“When is someone in this family going to break free and live?” – Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
We finished Spare yesterday. It’s Prince Harry’s memoir/autobiography about his relationship with “the Firm.” (For purposes of this review, we will refer to the author as “Harry.”)
The Challenge: We Don’t
Writing a review of Spare is a challenge. Total objectivity is almost unattainable.
Because the Royal Family is one of the most widely recognized in the world, with near-constant media attention, spin doctors, comm directors and Fleet Street vultures, it’s almost impossible to approach a book about The Royals without at least some pre-conceived ideas. Prejudice. Bias. Because of the media microscope under which the Royals live and work, we think we “know” them, especially with the advent of smartphones and social media.
We don’t. Not even close. Repeat for those in the back: We don’t. Not even close.
But the media circus that typically follows the House of Windsor and anyone connected to it lulls us into a false sense of familiarity. It’s easy to forget that broad and frequent press coverage do not necessarily the truth make.
Setting the Record Straight
Keeping that in mind, Spare is Prince Harry’s effort to set the record straight. Tell his side of the story. And he’s pretty darn good at it.
Perhaps what comes across most clearly in Spare is that Prince Harry is a complex personality. In a complicated family. And that most people haven’t the slightest clue what it’s like being a Royal.
This book chronicles Harry’s journey from the loss of his “Mummy” at age twelve to his painful and public decision to exit the Royal Family with wife Meghan. The death of his beloved “Granny,” Queen Elizabeth II, is touched upon in the Epilogue.
The tone is frank and forthright. It’s crisp and brisk, with a touch of melancholy. Wistfulness. Throw in the “red mist” of anger. Confusion. Frustration over the predatory over-reaches of headline-hunting paparazzi (disdainfully referred to as “paps”). A father who dearly loves his “darling boy” but is unable or unwilling to demonstrate affection and is emotionally distant. (Charles isn’t exactly a warm and cuddly kind of guy.)
Willy and Camilla
Harry writes about his brother, “Willy,” in terms that are candid and complex. Like Harry, the sibling relationship is often a difficult one, with the added stress of being under almost constant public scrutiny. Additionally, there’s no love lost between the “Spare” and Camilla, in case you’re wondering.
Isolation and Privilege
In early chapters Harry comes across as self-absorbed and tentative, “awash in isolation and privilege.” Not helping matters are his “congenitally weak powers of concentration.” Evidence? The infamous Nazi uniform debacle, allegedly encouraged by Willy and Kate.
Another example appears in pages 129-130. Here Harry describes his “Pa” driving his gray Audi to meet him at Sandringham. Harry is training there for his new role as a Forward Air Controller (FAC). They chat, apparently amiably. “Pa” drives away. Then Harry tells the Typhoon pilot he’s guiding: “New target. Gray Audi…” The pilot does “a low pass straight over him, almost shattering the window of his (Charles’s) Audi.” Not to fret. Harry writes that the future King of England is “spared on my orders.”
Let that sink in for a min. That’s okay. We’ll wait.
Later, an older, wiser, and more seasoned Harry demonstrates great empathy and a deep pool of compassion in his work with injured soldiers and their families. So it’s kind of a mixed bag, as are most lives, relationships, and families.
Like we said, “It’s complicated.”
Harry also spends a lot of time marinating in vodka and Red Bull. After being pulled out of military service in Iraq due to security concerns, he feels “unsorted anger” and “guilt” about ”not being at war – not leading my lads.” He subsequently drowns his sorrows in Southern Comfort and Sambuca. Then it’s to Afghanistan as a Forward Air Controller.
In Paris for the 2007 World Cup, Harry gives his bodyguard(s) the slip and wanders around solo one night. In a foreign a city. Then, after learning that the infamous Parisian tunnel where Diana lost her life is nearby, Harry has his driver take the tunnel at the same speed Diana’s vehicle was traveling when she was killed. Harry questions the final inquest deeming Diana’s driver “the sole cause of the crash.” Opines Harry, “Convenient and absurd.” He blames the vulturous “paps” who “chased and blinded” Mummy’s driver with their cameras and flash photography.
There’s Christmas 2013. Sandringham. Harry’s been given a room “in a narrow back corridor.” He thus feels “a bit unappreciated. A bit unloved. Relegated to the hinterlands.” “Who am ? Where am I going?” A deep sense of purpose-lessness, rudderless-ness and unhappiness are recurring themes.
There’s also “press gaslighting.” How the press so often got it wrong. Totally wrong. Like, bald-faced lying wrong. How the insufferable, insatiable paps hounded his every step. Life in the “fish bowl.” Spike. PTSD. Heat sensitivity. Panic attacks. Anxiety. Loneliness. Agoraphobia. Offenses. Insults. “Backstabbing.” “Family feuding.” “Shouting at each other about place cards and hormones” (Harry and Meghan vs. Willy and Kate). Team Sussex vs. Team Cambridge. The Sandringham Agreement.
Punchy and Plain
The narrative is aching and articulate. It pulls no punches. So Spare will upset some apple carts. Some may find it contentious. Abrasive. Whiney. Others may see it as a plea for understanding. Openness. Or, as Paul Harvey famously said, “The rest of the story.”
Whatever else Spare may be, it’s an absorbing, touching read, often peppered with a wicked wit. It’s also an account of a doleful and often exasperated Harry who’s desperately trying to navigate “psychological and emotional mine fields.” Both are usually related to Mummy. Whatever else readers take away from this book, one take-away is crystal-clear: Diana’s impact on Harry’s life was and is profound and deep. Ageless. Timeless?
Most anyone who can fog a mirror has or will have an opinion about this book and its author. But there’s a lot of pain in these pages. Whether it’s self-inflicted or not is anyone’s guess. (Note: We changed our opinion about Harry and Meg after reading Spare.)
So whatever else you may find in this book, three things come through loud and clear:
- Never. Trust. Anyone. Especially “palace staff.”
- The British paparazzi are waaaay out of control. (Kimber: I want to bite them. But Mom says “No.”)
- Writing Spare took an immense amount of courage. So like the book or not, agree with it or not, respect it, okay?
We will not be rating this book. It’s not that kind of book. This book surprised us. It’s a worthy read. Just be sure you buckle up first.
January 23, 2023 at 7:24 am
thx for the review… i’ve been unsure if i wanted to read this book. i think i will now 🙂
January 23, 2023 at 8:35 am
It’s not going to appeal to everyone. It has its moments. Overall, a worthwhile read. thanks for commenting.
January 23, 2023 at 8:51 am
I don’t know if I will read it or not. But your review is interesting and makes me lean a bit toward reading it.
January 23, 2023 at 8:55 am
I hear ya. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it either. But it was on the “New” shelf at the library the other day. Just sort of jumped off the shelf and dove into my book bag. 🙂 Not everyone will like this book. But it surprised me. Wasn’t what I expected (just shows you what I know! Lol). Overall, it’s a worthwhile read.
January 23, 2023 at 10:21 am
I was riveted by the book. I found it entertaining in that I couldn’t put it down. I love this comprehensive review, it explains the book really well. I’ve read it, and still have mixed feelings, but I did enjoy reading the book. It was eye opening.
January 23, 2023 at 12:29 pm
Yes! “Eye opening” for sure! Well said, Wendy! I read it cover to cover in a day and a half. Still have mixed feelings too. Maybe that’s the whole point? Thank you for weighing in.