Book review of Spare (2023) by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex
David Warden, a qualified humanistic counsellor, was shocked to discover on reading this book that Harry and his brother William were provided with virtually no emotional or therapeutic support to process the untimely death of their mother. He argues in this review that the human rights of Harry - and other members of the Royal Family - are routinely violated for the sake of our entertainment.
I’ve never read tittle-tattle about Harry and Meghan but, like most people, I absorbed and went along with the public disapproval which followed their move to California in 2020. The characterisation of them as spoilt, woke, unpatriotic trouble-makers determined to cash-in on their royal celebrity status seemed all too believable. And it was easy to blame the American woman as the real villain who had stolen ‘our Harry’ and turned him into an idiot. But I always prefer to hear things from the horse’s mouth and so I purchased a Kindle copy of Spare to read on my smart phone. The writing was often tedious and I had to speed-read through its 409 pages. But at times I found myself moved to tears.
Our theme this month is human rights, and I couldn’t help but read Harry’s memoir in the context of Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.’ The absolute disregard of these rights in relation to Harry - and indeed most members of the Royal Family and those associated with them - on the part of the press is shocking in the extreme. The mother of Harry and William, Princess Diana, was killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997 whilst being pursued by the so-called ‘paps’. The following morning, twelve-year-old Harry was woken by his father, Prince Charles, to be told that Mummy had been in a crash. “They tried, darling boy. I'm afraid she didn’t make it.” Neither of the boys was provided with much emotional support or any bereavement counselling and, subsequently, few people spoke to them about their mother’s death. Harry cried when she was buried on an island in the Althorp estate but apart from that one occasion, he never cried. For many years he believed that she had not in fact died but was in hiding and would one day come back to them.
Harry did not go to university – he wasn’t the scholarly type. Instead, he joined the Army and became a helicopter pilot, serving in Afghanistan. His deployments were usually cut short when his location became widely known, because he was deemed to be a ‘bullet magnet’ – not only for himself but also for those around him. Wherever he went, he had bodyguards to protect him from kidnap or assassination. After serving in Afghanistan he was clearly suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder such as panic attacks, although to what extent this was caused by military service or unresolved childhood bereavement was not entirely clear, although the latter was obviously a major factor. Seeing a therapist, at last, seemed to help.
His hatred of the ‘paps’, judging by his reconstruction of the way they caused his mother’s crash and then nearly destroyed his wife by their vilification of her, seems completely justified. Wherever the couple went in the world to escape the relentless harassment, it would only be a matter of days or, at most, weeks before they were hunted down and subjected again to drones, cameras, stalking, taunts, intrusion - and another barrage of vicious, made-up stories. His father’s advice was always not to read what was written about them. Sound advice perhaps, but easier said than done when you are trying to protect the person you love most. And what made the situation even more intolerable for Harry was the Faustian pact between the Royal Family and the press, with stories and tip-offs being fed to the press by palace insiders to gain some PR advantage for one team over another.
Harry’s Granny, the late Queen, and his Pa, King Charles, come out of this story pretty well. Charles always calls him ‘darling boy’ and never seems to get angry. His brother Willy comes out of it less well – the much-publicised physical assault being just one of many episodes of anger, seemingly driven by rivalry and his higher rank in the pecking order. Of course, this is only one side of the story, and we’re unlikely to hear much in response from King Charles, Prince William, or other members of the Royal Family. But for the public and historical record, it’s a valuable first-hand corrective to the mountains of lies, distortions and drivel that have been published about Harry and Meghan. It’s also a fascinating case study of a human life laid bare. Every therapist should read this book.
Why should we care? I think we should care because this is what our constitutional arrangements do to one family. They are dehumanised and treated like animals in a zoo. The Queen managed to rise above it, but the punishments meted out to other members of the family for the sake of our entertainment can be savage. We owe Harry, at least, the effort to hear his side of the story.