When I heard that Prince Harry had written a ‘tell all’ book I was a little like many others that expressed exasperation at the potential over sharing considering they (he and his wife) where asking for their privacy. Then I sat back and wondered how this would be helpful to him. I grew up in the UK. The Royal Family, or Firm, as it is affectionally known, was an ever-present element in daily life. There was a picture of his grandmother, The Queen, on the wall at school. The Wedding of his mother to his father. Seeing Prince Charles playing Polo is the fields of Cowdrey in Midhurst, and Princess Diana watching from the white wooden bleachers. Seeing her stomping the divots and laughing as she did. Somewhere in the boxes I have in storage is a photo of Heir to the British throne in his mid-30s and shirtless as he changed mid-game. I remember collecting centre spreads from the Daily Mail of Diana wearing red, or Diana in her best-looking blue outfits. As a child, I was complicit in the hounding of a family for the next snippet of ‘news’ about their lives. I even harboured dreams of Prince Edward being a possibility, but he never turned up at the polo.
In 1997, I was woken by the news that Diana had died. We all remember where we were, even if we claim not to really care about it.
I also remember watching the press carnage afterward and thinking ‘Those poor boys’. I was 25 and had never lost anyone close to me. I watched the funeral, not because I really wanted to, but it was ‘expected’.
Fast forward to a few years ago. Prince Harry, long my favourite for his shenanigans only garnered for the 'news', and now the continued hounding of his chosen partner. I had long ago stopped believing much I read in the press, too much over the years had been proven false, not just about the Prince and his bride to be, but most celebrities.
As a Brit is Australia I was often asked for my opinion. What I believed. What I thought. I remember a mate asking, “As a Royalist what do you think about the blue blood being tainted with black?”
My first thought, and unfiltered words from my mouth, “what the f*ck is that racist piece of sh*t question?’
We’re no longer friends (very different views on respect apparently) and I distanced myself even more from gossip press. I deliberately didn’t click on the bait.
The only exception was when I saw a story about Harry undergoing EMDR treatment for the experiences around the death of his mother. Knowing what I knew about the treatment process, I surmised that his experiences in Afghanistan may have also come up.
Of course, with the leaks a few days before official release I had been unable to avoid the soundbites of out of context snippets. So when I handed over my dollars on Wednesday for a copy of the freshly, officially, released copy of Spare, I did so with my therapist lens, rather than my, only human, salacious, intrigued lens (hence I kept it wrapped in the brown paper bag, like all forbidden things).
It’s long. 400 pages plus of smaller than average writing in hardback format. This all adds up to a lot of words. These words are broken into three section, and even smaller chapters. Most of the chapters don’t even cover a double page spread. They are short interludes of story, often with a question or reflection at the end. He acknowledges in the introduction that his memory may be unreliable on some things, and anyone who know how the body and mind works, it's clear what's happened. Of course, on social media and in the press he's been criticised for getting minor details wrong. Who really gives a crap if it was a Playstation or an Xbox?
What stood out for me from the beginning was the use of the word “disappearance” when referencing his mother and how he believed that she would return to claim him and his brother. The grief in his words was palpable and on a number of occasions it brought me to tears.
“’I’d say it after breakfast: Maybe she’s going to reappear this morning.” (p.66)
A detachment and inability to grieve and no one to show him how or tell it was OK. Disenfranchised grief screams from the windows of his dorm rooms where he ung out smoking and watching omens pass on by. This narrative and language shift slightly as the story develops, it's interesting to see how.
I noticed that the detractors and those decrying his words from the book in the leaks were from the stories taken completely out of context. The story about losing his virginity, makes perfect sense when read in context of the rest of the chapter about being questioned for something else. The comment about seeing his brothers baldness, flows with him outlining why he decided to write the memoir. The frostnip…yup, you guessed it, works. He has a sense of humour about his failures of judgement, he takes responsibility for actions and choices even when others he trusts to have his back have clearly guided him to the path of his decision.
He candidly talks about his Army training. I could quote many passages, but the one that stuck with me is on page 98;
“What’s that you say young man? Parents divorced? Mum’s dead? Unresolved grief and psychological trauma? Step this way!”
Over the next few pages he describes basic training at Sandhurst (I grew up less than 30km/19mi away), the more advanced officer training and ultimately the final test.
The trauma therapist in me was seeing the pattern. He was excelling at tasks that pushed him to the limits of human endurance. He classmates tapping out, but he persevered. Human endeavour and duty at all cost even at the expense of emotion and feeling, even physical pain. I can’t help but wonder what his Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) would have been when he walked eight miles (13km) with trench foot.
The second section is mostly about his attempts at personal relationship, and his time spent overseas in war zones. There are passages that are not easy to read. He’s been criticised for revealing the details and boasting about his number, but as he said in his Stephen Colbert interview the day the book came out:
“My whole goal and my attempt with sharing that detail is to reduce the number of suicides.”
The tone changes again in the third section that is about meeting and marriage to Meghan Markle. The love for his wife oozes off the page. Her lack of knowledge about the Firm. The innocence with which she happened to meet The Queen on a day when the popped in to see Aunt Sarah (Sarah Ferguson) wearing slashed jeans, and again the humour in her not having done any research via Google. Of course, with this story being mentioned in the Netflix Limited Series, you may have already heard about the curtsy and seen the backlash criticising her for being disrespectful, but here we see a fuller, more comprehensive telling and again:
“She definitely hadn’t goggled us.” (p.293)
He talks candidly, although not always with clarity, his mental health. While it’s clear he knows nows what was going on, the ways it’s presented is with the fuzziness and confusion of the time. You feel that confusion and deep internal pain. He had no idea why he felt numb at times, then. He does now. He writes about going to a therapist and not feeling a connection and that it didn’t work. He often about his self-medicating, although that is NOT the term he uses. He then opens about the catalyst for another attempt, more successful go at therapy. He doesn’t talk about methodologies or length of time doing the work, but his therapist gets a thank you in the Acknowledgments. He also mentioned group therapy in the Stephen Colbert interview saying it was;
“A little bit like group therapy.” The audience made a brief aww noise and he went on to say, “Ohh you didn’t know did you!”
So... it’s likely he has knowledge of the working of that too.
Throughout the book he speaks with affection for all his family. Even when highlighting the flaws in the system there’s a deep love on show. They’re all referenced with familiar names to him rather than formal titles, which gives a glimpse into a family that shares love but doesn’t always demonstrate it in a way that suits all members.
If his love language is Physical Touch, he’s the only one, it seems. Words of Affirmation seemed to be somewhat lacking as well, until Meghan came along.
It seems that the most nurturing relationship where with friends in faraway places. His love and affinity with Africa and her wild nature is clear. His protection officers kept him safe as they were with him constantly, but they also did all the things only a trusted Uncle would do with a nephew. Taught him to ride a bike (motor and pedal), helped him after a big night, and held his hand (metaphorically) when it was needed.
A constant presence is his relationship with the press*. A necessary but bothersome evil of life as a Royal in the public eye. I get the feeling this book is his way of saying ‘It’s all out there. No more space for speculation of my paternity, drug use, sex life, war experiences, mental health…we’re done. Now off you f*ck!’ The writing a catharsis, an unburdening. Possibly a spectacular example of journalling.
After 407 pages, two very late nights, and nearly 20 hours, I was left wanting to congratulate him on the truly epic self-work around his grief and trauma, some masterful boundary setting, and commitment so self-discovery, and most of all, give him a hug.
I'd recommend it.
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*I haven't linked any of the negative stories mentioned in this post, given the nature of the damage done by accessing them and out of respect, you can search them yourself, if you must.