Wait. Say that again. They call each other Willy and Harold? Harry’s necklace was ripped?! He was injured by a dog bowl!?!?! The explosive account of a fight between Prince Harry and Prince William, from Harry’s forthcoming memoir Spare, contains the kind of intimate, incidental details that usually make me giddily incredulous. I’m the type of casual royal watcher who has vague political opinions about inherited privilege but will neck a new Tina Brown book like it’s a tasty mojito. I watch new seasons of The Crown in a single sitting. I have even googled “Princess Margaret wearing sunglasses young”. Basically, I’m here for the drama. So I find myself in an unusual position. Harry’s book is undoubtedly the biggest and most anticipated book release of 2023, offering a no-holds-barred look into the reality of his royal life. And yet… the thought of actually reading it? Oh god. Now I’m not actually sure that I want to.
So far, the leaked excerpts of the book, which was accidentally published early in Spain, have been horrifyingly personal. The more that emerges – Harry begging his father not to marry Camilla, Meghan accusing Kate of having “baby brain” – the more I feel a stress headache coming on. The Queen’s death in September made a forthcoming book full of broadsides feel catastrophically timed, with the publication date not finally confirmed until the end of October. But now Spare – really, what a title – is about to come out, and I want to run and hide.
It’s not just the problem of oversaturation, although there is that. The joke that Harry has broken his silence – “again” – is turning into a cliché. This is the opposite of silence; a constant cacophony. The appearances come thick and fast now, with two major TV interviews for the book’s release, both heavily trailed with déjà vu-ish quotes. (“I don’t know how staying silent is ever going to make things better”). Last year’s six-hour Netflix saga made me feel like I was stuck in a Groundhog Day of softly lit petty grievances and dramatic but vague claims. “I had to do everything I could to protect my family,” said Harry. “I was being fed to the wolves,” said Meghan. We saw a couple who seemed paralysed by bitterness, who had overplayed their hand and overestimated the public’s interest in them. In my review of the second volume, I feared they’d made a Faustian pact, destined to only garner attention by criticising the royal family, the very institution they’d wanted to escape.
Judging by early insights into the contents of Spare, this seems to be continuing – and it all just feels too private. There’s an uneasy sense of being made a voyeur to a family in deep pain, in a way we didn’t ever need or ask to be. Stories of fights and fallouts may fascinate us, but I suspect many will simply want to turn away. As Tolstoy wrote, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”; festering family rifts are as common as they are difficult, and at this point I’d assume that proud royalists and staunch republicans are generally united by the fact we’d all quite like to see the Windsors heal.
In writing his own memoir, Harry was perhaps inspired by his mother’s collaboration with Andrew Morton on the biography Diana: Her True Story, based on covertly recorded interviews with the princess. It’s now been described as the closest thing we’ll ever get to her autobiography, but the context is quite different: unlike Harry, Diana was then still in the royal family, married to their heir to the throne and unable to use her own voice.
In their Netflix documentary, Meghan, on one of the many occasions the couple used their own voices, asked, “When the stakes are this high, doesn’t it make sense to hear our story from us?” But that’s the thing with a lot of royal stories. They’re low stakes, glamourous soap operas, full of unreal versions of real people, and most of us know that. My own royal fascination basically comes from an interest in history, gossip and nice dresses. I’m not here to be a fly on the wall for a family therapy session. Some may argue that The Crown is damaging to the royals – but we know that it mainly consists of nice-looking recreations of things on the public record, or imagined versions of things that aren’t. We can all walk away from it knowing that the royal family will still be standing there, unfussed, on our pound coins and stamps, waving from a horse carriage. They are public figures, the personalities of which we largely conjure ourselves. It’s part of the public’s own pact that we do all of this at a respectful distance. It sounds like Spare is putting us all a little bit too far into each other’s personal space.