A review of Spare by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
In no way can I claim to be a follower or supporter of the British royal family, yet, after the death of Princess Diana, Prince Harry’s mother, I, like many others around the world touched on media updates to see how her lads were doing. It has done my spirit good to hear Harry share his story.
My review can be summed up in two words: Absolutely beautiful.
Harry is a natural storyteller with a good sense of humor. The arch of his life, identity, growth, maturity, awareness, and manhood are clear and earnestly shared. He doesn’t bash anyone or share intimate details about his familial relationships. However, what he does share of familial interactions is very sad and poignant, unintentionally so, I’m sure. His earnestness creates an intimacy with readers/listeners. [Note: I listened on Audible and am extremely glad for the experience of hearing him tell his story in his own words.]
In retrospect, for those hating on him and saying he shouldn’t talk about his family, his memoir could be described as a rebuttal to media accounts of his life as he appears to stay true to a timeline of headlines covering the twenty-five years leading up to the book. His primary focus is sharing his state of mind, physical location, and emotional environment to provide his perspective and understanding of the stories about him. Unfortunately for the naysayers, these media episodes obviously touch on his family relationships.
During the initial listen, I cried three times. (1) When Harry and Meghan received unexpected help from a benefactor after begging for help from, and being denied by, his father, brother and queen grandmother. (2) The last time he said, “I’ll keep you safe.” (3) His last line in the book. While re-listening to segments for this review, I’ve cried at almost everything I replayed.
The overall gravity of Harry and Meghan’s situation, the petty selfishness and mean-spirited jealousies in his family, the absolute absurdity of this family ruling most of the world for more than a millennia with its myopic dysfunction and self-hatred is astounding. A line of people who have no respect for themselves, their spouses, children, brothers, sisters, etc. have been conquering and dividing the world into parcels since 1066. They’ve created cultures, laws, societies and hierarchies among peoples around the globe. All while being completely opposed to expressing basic human emotion. A touch or a hug for a grandchild – unthinkable! A father protecting his sons from watching their mother’s death on TV – what could be done? A brother embracing his sister-in-law rather than smearing her and her future children in the media – it’s how it’s always been. The British Royal Family eats its own. How could their 1200 year reign possibly result in a better world?
Unfortunately, like most of us mortals, Harry’s not so good at deciphering the heart and motives of his loved ones. For most of the book, I talked back in frustration, voicing the treachery he had to be aware of on some level, but didn’t want to call out directly.
However, when he was forced to the point of understanding, he elucidated how he came to the point of separating from his dysfunctional family in favor of protecting his wife and children. When Harry and Meghan were first ousted from the royal family, I began to pay attention to their story. What struck me was the fact that a Black Woman was so hated and vilified that her husband, a member of the most well-known, powerful and wealthiest families in the history of the world – the second son of a future king – could not keep his wife safe. Not only that, he feared his wife would die as his mother had because of the relentless hounding and vitriol of the paparazzi which went unchecked by his father and brother (both heirs to the throne). He shared his fear openly in real time. Imagine, having the ability to ask for and receive anything your mind could conjure, but security and safety for your wife was prohibited. She was deemed too much of an expense to house, clothe, feed and protect.
“Pa was cutting me off. I recognize the absurdity, a man in his mid-thirties being financially cut off by his father. But Pa wasn’t merely my father. He was my boss, my banker, my comptroller. Keeper of the purse strings throughout my adult life. Cutting me off, therefore, meant firing me. Without redundancy pay and casting me into the void after a lifetime of service. More, after a lifetime of rendering me otherwise unemployable. […] Sponge, the papers called me. There’s a big difference between being a sponge and being prohibited from learning independence. After decades of being rigorously and systematically infantilized, I was now abruptly abandoned, mocked for being immature, for not standing on my own two feet.”
Harry represented himself well. I do hope he sees himself as a human being who has value simply because he exists regardless of his birth into this family and his role in other people’s lives.
Charles: Pa, Boss and Comptroller
Even in his austere aloofness, the former Prince of Wales and current King Charles III comes across as a father who was willing to love and be present if only he could manage it. Unfortunately, for him and his children, his understanding of love and presence is cold and comfortless. Charles is only mentioned as Pa in the Spare. Pa is spoken with reverence, respect, pain and bewildered disillusionment. Pa is often spoken as a plea.
In the garden cemetery at Frogmore, Spare begins with:
“Pa and Willy had their parts to play and they came ready for a fight. ‘Please, boys! Don’t make my final years a misery.’ His voice sounded raspy. Fragile. It sounded, if I’m honest, old.
I looked at Willy. Really looked at him, maybe for the first time since we were boys.[…] In some ways he was my mirror. In some ways he was my opposite. My beloved brother. My arch nemesis. How had that happened? I was massively tired. I wanted to go home and I realized what a complicated concept ‘home’ had become. Or maybe it always was.
‘If they didn’t know why I had left, maybe they just didn’t know me, at all. Maybe they never really did. And to be fair, maybe I didn’t either. I have to tell them. And so, Pa, Willy, World, here you go.'”
So begins the epic retelling of a life from in front of many lenses.
“Journalists are the scum of the earth, but…,” Charles said to his sons in Frogmore gardens following his father’s funeral.
“There was always a but with Pa when it came to the press. He hated their hate, but oh, how he loved their love. One could make the argument that therein lie the seeds of the problem, indeed all problems going back decades. Deprived of love as a boy, bullied by schoolmates, he was dangerously, compulsively drawn to the elixir they offered him. He cited grandpa as a sterling example of why the press wasn’t anything to get too vexed about. Poor grandpa had been abused by the papers most of his life, but now look, he was a national treasure. The papers couldn’t say enough nice things about the man!
‘So that’s it then? Just wait till we’re dead and all will be sorted?’
‘If you could just endure it, Darling Boy, for a little while. In a funny way they’d respect you for it. […] You must understand, Darling Boy, The Institution can’t just tell the media what to do.’
I yelped with laughter. It was like Pa saying he couldn’t just tell his valet what to do.”
Diana: Morning Star
“Wherever mommy was, I understood she was with her friend.”
Harry doesn’t hold any surface or tactile memories of his mother. The way he speaks of her is as an ethereal being who was known to have existed on earth but is hiding away for safety. Named after a goddess and titled as princess, neither stylings are grand enough for his memory of her personhood. Earendel, an indescribably large star discovered in 2022 by the Hubble Space Telescope, is the oldest known star to have existed close to the moment of creation and is called the Morning Star. “That was my mother,” Harry says quietly.
In his late twenties, Harry sought proof of Diana’s actual death. Up to that point, he did not consider her dead, only away. He imagined she was hiding from the paparazzi. Believed she would one day return to whisk him and his brother away to be with her in hiding. He asked a member of his security team for the file on his mother’s car crash hoping to clear any questions he had. Harry reports, “The file proved nothing, other than Mummy was in a car crash. After which she looked unharmed. Slumped over in the back of the car. While those who chased her continued to harass her. Rather than proof, I discovered more reason for rage. It wasn’t a mist. It was a torrent.”
Paris police had seized the cameras of the paparazzi on the scene. The images showed chaos. Onlookers. A deceased Dodi and driver. Hurt bodyguard. Deceased Diana. Flashing lights created auras on the printed images. The file contained police photos of the scene and images from the frenzied photographers who chased Diana to her death. Those men never stopped photographing her even in the aftermath of the crash they caused. She landed between the seats and was clearly unconscious or semi-conscious.
“No one checked on her. Offered her help or comforted her. They were just shooting. Shooting. Shooting. I hadn’t known. I hadn’t dreamed. I’d been told that paps chased Mummy like a pack of wild dogs, but I never dared to imagine that like wild dogs, they also feasted on her defenseless body. I hadn’t been aware before this moment, that the last thing Mummy saw on this earth, was a flash bulb.”
When he was twenty-three, Harry went to the World Cup in Paris. While there, he asked his assigned driver to drive up and down that same tunnel at 65 miles per hour (the speed Diana supposedly died at) in an attempt to understand how something so routine could be so life-altering. He was not convinced events happened as reported.
Identity is problematic
“Two years older than me, Willy was the heir and I was the spare. This wasn’t merely how the press referred to us, though it was definitely that. This was shorthand often used by Pa, Mummy and Grandpa and even Granny. There was no judgment about it. But also, no ambiguity.
I was the shadow, the support, the Plan B. I was brought into the world in case something happened to Willy. I was summoned to provide back-up. Distraction and diversion. And if necessary, a spare part. A kidney perhaps, blood transfusion, spec of bone morrow. This was all made explicitly clear to me from the start of life’s journey and regularly reinforced thereafter.
I took no offense. I felt nothing about it. Any of it. Succession was like the weather. Or the positions of the planets. Or the turn of the seasons. Who had the time to worry about things so unchangeable? Who could bother with being bothered by a fate etched in stone?
Being a Windsor meant working out which truths were timeless and then banishing them from your mind. It meant absorbing the basic parameters of one’s identity knowing by instinct who you were, which was forever a byproduct of who you weren’t. I wasn’t Granny. I wasn’t Pa. I wasn’t Willy. I was third in line behind them.”
During his gap year, he worked a cattle farm in Australia. He had planned on six months in the outback, but the ranch was infiltrated by paparazzi. He left early. However during his time, he acquired new habits, dressing style and a new nickname, Spike.
“I became Spike, when I wasn’t Haz, Baz, Prince Jackeroo, Harold, Darling Boy or Scrawny. Identity had always been problematic, but with a half dozen formal names and a full dozen nicknames, it was turning into a hall of mirrors. Most days I didn’t care what people called me. Most days I thought ‘Don’t care who I am so long as it’s someone new. Someone other than Prince Harry.”
Harry speaks of several women he dated as being guide stones in his evolution. Each one highlighted a part of himself he was unaware of or hadn’t been able to access prior to the relationship. The first girlfriend Harry mentions is Chelsea, whom he was drawn to because she was different from the people in his circle. She was South African and preferred her home to Britain. She was unconcerned with appearances, propriety, and royalty. He was enraptured. During his time with Chelsea, he says:
“I had no talent, so I’ve been told. Again and again. And thus all reactions to me had nothing to do with me. They were down to my family. My title. And consequently, they always embarrassed me because they were so unearned. I’d always wanted to know what it might be like to meet a woman and not have her eyes widen at the mention of my title. But instead widen them myself using my mind, my heart. With Chelsea, that seemed a real possibility.”
Another girlfriend helped him cry for the first time since his mother’s death. It was then that he began to accept that Mummy was not going to return. He was encouraged to seek counseling. He did so.
One day while scrolling his Instagram feed, Harry came across a filtered video of his friend Violet with a woman he had never seen.
“I’d traveled the world from top to bottom. Literally. I’d hopscotched the continents. I’d met hundreds of thousands of people. […] For thirty-two years, I’d watched a conveyor belt of faces pass by and only a handful ever made me look twice. This woman stopped the conveyor belt. This woman smashed the conveyor belt to bits. I’d never seen anyone so beautiful. Why should beauty feel like a punch in the throat?
I never had a firm answer to that burning question: Is there just one person on this earth for each of us? But in that moment, I felt there might be only one face for me. This one. I sent Violet a message: WHO. IS. THIS. WOMAN?”
He had an instant response to Meghan’s face. She exuded energy, joy, playfulness, confidence and a sense of freedom.
You’re free! Fly away!
Frogmore was special to Harry. It held one of his favorite cemetery’s and was one of the first places he lived with Meghan. he thought it would be their forever home before they had to flee the country. Following his grandfather’s funeral, he still sought Frogmore’s cemetery – for a walk with his father and brother, and for his final resting place – “…because the gardens were lovely and it seemed peaceful.”
On remembering a happy day with Willy – a transcendent moment that led to the rarest of things: a long tight hug with his brother:
“Now I saw that even our finest moments, my best memories somehow involved death. Our lives were built on death. Our brightest days were shattered by it. Looking back, I didn’t see spots of time, but dances with death. I saw how we steeped ourselves in it. […] Windsor castle itself was a tomb. The walls filled with ancestors. The Tower of London was held together with the blood of animals. […]Outsiders called us a cult. But maybe we were a death cult. Wasn’t that a little more depraved?
Even after laying Grandpa to rest, had we not had our fill? Why were we here? Lurking on the edge of that undiscovered country from whose born, no traveler returns.
Eh, maybe that was a more apt description of America. My father and brother were talking over each other. I was no longer listening. I was already gone. Already on my way to California. A voice in my head saying, ‘Enough death! Enough! When is someone in this family going to break free and live?'”
Upon leaving his father and brother in the cemetery, Harry walked to Frogmore Cottage and was greeted at the door with a long hug from his wife, Meghan. Listening, one could tell all was right with his world in that moment.
Seventeen months after his grandfather passed, Harry was notified that his Granny was gone.
“Pa was king.”
Harry: A Man. Not a Spare.
Harry likens California to life. By extension one can also hear that he sees Meghan and America as givers of life also. Speaking of the past, of honoring long-dead ancestors with bows, and salutes while passing monuments in their image, it’s easy to see how generations became mired in death and stuck in the ways of the deceased.
Spare begins with an institutional family meeting where Harry is resented for expecting and seeking his individuality. Where he confronted his punishers for retaliating against him for attempting to live his life on his terms with a partner of his choosing. We can all understand why Charles would be resentful. He was denied his choice for most of his life. The book also highlights why William is resentful – as the heir, he’s held to a stricter rule than Harry. Being his own man was never on the table for William.
Spare ends with the realization of life being an active choice. By remaining in the traditions he was raised in, death had become part of everything. Ancestors were buried in houses; walls were held together with blood. Images of the dead were on walls and standing in corners. Harry wasn’t aware of an option other than death worship. Tradition had taught him he was only in the world to support the lives of his superiors, not to live his own life. Tradition had taught him to put the crown and institution before self and family. Tradition had taught him that obedience to duty came before everything. There was a pecking order to obedience. His brother was above him. His father was above his brother. His granny was above everyone. If granny said yes, it didn’t matter what the other two said. Yet his brother could still physically assault him and threaten him with no consequences. His father could still remove his protection to bring him into obedience as he saw fit.
Then Meghan came along. A Black Woman who had made a name and career for herself crossed his line of sight. Someone he connected with whom he had a great deal in common. Someone who exuded life and joy. Someone who demanded to be respected for who they were, not because of their name or position. A humane human with a good heart. Harry became smitten and developed a new life-focused purpose.
Harry had tested his constraints throughout his life. But he had tested with mischief. He had played at being naughty and shocking. He had explored options within the parameters set for him. Because of the way his family treated Meghan, he had to think in a new way and explore options outside of everything he had ever known. In doing so, he learned more independence than he thought possible. More importantly, he learned, experienced, and embraced love. Love for himself, his wife, their relationship. Love has expanded Harry into a protector, a provider, a man, a husband, and a father.
In the last minutes of his story, Harry describes his daughter’s birth. He shares his verbal greeting and his desire to welcome Lilibet skin to skin. He shares that later, as he and Meghan laid skin to skin, she spoke his testimony to him, words he now hold sacred. “That was everything. That is a man. My love, that is not a spare.”