Author: Prince Harry
Narrator: Prince Harry
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: January 10, 2023
Print length: 410 pages
Audio length: 15 hours, 39 minutes
Source: Audible (hardcover from library)
It was one of the most searing images of the twentieth century: two young boys, two princes, walking behind their mother’s coffin as the world watched in sorrow—and horror. As Princess Diana was laid to rest, billions wondered what Prince William and Prince Harry must be thinking and feeling—and how their lives would play out from that point on.
For Harry, this is that story at last.
Before losing his mother, twelve-year-old Prince Harry was known as the carefree one, the happy-go-lucky Spare to the more serious Heir. Grief changed everything. He struggled at school, struggled with anger, with loneliness—and, because he blamed the press for his mother’s death, he struggled to accept life in the spotlight.
At twenty-one, he joined the British Army. The discipline gave him structure, and two combat tours made him a hero at home. But he soon felt more lost than ever, suffering from post-traumatic stress and prone to crippling panic attacks. Above all, he couldn’t find true love.
Then he met Meghan. The world was swept away by the couple’s cinematic romance and rejoiced in their fairy-tale wedding. But from the beginning, Harry and Meghan were preyed upon by the press, subjected to waves of abuse, racism, and lies. Watching his wife suffer, their safety and mental health at risk, Harry saw no other way to prevent the tragedy of history repeating itself but to flee his mother country. Over the centuries, leaving the Royal Family was an act few had dared. The last to try, in fact, had been his mother. . . .
For the first time, Prince Harry tells his own story, chronicling his journey with raw, unflinching honesty. A landmark publication, Spare is full of insight, revelation, self-examination, and hard-won wisdom about the eternal power of love over grief.
I know there’s been a lot of general chitchat online about Prince Harry basically oversaturating the market with multiple presentations of his story. There was the Oprah interview that more or less kicked things off, the multi-part Netflix series Harry & Meghan, and now, the release of his memoir, Spare. Given how much coverage has already been dedicated to this royal couple, is a book really necessary? Is there anything new that hasn’t already been shared? Yes, and yes.
In Spare, Prince Harry narrates his life (literally, for those listening to the audiobook), essentially starting with the devastation of Princess Diana’s tragic death in 1997. For Harry, a boy of just twelve years old, her death was beyond comprehension. In fact, as we see in Spare, he spent years deeply believing that his mother was actually in hiding, just waiting for the moment when it would be safe to reunite with her boys. Throughout the section of Spare that covers his youth, he refers to his mother’s “disappearance”, never her “death”. It’s chilling, to say the least.
The book is divided roughly into thirds, covering his childhood and youth, his army service, and his relationship with Meghan. The first third, Out of the Night that Covers Me, is the most powerful, and actually brought me to tears several times. Strip away the Royal Family trappings, and what we have is the story of a boy suffering a tremendous loss and not having the support or resources to deal with it. The events, as they unfold through Harry’s memories, are overwhelming, baffling, painful, and isolating.
As the narrative moves into Harry’s teen and young adult years, he covers his growing devotion to working and living in Africa, his search for meaning and purpose, his experiences in the army (in the book’s second section, Bloody, But Unbowed), and the ongoing strains of his family relationships, especially with his father and brother.
And finally, section three of the book, Captain of My Soul, gets into his romance with Meghan, the viciousness of the media attacks on her, and the couple’s departure from official royal life. Most of this is familiar already, but it’s still interesting to hear Harry’s perspective and gain new insights on the internal struggles he experienced and the painful interactions with the family members he should have been able to count on.
I listened to the audiobook, which I think is the way to go. Prince Harry does the narration, and of course, it’s especially moving to hear him tell his own story.
For the most part, I found him sympathetic and straightforward. Yes, I suppose we could scoff at the “poor me” aspect of it all — after all, being royal is the ultimate state of privilege, isn’t it? He acknowledges all of this, and yet also points out the absolute weirdness of suddenly being cut off after a lifetime of trained dependency. His father isn’t just his father, he’s also his boss, his business manager, and the controller of all of his funds. Harry points out that he’s never carried money or placed an order online. What kind of way to live is that? (He does mention that he has an inheritance from his mother that he and Meghan didn’t want to touch, since they wanted it to be for their children… which, okay, that’s a nice goal, but then it’s hard to feel too sorry for them when Harry gets into the extremely high cost of security, then mentions buying their perfect home in Santa Barbara).
Still, there’s a sadness throughout when it comes to telling the story of being part of an emotionally withholding family — a family that’s also a business and an institution, where closest relationships come with heavy strings and expectations and requirements, but not a whole lot of space for difference or grief or nonconformity. It’s hard to imagine the enormous pressure of being under constant scrutiny and harassment — Harry’s harshest stories and commentary are leveled at the corrupt media and the “paps” who show no mercy when it comes to getting a story or a photo, even when these stories and photos put people’s lives at risk.
Overall, I found the storytelling powerful, honest, and unflinching. Harry is open about his own flaws, his emotional struggles, and his doubts and fears. He very clearly explains and illustrates, over and over again, the ongoing impact of his mother’s death and how that informs his worldview, as well as his unending need to keep his wife and children safe at all costs, even if that means breaking with his own family and all that being royal entails.
Of course, media coverage has been focused on the big “reveals” (such as misunderstandings between Kate and Meghan, the fuss over Meghan’s wedding tiara, etc), but in actuality, Spare is at its most affecting as the story of loss, grief, and family.
Well worth reading, and I highly recommend the audio version.