When I was a sophomore in high school, I watched two young boys walk behind their mother’s coffin. Theirs was a posh world of opulence, royalty and history. These were young princes, the heir and the spare, to the Crown that had dominated the world, but in that moment, they were two brothers struggling with grief, confusion, and anger. When I was a senior in high school, I’d taste the grief and anger of having a parent stolen from you – perhaps the only thing I shared with the two princes. I followed the family with a slight interest after that – always wondering how their lives would be different if Princess Diana hadn’t died. Harry was my favorite. He was unpredictable, ran wild, and bucked against tradition – even through the media lens, you could see that 12 year old boy trying to find happiness, trying to find his spark again. And he did. In Meghan. As their relationship grew, and the media scrutiny became rabid and hateful, I began to pay closer attention. And I fell in love with not only their love story, but with how Harry found his voice.
Spare (Random House 2023) is the story of a young prince, born to never be more than second-best or replacement parts, who found the love and family he thought had been buried with his mother. And it’s the story of how he would give up the aristocratic world he was born in to protect what is precious to him. To Harry, family is more important than the Institution, and that’s the legacy his mother left him.
Reviews of Spare are all over the place right now. Some people hate him with a passion that I will never understand other than to believe that the hatred is laced in centuries of colonialism and racism. Some people just don’t care. Some people are fiercely devoted to the Crown and see this as a betrayal. And some people, like me, feel a connection to Harry and want to see him happy. Read the reviews accordingly.
I’m just going to touch briefly on the actual book itself. Divided into three sections (childhood, military service, Meg), it reads at times like a fever dream or a drunken stranger spilling his guts at a bar after too many pints. But there’s something endearing about this form of storytelling. How he speeds through and glosses over painful sections, how emotions are hiding in every detailed description of a room, how he repeatedly wants to hug his Gran, how memories of his mother consistently flit about the pages. (People are latching on to the Elizabeth Arden cream with reckless abandon and delight. Me? I saw shaking honesty – grief and memory are powerful and uncontrollable monsters – you don’t get to choose when they show up.)
Harry delicately approaches making negative statements about his family, and the lion’s share of his hatred is for the media. Where his family gets painted in a rather unfavorable shade is somewhat in the sibling rivalry with William and in Camilla’s questionable actions, but more so in how the family feeds the beast, sacrificing the spare for the sake of the Crown. Harry’s realization of it is there, but like many of the more painful sections, he glosses over it. To him, the villain is and always was the media. (There is a heartbreaking recollection of looking at the police file from his mother’s accident and realizing that the bright spots in the photo are the flashes from all the cameras feasting on her body.)
Some key take aways? Harry has done a lot of work on himself. He’s healed some generational traumas and found a healthy and happy relationship with himself. He’s set boundaries that preserve that happiness. He can’t change the centuries of colonialism and stolen fortunes that built his family’s empire, but unlike other members of the royal family, he’s open to learning, open to listening, and open to change.
Spare is Harry’s successful attempt to reclaim his own narrative. I applaud him for it, and I think his mother would as well.
*I intentionally took this photo with my amaryllis, a flower that has long stood for pride, strength and determination. Stand tall, Harry.