Wednesday, February 1, 2023

I Read Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ So You Wouldn’t Have To… But Now I Really Think You Should

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Think you know everything about Prince Harry’s much talked about biography, Spare, because you’ve read all the headlines? Think again.

I’ve oscillated between two settings the last couple of weeks: On one hand, I’ve felt entirely fatigued by the sheer volume of stories coming out about the royals off the back of Prince Harry’s tell-all book. Every time I scroll and see a new headline, I’ve internally groaned. Do we really need this many stories? This much detail?!

But then, in the same breath I’ve – rather guiltily – clicked on a ridiculous number of headlines. I’ve also watched every interview with Harry. Read an alarming number of snide opinion pieces. And, despite the fact I figured there couldn’t possibly be anything else new to know about, I still pre-ordered the book on Audible, particularly once I learned that Prince Harry himself was narrating the audiobook.

Well now, I’ve read – well, listened to – all 232 chapters of it. All 15 hours and 37 minutes of it.

I figured I’d get through it as quickly as possible and write up a summary about it, titled ‘I’ve Read Spare So You Don’t Have To.’ But now, after reading it, I’ve changed my mind.

I really think you should read it too.

Because, no, the headlines and most of the opinion pieces I’ve read, haven’t got it right. They’ve completely missed the mark.

Yes, there are some cringey moments in the book, where Harry gives too much away and talks about losing his virginity in the field outside a pub, or his drug-taking, or the ‘fight’ over bridesmaid dresses, the literal fight between Harry and William (or Harold and Willy as they call each other), or his tales of war and the killing of 25 souls.

But, whilst still a little cringey, I found finally reading them almost jarring. Because in context – without being cherry-picked for a headline – they’re much less clunky lines, and often just throw-away sentences, wrapped up in a story or anecdote about a much bigger issue.

And yes, his motives for writing the book are wildly contradicting – really, Harry? You want to sit down and have a real conversation with your father and brother and rebuild a relationship – a conversation you don’t ever want to be leaked – but yet, you have just written a book revealing the most private details of their lives (and bodies)?? That part really didn’t make any sense to me.

I’ve read so many scathing stories about the book now, comparing Harry to a petulant child who has chucked his toys, and written something embarrassingly silly. ‘Poor little rich boy, making tone deaf complaints’, has been the sentiment of the bulk of the things I’ve read.

But after reading Spare – particularly the first two parts of the three-part book – I get it. I understand why he wanted to do this. Why he felt he had to. And it’s a shame so many people have jumped to conclusions without reading it fully, or not reading it with empathy, or, in the case of many newspapers, not reflected on the role they have played in the making of the Harry we know today.

Soon into reading the book – and for most of the way through it – a thought kept coming back to me. It’s theory on fame I heard many years ago, that apparently George Clooney came up with.

It’s this idea that fame stunts you at the exact time it arrives, keeping you mentally frozen there forever – be it 15, 25 or 55. It explains why George Clooney has been able to keep a cool head, with fame only finding him when he was in his mid-30s, after hitting it big on ER. It explains why Leonardo DiCaprio will permanently be 22, dancing with models and smoking in bars at 4am. Why Britney Spears still wears pigtails and twirls around like a teenager, making up dance routines and videoing them in her lounge.

Except in Harry’s case, it hasn’t been a case of when fame found him (otherwise he would still be stuck as an embryo), but rather when an all-encompassing, life-shattering grief discovered him. When Harry was just 12 years old he went through the most public loss of a parent that any child in history has ever gone through.

Has he been able to really move past that moment? Of course not.

Sometimes reading Spare, I heard the voice of a mature, nurturing parent, army veteran and doting husband in his late thirties. But other times, I couldn’t help but hear that little hurt 12-year-old boy, who was so wronged by the world. A world that was so brutally unfair. Doesn’t every 12-year-old think the world should be fair?

It didn’t make me feel like scoffing at him for being silly, or petulant, or shaking him that he should feel so lucky for living in a palace. And it certainly didn’t make me want to find fault or look for facts he might have wrong in the book, like many media outlets have done (I still cannot understand how so many headlines have been generated from him mistakenly writing that Meghan booked an Air New Zealand flight from Mexico to the UK, “first class”. Really? For a start, it’s highly plausible that he would have to take two flights for such a journey. It would make sense to take a first short flight from Mexico to Los Angeles, then linking him with Air NZ for the long haul from LA to London. And then to scold him over calling “business premier” first class? Petty. Who cares!).

But instead what it did make me feel was the urge to go back in time and give him a hug and the chance to chat – a hug he so desperately needed growing up, but never received.

So much is written about the profound effects that the grief of losing a parent can have on a child. A UK based study that looked at adults who had lost a parent before the age of 18 had staggering results. It showed that those children were more likely to experience a wide range of negative impacts in adulthood – particularly in regard to trust, relationships, self-esteem, feeling of self-worth, loneliness and isolation, and the ability to express feelings.  

In their findings, they also stated, “broader research on childhood trauma suggests that the quality of the relationships within the family influences a child’s recovered after trauma occurs. An important factor is whether the child feels safe and secure within a loving supportive family, with a surviving partner who is able to parent effectively.”

Harry had none of that. None.

The most affection he received from his father was a hand on his knee as he told him, “Darling boy”, your mother has been in a car crash and “hadn’t made it”. The now-king then left, while Harry sat alone in his room – for hours – to digest the news.

Alone. For hours. At twelve years old. With the news that the person who loved him most in the world, who protected him most, was gone.

It’s no wonder he refused to believe his mother was dead.

He writes in the book of it taking more than a decade to believe it. It makes for heart-wrenching reading, hearing him only refer to her death as her “disappearance” for many years. Hearing how he woke up each morning thinking “this might be the day she reappears!”, how he spent his nights dreaming of being reunited with her – whether it was after she arranged a press conference for her triumphant return, or by simply running into her (in disguise) on a street corner. He tells of later looking through the photos of the crash scene, for some proof of her death, but instead just seeing a red mist of rage, realising the photographers were taking photos of her lying slumped in the car, rather than checking for a pulse or holding her hand during the wait for emergency services to arrive.

He recalls the very first time he cried about her death, watching her coffin being slowly lowered after her funeral. But even then, as tears fell down his face, he wasn’t crying over her death, he says, instead he was crying over the idea of her death.

“It would be so unbearably tragic if It were actually true,” he writes.

And there, this young boy, standing over his mother’s coffin, sobbing uncontrollably into his hands had just one other feeling – a deep shame for showing his emotions.

He was “ashamed of violating the family ethos,” he writes – consoling himself with a thought, that perhaps it was okay to cry just this once, because at least no cameras were there to capture it.

How shameful that we would now ridicule him for telling his story – the story of a 12 year old boy, who was so horribly wronged, and who just needed a world where people played fair.

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