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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Anita Sungh

Review: Prince Harry memoir highlights just how self-absorbed he is – yet you find yourself sympathising with him

Copies of Prince Harry's book, Spare, on sale at Dubray Bookstore on Grafton Street, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

What more is there to tell you about Prince Harry’s memoir? The dog-bowl fisticuffs, the frostbitten penis, the stallion sex behind the Frog and Firkin – every detail of Spare has been mined.

All that is left are the tiny details of royal life. Luckily, they can be entertaining, such as the moment Harry opened a Christmas present from Princess Margaret. She gave him a biro.

This book is not the raging whinge-fest you might expect after watching Harry’s recent round of television interviews, or the Harry & Meghan documentary series on Netflix.

I highly doubt our hero did have deep thoughts about Gothic architecture, the nature of consciousness and the ghost of Wallis Simpson as he waited for a showdown with William

His ghostwriter, JR Moehringer, has done a very good job here of making his subject seem like the sane one in the story, which is not necessarily the impression gained from Harry’s sit-down with Tom Bradby this week.

Spare is well-constructed and fluently written. Harry would be the first to admit that Moehringer has done the hard graft here, and perhaps deployed some artistic licence.

I highly doubt our hero did have deep thoughts about Gothic architecture, the nature of consciousness and the ghost of Wallis Simpson as he waited for a showdown with William, as happens in the opening chapter.

His own contributions are limited to writing the acknowledgements, in which he sends his “adoringest” thanks to Archie, Lili, Meghan and her mother. He chose the opening quote from Nobel Prize-winner William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Not heeding Bagehot’s warning that monarchy must not let in daylight upon magic, Harry reveals all: “I discovered that quotation not long ago on I was thunderstruck. I thought, who the fook is Faulkner?”

Harry does have a taste for drama though, so perhaps he is responsible for the tonal swings from Disney animation (Meghan singing to seals, and the seals singing back) to the more decidedly unusual (“The Tower of London was held together by the blood of animals… Outsiders called us a cult but maybe we were a death cult?”)

One therapist tells Harry, towards the end of the book, she fears part of him is trapped in 1997 when his mother died. The reader has long since worked this out

To get the measure of the book it is instructive to begin at the end, with those acknowledgements. Alongside Oprah Winfrey, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and James Corden, they include 15 “professionals, medical experts and coaches for keeping me physically and mentally strong over the years”.

One of these therapists tells Harry, towards the end of the book, that she fears part of him is trapped in 1997 when his mother died. The reader has long since worked this out. It is a desperately sad tale of a young boy who has never recovered from losing the person he loved most in the world, and that loss dominates Spare.

Your heart breaks for him on every page that mentions Diana. He doesn’t want to let go of the pain because that is all he has left to remember her by. For years, a part of him clung to the idea that his mother wasn’t really dead, but had fled the limelight. She was hiding out in a cabin in the Swiss Alps, and would soon send for her boys.

File photo of Prince William and Prince Harry in July 2021. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

One of 12-year-old Harry’s first thoughts on being told that she was dead was to tell himself: “She’ll be back. She has to be. It’s my birthday in two weeks.”

After decades of suppressing his emotions, they are now tumbling out. Harry is now unfiltered, speaking his “truth”, but neither the ghostwriter nor the publisher saw fit to tell him that some things are better left unsaid.

Harry isn’t much of a reader, so is perhaps unaware that most celebrities don’t talk about losing their virginity in cringeworthy terms, but he throws the details away as casually as his description of trolley dashes around TK Maxx.

His decision to discuss his 25 kills in Afghanistan has been widely condemned as unwise, although the lengthy chapters about his military deployment treat the war with seriousness.

Take away the score-settling, though, and the book is a proper insight into the minutiae royal life. Forget , this is the real insider’s take

A level of self-absorption means that he does not appear to consider the feelings of anyone else here, from his father – revealed to still carry his “pitiful” childhood teddy bear with him wherever he goes – to incidental figures like the late Caroline Flack, with whom Harry had a brief relationship and whom he uses here as an example of someone driven to despair by the tabloids (in fact, Flack’s suicide had much more complicated roots).

His father, King Charles, comes across as a man doing his best, but his best is not good enough for Harry. Charles loves his “darling boy” – a term of endearment that crops up throughout the book – but struggles to connect with him emotionally.

He is also petulant, jealous if other royals steal his limelight. The Camilla of the book is a schemer, willing to sacrifice her stepchildren on “her personal PR altar”.

She is referred to initially only as “the Other Woman”. His brother’s wife, Kate Middleton, is an ice queen, freezing out Meghan for the crimes of asking to borrow her lip gloss and failing to send an Easter present. She and William are portrayed as fantastically petty.

When Harry says he would like to undertake conservation work in Africa, William screams: “Rhinos, elephants, that’s mine!”

Of course, that pettiness works both ways. Harry has an endless list of perceived slights, ranging from the fact that William and Charles cannot travel on the same plane in case it crashes, but nobody cares how Harry travels, to the size of their respective childhood bedrooms. And then there’s Harry’s jibe about William’s “alarming” baldness.

Take away the score-settling, though, and the book is a proper insight into the minutiae royal life. Forget The Crown, this is the real insider’s take.

The queen making salad dressing, huffs about parking arrangements at Kensington Palace, the princes required to bow to a statue of Queen Victoria at Balmoral.

At times it is an affectionate portrait, but then Harry bemoans his “Truman Show” existence and a way of life that has “rendered me otherwise unemployable”.

Then Meghan arrives and, boy, is Harry besotted. “She’s perfect, she’s perfect, she’s perfect,” he writes, even when she brings a yoga mat on their camping trip to Botswana.

The newly released autobiography by Prince Harry at WH Smith's in London's Victoria Station. The book, Spare, became available to purchase at midnight on Tuesday, January 10. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

We’re into the realms of Netflix romance movies – apparently Meghan finds it endearing when Harry uses up all the gas and air for a joke while she’s in labour at the Portland.

But Meghan occupies only the last third of Spare. The deepest love here is between a son and the mother he lost. Whatever your thoughts about the way Harry has conducted himself, he deserves some compassion.

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