.
Moehringer attended Yale, worked at the New York Times and had stints in Colorado and the Los Angeles Times. In 2000, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his feature Crossing Over, about the tensions that arose when a ferry opened up in a small segregated community in Alabama.
His life story was turned into a movie, The Tender Bar, in 2021. It was produced by George Clooney and starred Tye Sheridan and Ben Affleck. Moehringer also wrote a novel, Sutton, about bank robber Willie Sutton.
Takeaways from Prince Harry’s memoir
From the book’s opening citation of William Faulkner, to Prince Harry’s passionate bond with his wife Meghan, you could almost call the Duke of Sussex’s memoir “The Americanisation of Prince Harry.”
Bereaved boy, troubled teen, wartime soldier, unhappy royal — many facets of Prince Harry are revealed in his explosive memoir, often in eyebrow-raising detail. Running throughout is Harry’s desire to be a different kind of prince — the kind who talks about his feelings, eats fast food and otherwise doesn’t hide beyond a prim facade.
From accounts of cocaine use to raw family rifts, Spare exposes deeply personal details about Harry and the wider royal family. Even Americans may flinch when he confides that a trip to the North Pole left him with frostbitten genitals that proved most irritating during his brother’s wedding to Kate.
The book opens with a famous quote from Faulkner, bard of the American South: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Harry’s story is dominated by his rivalry with elder brother Prince William and the death of the boys’ mother, Princess Diana, in 1997. Harry, who was 12 at the time, has never forgiven the media for Diana’s death in a car crash while being pursued by photographers.
The loss of his mother haunts the book, which Harry dedicates to Meghan, children Archie and Lili “and, of course, my mother.”
The opening chapter recounts how his father Prince Charles — now King Charles III — broke the news of his mother’s accident, but didn’t give his son a hug.
Harry reveals that years later he asked his driver to take him through the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris, site of the fatal crash, hoping in vain that it would help end a “decade of unrelenting pain. He also says he once consulted a woman who claimed to have “powers” and to be able to pass on messages from Diana.
Harry adds that he and William both “pleaded” with their father not to marry his long-term paramour Camilla Parker-Bowles, worried she would become a “wicked stepmother.”
Harry also is tormented by his status as royal “spare” behind William, who is heir to the British throne. Harry recounts a long-standing sibling rivalry that worsened after Harry began a relationship with Meghan, the American actor whom he married in 2018.
He says that during an argument in 2019, William called Meghan “difficult” and “rude”, then grabbed him by the collar and knocked him down. Harry suffered cuts and bruises from landing on a dog bowl.
Harry says Charles implored the brothers to make up, saying after the funeral of Prince Philip in 2021: “Please, boys — don’t make my final years a misery.
Neither Buckingham Palace, which represents King Charles III, nor William’s Kensington Palace office has commented on any of the allegations.
Admiration for grandparents
Harry writes with admiration and some affection about Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. He remembers Phillip’s “many passions — carriage driving, barbecuing, shooting, food, beer,” and above all how he “embraced life,” as did his mother. “Maybe that was why he’d been such a fan” of Princess Diana, Harry recalls.
Meanwhile, he acknowledges being intimidated at times by his grandmother, if only because she was the Queen. She is no more helpful than anyone else in containing the media leaks, but she is often seen as sympathetic to his wishes, never more so than when she approved of his marriage of Meghan.
Harry also sees her as an engaging, even humorous person beyond her otherwise proper bearing. Reflecting on her death last year he remembers whispering jokes into her ear or convincing her to participate in a widely seen promotional video of the Invictus Games, in which she one-ups the Obamas in a sparring contest.
“She was a natural comedienne,” he writes, calling her “wicked sense of humour” a prized confidence between the two. “In every photo of us, whenever we’re exchanging a glance, making solid eye contact, it’s clear. We had secrets.”
Wild teenage years
The memoir suggests the media’s party-boy image of Harry during his teen and young adult years was well-deserved.
Harry says he took cocaine several times starting at age 17, in order to “feel different.” He also acknowledges using cannabis and magic mushrooms — which made him hallucinate that a toilet was talking to him.
Harry offers extensive memories of his decade in the British Army, serving twice in Afghanistan. He says that on his second tour, as an Apache helicopter co-pilot and gunner in 2012-2013, he killed 25 Taliban militants. Harry says he felt neither satisfaction nor shame about his actions, and in the heat of battle regarded enemy combatants as pieces being removed from a chessboard, “Bads taken away before they could kill Goods.”
Veterans criticised the comments and said they could increase the security risk for Harry. Retired Col. Richard Kemp said it was “an error of judgement,” and regarding enemy fighters as chess pieces is “not the way the British Army trains people.”
“I think that sort of comment that doesn’t reflect reality is misleading and potentially valuable to those people who wish the British forces and British government harm,” he told the BBC.
The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in 2021, and Harry’s words have drawn protests in the country. Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi called the Western invasion of Afghanistan “odious” and said Harry’s comments “are a microcosm of the trauma experienced by Afghans at the hands of occupation forces who murdered innocents without any accountability.”
A regular guy
Yes, he’s a Prince, but he isn’t above stopping by for burgers and fries at an In-N-Out, or getting clothes from a chain outlet. He’s also a compulsive watcher of Friends and relates most to the wisecracking Chandler Bing, played by Matthew Perry. And because he’s a prince, he got to meet another Friends star, Courteney Cox, and indulge in chocolate psychedelic mushrooms at her Los Angeles home.
The real villain
Harry shares painful words about his father and brother, but his real anger is directed at the British media, and at those within the royal circle who cooperated and otherwise stood aside. While Charles remains apparently indifferent to the press, the rest of the family is obsessed with media coverage, Harry writes, himself as much as any of them. He expresses despair over what he calls endlessly false stories about him, the racist caricatures of his wife and of the press’ unnerving knowledge of his whereabouts and private correspondence. “One has to have a relationship with the press,” he is told by the royal staff.
Harry credits Meghan with changing the way he sees the world and himself. He says he was “awash in isolation and privilege” and had no understanding of unconscious bias before he met her.
The young prince notoriously wore a Nazi uniform to a costume party in 2005, and claims in the book that William and his now-wife Kate encouraged the choice of outfit and “howled” with laughter when they saw it. He was recorded using a racist term about a fellow soldier of Pakistani descent in 2006, but says he did not know the word was a slur and that the soldier was not offended.
Meghan and Harry cited the UK media’s treatment of the biracial American actor as one of the main reasons for their decision to quit royal duties and move to the US in 2020.
The book gives no sign that royal family relations will be repaired soon. Harry told ITV in an interview to promote the book that he wants reconciliation, but that there must be “accountability” first.
In the final pages, Harry describes how he and William walked side by side during the funeral procession of Queen Elizabeth II in September, but spoke barely a word to one another.
“The following afternoon, Meg and I left for America,” he says.
— Associated Press