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The Top Revelations From Prince Harry’s Memoir

Here’s everything you need to know about ‘Spare’

Prince Harry
Joshua Sammer/Getty Images for Invictus Games Dusseldorf 2023 / Random House

It’s finally on sale in bookstores and downloading on devices, but you might suspect there’s little left to learn about Prince Harry’s memoir Spare after the deluge of details about its contents swamping the media over the past six days.

Sure, all the flammable bits are out there to be picked over, and high-profile interviews have been broadcast with the rebellious prince, who says this book explains why he gave up his royal role to protect his family.

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But there’s more than just “bombshells” being lobbed in this book. From the opening pages, Harry sounds rather lyrical, with a large helping of irony. He even quotes William Faulkner (“The past is never dead. It’s not even past”) in his epigraph.

“When I discovered that quotation not long ago on BrainyQuote.com, I was thunderstruck,” he writes in the first chapter. “I thought, Who the fook is Faulkner? And how’s he related to us Windsors?”

It may be that the tone and style of the book reflect the writing skills of Harry’s American ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer, a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of celebrity biographies whose own 2005 autobiography, The Tender Bar, was turned into a movie produced by George Clooney and starring Ben Affleck.  

Thus far, most people, especially the British media, are focused on the explosives, especially the critical things he says about his father, King Charles III; his older brother, Prince William, who’s now the Prince of Wales; William’s wife, Princess Kate; and his stepmother, Queen Consort Camilla.

But the leaks don’t seem to be hurting sales: By Tuesday, when the book was officially released, it was number 1 on Amazon’s U.S. and U.K. bestseller charts. 

The Associated Press reported that some U.K. bookshops opened at midnight local time to meet demand for the long-awaited tome, which enjoyed a huge spike in awareness thanks to the Duke of Sussex’s multiple cross-Atlantic TV interviews to promote it. 

It was hard not to turn on a screen without seeing Harry’s bearded face talking, talking, talking: about fractious royal family relations, even physical fights between brothers. About the unsatisfying and awkward position being the “spare” to the heir, whom he calls “Willy,” and the fierce competition that engendered. 

In these prepublication interviews, he spoke in despairing terms about his untreated trauma following the death of his mother in 1997, when he was 12. He accused palace courtiers of failing to defend — or even briefing against — his wife, the former Meghan Markle, from overblown allegations of a feud with her sister-in-law Kate. He had some sharp things to say about other members of his family, including his stepmother, but much of the duke’s contained rage was directed at what he described as predatory and mendacious British tabloids.

He even talked about how he lost his virginity, the kinds of drink and drugs he sampled as a youth, and the number of Taliban fighters he killed during two tours of duty with the British army in Afghanistan — revelations that evoked outraged comments from some army veterans and from the Taliban government. 

But here’s what we learned from the actual book: 

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The story behind the inaccurate news release about the birth of baby Archie

The birth of the Sussexes’ first child, Archie, in May 2019 was dramatic for several reasons, including that the baby was overdue and the couple was determined to avoid the media spectacle that greeted the birth of Prince William’s children outside St. Mary’s Hospital in London. So, Harry writes, they snuck away in the night from their home in Windsor to a different London hospital and she was induced; within two hours of Archie’s birth, they were back home at Frogmore Cottage.

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Then the official announcement of the birth was released, declaring that Meghan had gone into labor — even though she had already given birth. This was contrary to what the Sussex communications team told the media in advance about timing the announcement. Harry blames his communications secretary, whom he identifies in the book as just Sara.

“I had a tiff with Sara about that. You know she’s not in labor anymore, I said. She explained that the press must be given the dramatic, suspenseful story they demanded. But it’s not true, I said. Ah, truth didn’t matter. Keeping people tuned to the show, that was the thing,” Harry writes.

In any case, the British media were furious about being fooled, Harry writes, though he dismisses their ire. 

“Did they really expect special consideration, preferential treatment — given how they’d treated us these last three years?” he writes. “And then they showed the world what kind of ‘partners’ they really were. A BBC radio presenter posted a photo on his social media — a man and a woman holding hands with a chimpanzee. The caption read: ‘Royal baby leaves hospital.’ ”

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He called the queen’s courtiers the Bee, the Fly and the Wasp.

Harry describes, in mocking zoological terms, three high-ranking courtiers to his grandmother, the late Queen Elizabeth II.

“I’d spent my life dealing with courtiers, scores of them, but now I dealt mostly with just three, all middle-aged white men who’d managed to consolidate power through a series of bold Machiavellian maneuvers,” he writes. “I disliked these men, and they didn’t have any use for me. They considered me irrelevant at best, stupid at worst. Above all, they knew how I saw them: as usurpers. Deep down, I feared that each man felt himself to be the One True Monarch, that each was taking advantage of a Queen in her nineties, enjoying his influential position while merely appearing to serve.”

When he appealed to “the Wasp” about their ongoing problems with their press coverage, he agreed that the situation was abominable. and needed to be stopped before someone got hurt, and suggested a palace summit of all the major newspaper editors.

“Finally, I said to Meg, someone gets it. We never heard from him again,” Harry writes. 

Harry didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral until her private burial. 

Besides “never complain, never explain,” another royal motto could be: There’s no crying in public. But Harry couldn’t help himself after the searing experience of his mother Princess Diana’s 1997 funeral. He describes the scenes that he best remembers, such as family friend Elton John singing his reworked version of “Candle in the Wind” for “Mummy” during the service at Westminster Abbey. 

“But I do have one pure, indisputable memory of the song climaxing and my eyes starting to sting and tears nearly falling. Nearly,” Harry writes.

He remembers his Uncle Charles, Diana’s brother the Earl Spencer, and his eulogy, which blasted everyone — family, nation, press — for “stalking Mummy to her death. You could feel the abbey, the nation outside, recoil from the blow. Truth hurts,” Harry writes.

When Diana was buried (in private) on an artificial island in a lake on her family’s estate, Althorp, in Northamptonshire, Harry finally broke down. He believes she was buried with a picture of himself and his brother between her hands.

“For all eternity we’d be smiling at her in the darkness, and maybe it was this image, as the flag came off and the coffin descended to the bottom of the hole, that finally broke me,” he writes. “My body convulsed and my chin fell and I began to sob uncontrollably into my hands. I felt ashamed of violating the family ethos, but I couldn’t hold it in any longer. It’s OK, I reassured myself, it’s OK. There aren’t any cameras around.”

He avoids discussion of the “racism row.” 

What Harry didn’t write about in the book is notable: He doesn’t mention one of the most incendiary allegations he and Meghan talked about in their 2021 Oprah Winfrey interview: that someone in the royal family expressed “concern” about how dark their child’s skin would be while Meghan was pregnant with their first baby. 

They have never identified which royal supposedly said this and they say they never will. Their comments, and Winfrey’s reaction to them, set off an uproar in the United Kingdom and Buckingham Palace, leading Prince William to sharply reject the idea that the royal family is racist when asked by a journalist during a public appearance a few days after the interview. 

But in his TV interviews for the book, Harry denied the couple ever accused the royal family of racism, pointing out that Meghan never used that word. It was the British press who twisted what they said into a racism row, he asserted, whereas the Sussexes believe the comment was “unconscious bias.”

“The two things are different,” he told ITV’s Tom Bradby on Sunday. 

"It’s not racism, but unconscious bias if not confronted, if not acknowledged, if not learned and grown from, that can then move into racism,” Harry told Michael Strahan of Good Morning America on Monday.

Still, in the book Harry never corrects the record about an episode that damaged the British monarchy more than anything else he has said or done since his 2020 exit from royal life. And it’s still reverberating.

Camilla: Evil stepmother? Dangerous? PR obsessed? It’s complicated.

Harry’s feelings about his father’s second wife, the infamous “third person” in his parents’ marriage ­— Charles’ longtime mistress Camilla, now his queen consort — are complicated and, according to the book, all over the map. 

As boys, Harry and William welcomed Camilla to the family but begged their father not to marry her, fearing unnecessary controversy. Harry wondered if she would become his “evil stepmother” but eventually realized that wouldn’t happen. She was the villain in his mother’s story about her failed marriage, but Harry can see Camilla has been good for his father. Harry sympathized with Camilla, even wanted her to be happy, yet he saw her as potentially “dangerous” for what he believes was her strategic PR campaign to improve her public image before her 2005 marriage to his father. 

He thinks Camilla leaked and made deals with the British tabloids to trade press coverage favorable to her at his expense, even though by most accounts the Camilla rehabilitation campaign was run by Charles and his PR team while Camilla took on charitable work and tried to remain discrete at all times.  

While some of the tabloid coverage of the book focuses on Harry’s “attacks” on Camilla, once labeled by these same tabloids as the most despised woman in Britain, Harry’s comments about her in the book are more conflicted. 

“I had complex feelings about gaining a step-parent who, I believed, had recently sacrificed me on her personal PR altar,” Harry writes. “But I saw Pa’s smile and it was hard to argue with that, and harder still to deny the cause: Camilla. I wanted so many things, but I was surprised to discover at their wedding that one of the things I wanted most, still, was for my father to be happy. In a funny way I even wanted Camilla to be happy. Maybe she’d be less dangerous if she was happy?”

He remembers watching them drive off after the wedding and thinking: “They’re happy. They’re really happy. 

“Damn, I’d like all of us to be happy.”

Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 5, 2023. It has been updated to reflect new information.

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