February 2023

Noted

Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’

By Peter Craven
Front cover of ‘Spare’, featuring close up of Prince Harry's face
The Duke of Sussex’s blockbuster memoir surprises with its mastery of self-portraiture, and of payback

Not the least strange thing about this book is that it’s a winner: the memoirs of Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, the younger son of Princess Diana, the one who went off to America with his wife Meghan and talked to Oprah and did the series with Netflix. Spare, because he once would have inherited the throne if anything had happened to his brother, William.

There has been endless speculation about Spare (Bantam), including about Harry’s ghost, J.R. Moehringer (the tarter-upperer of Agassi). But nothing prepares you for the breathtaking drama and brilliant spotlighting, the cadence and the mastery of all the lights and shades of self-portraiture, the heartlessness of the ravaging press and the coldness of royal relatives who seem never to have known how to handle the prince.

Diana – Mummy – shadows the book at every point, but the way in which Harry makes their often thwarted, sometimes tragic story his own is staggering. About halfway through, I listened to perhaps eight hours of Harry reading the remainder and he delivers it with a greater sense of timing, a sharper sense of what was going on, than the average audiobook. He does it brilliantly in his rough Etonian voice (despite – occasionally – mispronouncing a word (“re-spite” for “resspit”, “preferably” for “preferably”, “youngian” for “Jungian”), and you believe him utterly.

It’s the story of the little boy who couldn’t believe his Mummy was dead and who can’t believe that she died to the click of those cameras. Yes, he talks of the mourners whose hands were wet from their tears (whereas he couldn’t cry); he expresses his abiding rage at the “paps”, as he calls them; and he has such contempt for Rebekah Brooks that he has a made-up name for her. But there’s a lot more to this disconcertingly captivating book than the scuffles with William and the other highlights that have dominated the interviews. His experiences as a pilot in Afghanistan are gripping, and there are stories like the one of the frostnip he gets in his “todger” as a result of a visit to the North Pole. He talks about all the weed he smoked, the coke he took, the girls he was a bit in love with (Chels, the white Zimbabwean; Cressida, the actress) but who couldn’t hack the pressure-cooker life.

Charles comes across as a gentle figure, forever calling him “darling boy”, but with a ruthless sense of his own and Camilla’s priorities, as well as a degree of scepticism about “Hooray Harry” and “Prince Thicko” (as Harry casually acknowledges he was known). There’s a wholly credible account of how Harry is bathed in sweat when he has to speak in public – how consumed with panic he becomes when he has to perform. We hear also of his dealings with a good psych, a woman, who at one stage he rings in the middle of the night and who says she thinks it’s a bit surprising he’s not a drug addict. He takes psychedelics at one stage, therapeutically.

The accounts of Meghan’s phase of suicidal melancholy and the ecstasy of her giving birth to their two children are done with great buoyancy, and so is the epilogue about the Queen’s death.

His hatred of the British press in its royal hunting is absolutely intelligible, even though it’s part of his destiny to be his own tabloid story, albeit transcendingly. But you don’t disbelieve him when he explains how the courtiers and his father and brother schemed to get the Queen to cut him adrift – no royal duties, no bodyguards – when he wanted to spend some of his time in America.

It’s not hard to see why Harry, such a simple bloke in some ways but such a towering master of payback, should have become Diana’s heir.

Spare will surprise you with its sweeping sense of drama, its candour, its scintillation. It’s flying out of bookshops and Harry’s audiobook reading is companionable, invigorated and has perfect pitch. How funny that Harry should turn out to be the People’s Prince.

Peter Craven

Peter Craven is a literary and culture critic.

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