"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"Harry’s emotional incontinence drowns out everything."
A copy of Spare landed in my lap. Naturally, I didn't buy it. After all, Harry has enough money to get a skilled ghostwriter to manifest his 'lived experience' with all the angst that this turbulent prince can summon. However, having slagged him off, it's only fair that I read his ill-advised memoire.
Let's be clear; the book is exceptionally well written to the extent you have to ask which elements the ghostwriter conjured into existence for effect. Some descriptive aspects bear the marks of embellishment: "I felt an overwhelming sense of Overture, Prelude, Kettle, Drums. Act 1" ... Harry muses on first meeting Megan. Did he have the band of the Grenadier Guards outside?
But this all begs the question — who is leading who here? If there is any merit in the book, it's an affirmation that a skilled ghostwriter can work wonders.
On the other hand, no words can hide that the poor lad craves our empathy but can't shake off his conceit. Sisters-in-law having a row, brothers arguing, and the other machinations of a family — all standard stuff.
Yet, Spare is a book driven by a unique level of self-pity. Petty complaints about small bedrooms and other imagined slights abound. In Harry's mind, a room next to the servant's quarters is banishment to the hinterlands. Gripes like this soon erode any sympathy.
We've already heard from several people who appear in the book. They assert parts are exaggerations, while other recollections are simply wrong. But, of course, the media had a field day with this.
Also, this book is part of a broader, full-bore campaign to score points with the public. TV appearances and media interviews are the other pillars of this strategy. So, don't get sucked in by the statements of reconciliation. I surmise that the last thing Harry wants is a happy ending; he has another book in the wings.
Every page oozes with Harry feeling sorrow that he's the Spare, treated as a secondary consideration and shunted aside. And in none of that is any recognition of the extraordinary privilege handed him at no cost to himself.
When drunk and seeking to vent, he tries to pick fights. We've all been there. Anyone else would receive a swift slap-down or a good kicking that they could reflect on in the morning. Harry’s bodyguards restrain him. Hence, he can hardly complain that newspapers portray him as a 'hooray henry' when he behaves that way.
It would be easy to dismiss the book as a long rant from a spoilt man-child traumatised by his mother's death. But that's an unfair assessment. The book is worse than that.
Harry is angry at Pa for taking a new wife and furious that Megan suffered. In addition, he's pissed off at his brother, his sister-in-law, the media, courtiers … and the list goes on. This tale is the stuff of Shakespeare, reworked into a latter-day soap opera to play out before us.
For sure, Harry had a rough time. Divorced parents, endless press scrutiny and his Mum dying at the hand of a drunk driver. It can't be easy. Then again, Harry played a role in the circumstances that evolved. Although, any acknowledgement that he contributed to the outcomes is missing.
We all felt massive sympathy for the grieving child Harry, then chuckled at the party Harry. He then signed up for the military and did his bit. On the back of that, Invictus Harry earned our respect as he leveraged his position to help injured service people. But, unfortunately, the current incarnation is less appealing.
A couple of remarkable episodes jumped out at me. First, Harry deplores the press, yet he is more than willing to lie upfront about a drug habit when threatened with exposure by a journalist. He then boasts at getting away with it.
And with that, he casts aside any claim to be an honest narrator. Instead, like the press, the royal household, and others, Harry is a player in the game of manipulating public opinion.
Next, with no sense of hypocrisy, he berates Paul Burrell, Diana's former butler, as a self-serving man who exploited her death to make money by writing a book. He claims this, "Made my blood boil". Oh, dear. Even the smallest amount of self-reflection is missing from Harry's world.
Having thrown in the royal towel, Harry and Megan moved to the U.S.A., forging a new path with a young family. Of course, he could have left matters at that. But Harry’s emotional incontinence drowns out everything. And while this public airing of his bile may earn him short-term sympathy in some quarters and, in equal measure, disdain in others.
Some pundits seek to project their desires by asserting that Harry has landed a fatal blow on the House of Windsor. This is not true — it's survived worst. For sure, I'm sceptical about the royals, but the Firm will brush this off.
After all, in the U.K., Harry's standing in the polls puts him at the bottom with Prince Andrew, an accused paedophile. That takes some doing.
What to conclude from all this? Well, a decent ghostwriter can do great things. Still, that may not be enough because Harry is now in a game of diminishing returns. I suspect that this doesn't end well for him.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.