OK, I will admit it: I am fascinated with the British royal family. Not nearly as much as some–I never watched the weddings, for instance, not for lack of interest, but because I really don’t have time–and I’ve never bought a magazine with a royal on the cover. After reading Spare, I’m glad of that latter.
But I’ve been fascinated by them nonetheless–in part because of a book I’ve been working on for years that incorporates a “royal” element–and especially with Harry and Meghan. I think it is because they feel so real and approachable. They put a down-to-earth face on what always seemed like a fairy tale. They feel like people I could invite over to dinner and have a normal conversation with.
I watched the Oprah interview; I watched the Netflix special. And when the book Spare came out a few weeks ago, of course I was going to read it. But my to-read list is long and it took a while to get to the top.
In the interim, I heard and read a lot of the chatter around it. I was actually kind of surprised by how, well, mean, some of the podcasters were. But I will also admit that their jaded comments influenced me going into the book. I guarded my heart for a while in the reading, in other words.
The underlying threads that tie this memoir together are how the death of Princess Diana impacted Harry–who was never allowed, let alone taught how, to grieve properly; the status as “spare” in his family, and how those two things were manipulated, exacerbated, and used by a nefarious tabloid press in the UK.
Basically, the criticisms I heard were:
“He’s one of the richest, most privileged guys in the world; how dare he whine for a whole book?”
“He basically admitted he’s illiterate, so all this flowery description in the book by the ghost writer is ridiculous.”
“Everybody hates the press, but come on.”
“For someone who claims to hate the press, he’s seeking an awful lot of attention.”
“How can you throw your family under the bus like that?”
So I’m writing today to share my thoughts on those subjects after reading the whole book.
On the rich, privileged whiner: Harry does not come across as a person who really had any interest in being rich and privileged. I mean, everyone who writes their own story is going to cast themselves as the hero, but unless he’s flat out lying, a guy who lives in the basement apartment with low ceilings, etc.; a guy who hid in the trunk to escape attention; a guy who spent lots of time in Africa to escape the press and slept outside; a guy who worked in the Outback; a guy who worked for years to get into the military and kept begging to be sent back to war–this is not a guy who was looking for a posh, easy ride. He strikes me as a guy who was saddled with a situation that crushes people and literally has no way to escape, because of who his dad is. Also, unless he’s flat out lying, he never really had money of his own; he only got what his dad gave him. Which, I totally admit, was enough to cover luxury trips I could never afford. But, given the descriptions of his actual apartment when he reached adulthood, sounds like there was a big gap between ordinary life and fabulous trips/ceremonial duties.
Illiterate: The people who said this said, “He admitted he hates reading.” Well, actually, that’s not what he said. What he said was, he wasn’t a fabulous student, and in the years after his mom died, he tried hard to avoid time alone and in the quiet, where his thoughts might come out to get him, and reading books was the epitome of both of those. This does not equal illiterate. Come on, people.
On the press: What Harry describes in the book is an intolerable way to live. Any one of us who experienced what he’s experienced would have a nervous breakdown. Imagine the trauma of losing your mom at age 12, knowing the cause was the paparazzi, and then being retraumatzied every day of your life by them doing the same thing to you–and then stepping it up when you finally find someone who helps you heal. And, unless he’s lying, the tabloids (some of which, at least, I don’t know how many, were owned by Rupert Murdoch, so there’s that) made up north of 50% of what we heard about him. It’s a legitimate beef.
On seeking attention: I admit I had this thought too, although in a more “huh, I’m curious as to why” rather than judgment. But it actually came to make sense to me. Given that he got cut off by his father, AND the paparazzi persecution and tabloid false narratives constructed around his wife haven’t changed, all of which requires gargantuanly expensive security, it makes sense to me that he’d say, “Hey, I need to support myself; they won’t let me make a living serving in the military anymore, and I need to support my family. Why not harness the public fascination to earn an income?”
On the family: Yes, this one I get. How can that family ever heal after something like this? I would guess that if there are distortions of reality in the book, they most likely live here, not out of bad will, but because we all see our own side more clearly than anyone else’s. OTOH, that is one seriously dysfunctional family and they don’t seem to have any interest in doing what is necessary to fix it. 100%, it makes sense to remove oneself from that situation, even if it means sacrificing family closeness. (If you can call it that.) Whether it’s moral to go public with all of it is a different question, but the complexities behind that discernment take into account all the things above, and I wouldn’t tell him he was wrong to discern as he did.
So there you go. My long-winded take on a fascinating read. Who else has read it? Surely we can have a spirited discussion on this cultural phenomenon. 🙂