Overview:

Britain's Prince Harry knew from the get-go that he would never be king as long as his brother, William, was alive.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Among many juicy tidbits in British royal Prince Harry’s newly released tell-all memoir, Spare, is his recollection of treating his frost-bit penis, suffered during a 2011 Antarctic expedition, using cream his late mother used on her lips.

Wrote Daily Beast senior editor David Fallon in a rollicking, light-hearted essay on the salacious if peripheral revelation:

He describes how he applied Elizabeth Arden cream to his royal scepter [or “todger,” in Harry-speak], which, as it happens, is the same cream his mom used on her lips. “As soon as I opened it, I was transported in time. I felt as if my mother was right there in the room. Then I took a smidge and I applied it…down there.”

But despite such curious if compelling Freudian asides, the memoir at heart is—paradoxically—both a full-frontal attack on his royal family and a fervent plea for familial reconciliation.

It might seem never the twain shall meet.

Yearning for family, ‘not an institution’

Harry “wants a family, not an institution,” he wrote in Spare. “… I would like to get my father back; I would like to have my brother back.”

Unfortunately, as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “Harry thought he’d find closure in disclosure.” Instead, he found himself in a morally fraught enclosure.

The “todger” anecdote is just a distracting detail in the memoir’s much broader tableau of the prince’s abject sense of betrayal and marginalization by his family (hand-in-glove with tabloid media)—traumas that led him and his wife, Meghan Markle, to flee first to Canada and then to America to escape the coercive duties and indignities of third-tier royalty. And, in his telling, royal racism (Markle is mixed-race).

They fled in January 2020 “in fear for our sanity and physical safety,” Harry wrote in Spare.

The title of the book—Spare, as in “the heir and the spare,” elder Prince William and back-up Prince Harry—fully if simply encapsulates all the private hurt and anxiety contained within its covers. In Spare, Harry writes of the toxic dynamic that dominated his life:

I was the shadow, the support, the Plan B. I was brought into the world in case something happened to Willy. … it was made explicitly clear to the boys from birth that if William got sick, Harry, as the spare, might need to provide a “spare part”—a kidney or bone marrow—to save the heir.

In one moving passage in Spare’s first chapter, Harry had just returned from the US for his grandfather Prince Philip’s funeral. On a chilly, windswept spring day, he nervously met his father and brother beside a refurbished Gothic ruin in his family’s Frogmore Castle gardens, where both Harry and William had once planned to be buried in their “forever homes.” The purpose of the meeting was to mend fences regarding his and Megan’s abrupt departure from England and relinquishing of most royal duties. After a strained beginning and awkward small talk began descending into acrimony, Harry writes:

I gestured to the gardens, the city beyond, the nation, and said: Willy, this was supposed to be our home. We were going to live here the rest of our lives.

You left, Harold.

Yeah, and you know why?

I don’t.

You … don’t?

I honestly don’t.

I leaned back. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was one thing to disagree about who was at fault or how things might have been different, but for him to claim total ignorance of the reasons I’d fled the land of my birth—the land for which I’d fought and been ready to die—my Mother Country? That fraught phrase. To claim no knowledge of why my wife took the drastic step of picking up our child and just running like hell, leaving behind everything—house, friends, furniture? Really?

I looked up at the trees: You don’t know?

Harold, I honestly don’t.

I turned to Pa. He was gazing at me with an expression that said: Neither do I.

Wow, I thought. Maybe they really don’t.

Staggering. But maybe it was true.

And if they didn’t know why I’d left, maybe they just didn’t know me. At all.

And maybe they never really did.

And to be fair, maybe I didn’t either.

The thought made me feel colder, and terribly alone.”

The Gordian Knot of misunderstanding

This painful chasm of misunderstanding pervades the book and led Harry to embark on an ethically complicated campaign to tell his truth to the world, a choice made knottier by the many millions of dollars the couple has been paid to be interviewed by internationally prominent media outlets, and to create self-serving documentaries and other products, all which will inevitably and deeply hurt family members and harm reputations.

“Spare” at heart is—paradoxically—both a full-frontal attack on his royal family and a fervent plea for familial reconciliation.

Airing dirty royal linen is fraught with danger.

The Washington Post’s Dave Von Drehle opined in a recent essay— “Lisa Marie Presley, the King’s doomed princess”—about the aura of royalty surrounding the only child of “The King” Elvis and Priscilla Presley, who unexpectedly died this week of a heart attack.

Lisa Marie Presley grew up among lives starved by celebrity and stunted by fame. Expectations were defined by the accomplishments of people who never completed the first mission in life: formation of the self. The British sage Walter Bagehot wrote that monarchy runs on a magic that cannot stand the scrutiny of daylight. The same is true of America’s star-making machinery.

And it’s likely true of British royals and the international fascination they engender.

Harry and Meghan, formally known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have suffered a barrage of indignation since their self-banishment from those who have no sympathy for whom they see as whiney, uber-privileged elites somehow fancying themselves victims.

The unavoidable problem of hipocrisy

Harry himself understands this inherent problem of unavoidable hypocrisy. For one thing, he once derided Britain’s aggressive, grasping tabloid media for stealing his privacy, whereas now he is courting the same media and spewing all his own and his families’ secrets for the world to consume. For another, he claims he only wants to reunite with his royal family in its good graces yet is gratuitously trashing these very people.

All, he says, in pursuit of understanding and personal justice.

Wrote Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker in an essay titled “Harry’s truth may be too true to protect against regret”:

To tell his truth, in the modern vernacular of self-sharing, [Prince Harry] denuded the monarchy, exposing his torments at the expense of the palace, including his brother, William, Prince of Wales and future king; his father, King Charles III, and his father’s consort-queen, Camilla.

His motive, he has said via several televised interviews, a six-part Netflix docuseries and his book, “Spare,” was to tell his side of the often-tawdry stories persistently leaked to the malicious British press by the above-mentioned family members. Or so he believes. …

Despite his best efforts, Harry couldn’t penetrate his family’s proud armor nor displace the family motto: Never complain, never explain. Ultimately, he ran away and began rewriting the fairy tale of his own life.

Patti Davis, the daughter of late US President Ronald and Nancy Reagan, warned Harry in a recent essay—“Prince Harry and the Value of Silence”—that he may live to regret this oversharing about his family, especially from the emotionally scarred vantage of a young man.

Truth more complicated than it appears

Davis, who wrote her own tell-all memoir back in the day, now says, with remorse, that she believes truth is actually far more complicated than she once believed as a young woman wrestling with family issues:

There isn’t just one truth, our truth — the other people who inhabit our story have their truths as well. … Years ago, someone asked me what I would say to my younger self if I could. Without hesitating I answered: “That’s easy. I’d have said, ‘Be quiet.” Not forever. But until I could stand back and look at things through a wider lens.”

Which is not to say that Spare and the other revealing aspects of Harry and Megan’s campaign to authentically tell their truths are not instructive and important. In many respects, they are both. They tell us things we don’t know about the world and warn us again of others we do.

One important take-away is that personal dignity and respect is as important as wealth and prestige.

Another is that, sometimes—even oftentimes—the less said the better.

But, in the end, we are too often compelled to extravagantly do what we think is right but suspect may be wrong, damn the consequences.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...