Prince Harry’s 400-page temper tantrum

Prince Harry’s 400-page temper tantrum

Spare is one of the most annoying books I have ever read.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Books UK

This is the most annoying book I have read in a long time. Even the bio on the first page is annoying. The Duke of Sussex, it says, is ‘a husband, father, humanitarian, military veteran, mental-wellness advocate and environmentalist’. I’m surprised it didn’t add ‘He / him’. Environmentalist? Mother Nature might have something to say about that. The man who once flew in a private jet to a Google camp in Sicily to speak about climate change, and who snorted ‘No one is perfect’ when a hack had the temerity to point out that 60 per cent of the flights he takes are on private jets, is now putting ‘environmentalist’ in his actual bio? Now that’s chutzpah. Or gaslighting. One of those.

Actually, Spare is a big, fat, wordy act of gaslighting. It’s a 400-page tantrum about family and money and tiaras (I’m not joking). It’s primal therapy masquerading as memoir, where the aim seems to be less to tell the truth about what’s being going on in the deranged House of Windsor than to absolve Harry and Meghan of any responsibility for it. These two are never to blame for anything, apparently. Drama and malice just magically appear whenever they’re around. Curious. Most of all, Spare is an act of fraternal treachery. I don’t know much about life in a royal family. But I know about brothers. And I know that if any of my brothers did to me what Harry has done to William in this infernal book, it would be game over. The betrayal of confidence contained in this self-pitying tome is extraordinary.

Irritation drips from every page. There’s the Jamie Oliver-style banterous lingo. Harry goes on a ‘lads’ trip’ with a ‘bunch of muppets’. His grandpa, Prince Philip, liked to ‘rock a bit of scruff now and then’, he says, by which he means grow facial hair. He loves a cheeky Nando’s. That’s a surefire way of ‘enhancing my calm’, he says – ‘Nando’s chicken’. He and a mate were ‘proper fucked’ once when they tried to round up some cows. ‘Fuck fuck fuck’, he says to himself in Afghanistan, like one of the middle-class characters in a Richard Curtis film. One of his military superiors had ‘the heart of a fucking ninja’, he says. ‘And at that moment I needed a ninja.’ At Eton he watches Family Guy ‘while stoned’ and forms an ‘inexplicable bond with Stewie’.

He pops his cherry with an ‘older woman’ who ‘liked horses’ and who ‘treated me not unlike a young stallion’. It happened in a ‘grassy field behind a busy pub’, he relishes in revealing, like a posh version of Jay from The Inbetweeners. Then she ‘smacked my rump and sent me off to graze’, he says. Look, I loved the Queen, but I’m glad she’s dead right now. There are no fewer than four mentions of ‘banter’ in the book. For his stag do, he and his pals decamped to a house in the Hampshire countryside – natch – where they donned ‘giant boxing gloves’, rode a ‘mechanical bull’ and painted their faces and ‘rough-housed like idiots’. If you don’t want to read Spare – please don’t – you could always recreate its vibe by sitting next to a privately educated, rugby-playing bloke at a bar for an hour. It will be the exact same.

As the book progresses, though, you find yourself mourning the loss of Nando’s Harry as we witness the rise of sappy Harry. So, after his scrap with William over Meghan or something, when William allegedly pushed him, broke his ‘necklace’ and caused him to fall down on the dog’s bowl, he phoned his therapist. ‘I needed to talk to someone.’ His therapist tells him to ‘take deep breaths’. Harry really has no idea how silly this sounds. That he phoned his brain guru after William pushed him will be far more shocking to the normal person than the fact that William pushed him. Harry later works out that he is ‘suffering from post-traumatic stress’. He seeks counselling, including from someone who says she has ‘powers’ that allow her to speak to his late mum, Di. She tells Harry that Diana is here, ‘right now’. ‘I felt my neck grow warm. My eyes watered.’ This is some ouija-board bullshit. Meghan was at it, too. Harry describes the time he found Meg at Diana’s grave at Althorp House, ‘kneeling, eyes shut, palms against the stone’, praying for ‘clarity… and guidance’.

Of course, everyone feels for Harry and William over the fact that their mum died when they were young. Just as we feel for the millions of people across Earth whose mothers left too soon. Right now, somewhere on this planet, a poverty-stricken family is mourning the death by disease or hunger of a wonderful, loving mum. Where are the tears for them? But there are moments in Spare when, with the very best of intentions, you feel you want to grab Harry by the shoulders and say: ‘Mate, it’s time to move on.’ It is ‘still hard to think of Mummy in the realm of Death’, he says. ‘Mummy, who’d danced with Travolta, who’d quarrelled with Elton, who’d dazzled the Reagans – could she really be in the Great Beyond with the spirits of Newton and Chaucer?’ This is a little odd, no? What about mums who never danced with Travolta or wowed Nancy Reagan? Let’s please not measure a person’s worth by their encounters with celebrity.

Beyond Diana, the things Harry expects us to sympathise with him about are insane. Let’s start with Beardgate. That’s a word he actually uses. This was when William allegedly instructed him to shave off his beard prior to his wedding with Meghan. ‘I’m telling you, shave it off’, Will supposedly said, ‘as the Heir’. ‘For the love of god, Willy, why does this matter so much to you?’, Harry allegedly replied. Then Harry twigs – it mattered to William because he had been forbidden from wearing a beard when he got hitched to Kate. Someone told Will to ‘be a good boy, run along and shave it’, Harry writes. ‘He hated the idea of me enjoying a perk he’d been denied’, he says. And there it is, a perfect example of a cynical Harry revelation being more morally dubious than the thing he’s revealing. If William really did shave his beard on command, that’s sad. But that Harry exposes all this stuff, offering it up as entertainment to the lip-licking literary set, is far more morally iffy. What happened to privacy, Haz?

Then there’s Tiaragate. If the pressure put on Harry to shave his bumfluff didn’t tug at your tear ducts, surely his tussles over Meg’s wedding-day tiara will. It goes on for pages. We’re all wondering how to keep the lights and heat on during the energy crisis and Harry’s obsessing over a diamond crown. Short version: the Queen offered Meg a tiara for her big day, but then the Queen’s personal assistant, Angela Kelly, stalled things. At one point, she said she couldn’t find an orderly and a police officer to ferry the tiara over to Harry and Meghan – can’t you just relate? – and this infuriated Harry. ‘She was being obstructive… but for what reason?’, he wonders. One chapter ends on a cliffhanger about the goddamn tiara. ‘She was still in possession of that tiara’, he says about Angela (his italics). ‘She held all the cards.’ Meghan receiving a tiara a little later than expected? Is anyone else welling up?

It all brings to mind the 1997 documentary about Elton John called Tantrums and Tiaras. That’s this book – tantrums and tiaras. Of course, Elton features. There’s a bit in this hard-done-by tale when Harry’s on the phone to ‘Elton John and his husband, David’, when he says to them: ‘We need help.’ ‘Come to us’, Elton replies. So they do. They go by private jet to Elton’s home in the south of France. Harry says it felt like ‘release from prison’ to be in the ‘scandalous luxury’ of Elton’s French pad. He’s taking the piss now. Comparing life in a royal palace to life in a prison is bonkers. Hilariously, even their Mandela-like taste of freedom in Elton and David’s ‘decadent’ holiday home is ruined when Elton mentions that his memoir is going to be serialised in the Daily Mail. Harry – hater of the tabloids – is incensed. The minute Elton mentioned the Mail, the beads of sweat were ‘dripping off my forehead’, he writes. ‘But, Elton – ? The very people who’ve made your life miserable… I just… don’t understand’, he says. Party pooper, much? I bet Elton and David were delighted when these irritants left.

The indignities suffered by Harry and Meghan are endless. At one point, Charles says he can’t pay for Harry and Meghan’s lives: ‘Well, darling boy, you know there’s not enough money to go around.’ ‘I flinched’, writes Harry. Erm… why? Most of us stopped relying on our parents when we turned 18. Why should you be any different? Get a job! Harry can’t believe that his ‘Pa, with all his millions from the hugely lucrative Duchy of Cornwall’ was saying that Harry and Meghan were costing a ‘bit too much’. The rest of us can’t believe that a married couple in their 30s expected to live off daddy. ‘[How] much could it possibly cost to house and feed Meg?’, Harry wonders. Oh grow up. Her wedding dress alone cost $265,000. That lady’s expensive.

Or maybe you’ll shed a tear over Harry and Meghan’s plain furniture. There’s a bit in the book when they visit Will and Kate’s pad and Harry feels a pang of jealousy over the flash surroundings. ‘The wallpaper, the crown moulding, the walnut bookshelves lined with colour-coordinated volumes, the priceless art. Gorgeous’, he writes. It all made him think, ‘sheepishly’, of his and Meg’s ‘IKEA lamps [and] our discount sofa recently bought on sale, with Meg’s credit card, from’. Welcome, Harry, to how all of us live. Isn’t it extraordinary that H&M pose as ‘new royals’ and yet they expect us to blub into our handkerchiefs over the fact that they had to decorate their palace rooms with some Swedish flat-pack?

The rotten heart of this book is its double standards over peace and privacy. I am going to put it plainly: Harry is a hypocrite. He moans about the Mail on Sunday’s decision to publish a letter that Meghan wrote to her dad. H&M eventually sued over that breach of privacy. To see something ‘so deeply personal’ being ‘smeared across the front pages’ felt ‘invasive’, says Harry. And yet, he then tells us in eye-watering detail about his blow-ups with William, about William’s temperament, about every little thing William said. He publishes Kate’s text messages. He reports what his own father said to him. The Mail on Sunday can be forgiven for what it revealed about Meghan and her dad, given it doesn’t personally know them. For Harry to reveal intimate details and stories about people he knows and loves – his dad, his stepmum, his brother, his sister-in-law – is far worse. The Mail on Sunday did what tabloids do. Harry has done what the vast majority of people do not do – he spilt the beans on his own family.

Harry’s whole attitude to the media is revealing. The book confirms that posh contempt for the tabloids is always a mask for posh contempt for tabloid readers. Harry moans about the Sun and the Mail and all the rest, but it is the apparently dim folk who read those feral outlets that he really seems to have it in for. He goes on about ‘tabloid readers’ who couldn’t get enough of the joke that he is the son of James Hewitt. ‘Maybe it made them feel better about their lives that a young prince’s life was laughable’, he writes, with exacting snobbery. The ‘truly scary part’ of the tabloid phenomenon in the UK is that ‘some readers actually believed their rubbish’, he writes. He gleefully reports his dad’s view that tabloid journalists are the ‘scum of the earth’ and that they ‘bait readers into buying [their] paper’. Ordinary people have stories ‘drip-fed to them, day by day, and they come to believe [them] without even being aware’, Harry says. We’re so dumb! Shame Harry didn’t leave behind the old-world snobbery when he flew the monarchical nest, eh?

He wonders about tabloid hacks: ‘What had become of all the shame they’d felt in the late 1990s?’ In short, where’s the mortification you felt over my mother’s death? Why isn’t that self-hatred still your guiding light? Why are you not taming yourselves, as we expected you to? I sympathise with Harry over his mum, but this…? This I can’t deal with. We should not tolerate the marshalling of tragic royal figures to the end of stymying the free press.

What Harry has done to William makes all the tabloid revelations about H&M pale into insignificance. He blabs about William’s every reddened facial expression, his behind-the-scenes angst, his emotional instability. How are you going to weep over the invasion of your privacy by the media while so flagrantly violating the privacy of your own brother in the media? The mote in the tabloids’ eye is tiny compared with the beam in Harry’s.

In essence, Harry has sold out his brother. And for what? To settle old scores? For kudos? To make Meghan happy? I believe he will come to regret writing this terrible book.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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