Fishbowl. Gilded cage. Those are a few of the ways Prince Harry describes his upbringing as British royalty in his new memoir, “Spare,” which hit stores earlier this month. It’s a first-of-its kind royal tell-all, in which Harry leaves out no detail, from Diana to Meghan.
Across more than 400 pages, Harry offers a response to an assertion by his dad and brother that they “honestly don’t” know why he and Meghan decided to leave the family in early 2020. It’s a claim made during a conversation described in the book’s first chapter shortly after the death of Prince Phillip.
“The thought made me feel colder, and terribly alone,” Harry writes. “But it also fired me up. I thought: I have to tell them. How can I tell them? I can’t. It would take too long. Besides, they’re clearly not in the right frame of mind to listen. Not now, anyway. Not today. And so: Pa? Willy? World? Here you go.”
There’s something inherently valuable about memoirs. Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but I’m never not interested in hearing someone tell their story, in their own words. It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability for someone to talk about their life, and it’s probably for that reason I can say I’ve never read a memoir I didn’t like.
The royal family phenomenon, however, is one that largely missed me. That is, until I started watching a TV show called “Suits” in high school. It’s about a corporate law firm in New York, in which Meghan Markle plays a paralegal. When rumors of a relationship between her and Prince Harry started flurrying, all I could think was: “Does this mean she’s leaving Suits?” (It did.)
Something I’ve always found perplexing about the British monarchy is that it still exists. The question of royal relevance in the 21st century is more candidly probed in the equally enthralling “Harry and Meghan” Netflix docuseries, but isn’t entirely absent from “Spare.” Proximity to the crown equals proximity to Britain’s legacy of imperialism and colonialism, which Harry says his family views as a legitimate existential threat.
“The family was feeling the tremors of global change, hearing the cries of critics who said the monarchy was outdated, costly.”
Something “Spare” undoubtedly succeeds in doing, however, is humanizing Harry. He’s willing to overshare. From his adolescent belief that his mom wasn’t dead, but rather hiding from paparazzi, to the bizarre and unspoken rule against hugging other members of the royal family, to the not-so-funny attributes of “heir” and “spare” to William and Harry, he leaves nothing to the imagination.
It is also, of course, peppered with the sensational scenes that have made headlines since the book was published earlier this month: Prince William attacking Harry at Nottingham Cottage, his bout with frostnip after a trek in the North Pole and what really happened between Kate Middleton and Meghan over bridesmaids dresses.
Palpable in nearly all anecdotes is Harry’s burning resentment toward the British press.
There are persistent condemnations of the British media outlets given exclusive access to the royal family, who Prince Harry says chased his mom to her death, consistently violated his privacy and safety, and to whom he repeatedly was thrown under the bus by family members seeking their own positive coverage.
That’s all, of course, in addition to the international spectacle of the media’s crusade against Meghan, who he says became suicidal while pregnant with their son because of the violence and racism triggered by hostile press. One can’t help but root for the couple after reading his recollection of them bouncing from country to country trying to escape the lens.
As Harry muses about how bound his family is by the stuffy rules of monarchy, it is toward the end of the book that he poses the ultimate question: “When is someone in this family going to break free and live?”
It’s something his mom tried to do, he says, and something he’ll now attempt as well. Wherever his and Meghan’s journey takes them next, I’ll be rooting them on.
“Spare” was published in 2023 by Random House in the United States and by Transworld Publishers Ltd. in the United Kingdom.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.
Off the Shelf is a bimonthly literature column written by the staff of The Peninsula Clarion that features reviews and recommendations of books and other texts through a contemporary lens.