Reflections of a tortured and traumatized prince, Spare: a book review
“Then again, maybe our mother would be here. If she hadn’t married Pa….” Prince Harry reflects as he begins his memoir, the only first-person account of his life. A haunting hypothesis. The mere possibility that the sequence of events leading to your existence equally led to the cessation of another, one of the most important in your life. A torture which no one deserves. I know nothing of alternate universes, disruptions in the time-space continuum that can change the course of minute and phenomenal events of human history; but more than one has wondered if Lady Diana Spencer, the 19-year-old assistant teacher raised on the Sandringham Estate, if she had declined all invitations from her sister’s former partner, would she still be here?
In one day, the highly anticipated Spare by Prince Harry became the fastest selling nonfiction book in history. The incendiary and ferocious conjecture leading up to its release decried the Duke of Sussex for penning a tawdry tell-all of his family, trading in on his royal status for money. The indignity. Ironically besmirched by many individuals who have made their careers doing just the same.
But if you break down the four-hundred-and-seven page autobiography to the sum of its parts, it’s not a salacious page-turner full of secrets meant to humiliate the House of Windsor. Are there revelations never before shared with the general public? Yes. Does it offer insight into a world of mystery that has loomed in the backdrop of the United Kingdom, the world, for centuries? Sure. Yet more than anything, it’s quite morose.
When you strip away the palaces, titles, and crowns, you see a man, retelling the story of his life as it begins when he is a boy. A boy beleaguered by a series of catastrophic, life-altering events. The leitmotif of Spare is not to shame the current and future Kings of England; it’s a mirror reflecting the extraordinary privilege of Prince Harry’s upbringing and how its unrelinquishable side effects caused more harm than the controlled substances he used as a coping mechanism.
Born quite literally as a spare human for his elder sibling, Prince Harry’s life begins the day his mother died. He was of course born almost thirteen years prior, however by his own account, his trauma repressed most childhood memories with his mum. Quite simply, he doesn’t remember much of his life before she died. He remembers the aftermath.
He remembers watching thousands of mourners line the streets and cry for his mother, knowing he was prohibited from shedding one solitary public tear. He remembers the sound of the horse hooves as he marched behind her coffin, of which he likely had no choice. He remembers his uncle, Charles Spencer, being the only adult that prioritized the inhumanity of that over public relations. And in heartbreaking detail, he remembers how he refused to accept his mother’s death for a decade, genuinely believing that she disappeared to escape the relentless abuse of her tormentors, the British tabloid press.
Prince Harry describes in disconcerting detail the unabashed despicability of the British media and the carcinogenic role they’ve played in his life. In discussing his academic struggles, Prince Harry admits he was overmatched for Eton and lagged behind his peers. He never thought to pursue university, which he has never regretted. Prince Harry discusses the war in Afghanistan, watching soldiers lose limbs, and the precision and accuracy of every kill strike he ordered because accountability demanded it so. He discusses his PTSD and debilitating panic attacks. Prince Harry shares his experiences with intimate partners and struggling to navigate that space. Yet more than anything, the media remains his perennial antagonist. His most corrosive adversary.
Quite literally likened to radicalized terrorists, and the Palace at times to Neville Chamberlin (for those unfamiliar with British World War II history, that’s pretty grim), Prince Harry details example after example of how the media’s sordid obsession with his mother, his family, and with him, has caused harm in every aspect of his life. And again, when you strip away the privilege and pomp, there’s something quite vile about a group of individuals stimulated by the repeated humiliations of a child, then adult. Writers and readers alike.
Did anyone need to know the identities of the children using cocaine at Britain’s most prestigious boarding school for boys, other than their parents, the Headmaster, and security guards? Even if one was Prince Harry? And why were people more concerned about Prince Harry doing drugs, than how he acquired them? He lived on campus.
Did anyone need to know that Prince Harry was being dispatched to Iraq on a combat mission? Did anyone need photos? Did anyone need to know Prince Harry’s precise location in Afghanistan? And when revealing it, did they consider how it put his life, and the lives of all those serving alongside him, in jeopardy? Did they care?
Without exception Prince Harry sees the British media as a pathogen he cannot escape. In the sense that the United States placed an embargo on Cuba and prevented trade for decades, the British tabloid press could simply never report on anything of Harry’s personal life unless it was a matter of public interest — public interest in the constitutional sense. And although the focus of Spare is Prince Harry’s personal relationship with the media, it would be remiss not to reflect on how they’ve penetrated the romantic relationships with every partner he’s ever had. Prince Harry’s wife contemplated suicide because of press abuse, a former partner followed through.
Whether leaving clubs in the boot (trunk) of a vehicle or relishing boot camp because there were no cameras, the British media is the bane of Prince Harry’s existence and he is happiest when he’s removed from them. But even in the throes of psychological conditioning at the hands of the armed forces, The Sun could not be escaped. “All my life I’d heard jokes about the links between royal misbehavior and centuries of inbreeding, but it was then that I realized: Lack of genetic diversity was nothing compared to press gaslighting. Marrying your cousin is far less dicey than becoming a profit center for Murdoch Inc.” Well.
So as opinions, eyerolls, and incredulity continue to mount, I see this book not as revenge against the Royal Family, in which being objective, there are likely far more salacious stories to tell. It’s an inflection point of Prince Harry’s narrative. An indelible mark on his own personal history, on the history of his family, which is mostly written and profited by others. Princess Diana may have been deceived into giving an interview to Martin Bashir of the BBC, however she was not deceived into saying there were three people in her marriage.
In discussing his family history, Prince Harry reflects on the tragic life of Queen Victoria. “Her father was said to be a sadist, sexually aroused by the sight of soldiers being horsewhipped,” Harry notes. For those engulfed in rage that a former public servant wrote a memoir about his life, for those who’ve stood idle or enjoyed the abuse of Harry over the past three decades, and of Meghan Markle over the last six years, for those who cried tears of sorrow when Prince Diana died, but laughed as newspapers called her everything other than her name a fortnight prior, there’s an analogy there if you look closely.