Stop pretending to be shocked by Harry's book - he's just following in his own father's footsteps

Princess Diana (1961 - 1997), Prince Harry, Prince William and Prince Charles at a parade in the Mall, London, during V.J. Day commemorations, August 1994. Diana is wearing a Tomasz Starzewski suit and a hat by Philip Somerville. (Photo by Terry Fincher/Getty Images)
Harry, William and their parents pictured in the summer of 1994, two years before they divorced following their turbulent marriage. (Getty Images)

With just days to go before the official release of SPARE, the world is finally learning the secrets from inside Prince Harry’s long-awaited memoir.

Early leaks have already revealed a number of the major moments from its 416 pages. Harry writes that Prince William (a man Harry calls “beloved” but also an “arch-nemesis”) physically assaulted his brother and that he pleaded with Prince Charles not to marry Camilla — no stone is left unturned.

For those who have already had sight of the manuscript, the feedback has been strong. Powerful, important and compelling are just a few of the adjectives used. Tabloid coverage may make this memoir look like a tawdry tell-all, but reading it from start to end tells a much more nuanced and layered story. One with heart as well as fire.

Harry has spent most of his life being written and talked about—a spare to the heir whose darkest secrets, regretful moments and struggles have repeatedly been revealed to the world by a press with an insatiable appetite for him and his family. Having never been able to share that life in his own words, it was inevitable the prince would want to put pen to paper the moment he stepped back from his royal role three years ago. A chance to reclaim his voice on the historical record.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - SEPTEMBER 23: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan interact with children during The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visit to Nyanga Township on September 23, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. Their Royal Highnesses made their first visit in South Africa, to a Justice Desk initiative in Nyanga township, which teaches children about their rights, self-awareness and safety, and provides self-defence classes and female empowerment training to young girls in the community. (Photo by Brenton Geach/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex during their visit to South Africa in 2019, before the couple stepped back from the royal fold. (Getty Images)

It’s a story that, for 38 years, people have not been able to get enough of. But the release of SPARE, despite its promise of “raw, unflinching honesty,” has also been met by huge criticism from the same people rushing to click on or write stories about him.

The dramatic pearl clutching would have you believe that this is, to borrow a cliche from the royal reporting dictionary, an unprecedented moment for the House of Windsor. One of the Royal Family’s very own breaking their (questionable) “never complain, never explain” mantra to share private stories that supposedly should have been taken to the grave.

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But short-term memory loss will do that to you, because Harry is far from the first senior royal to open up like this. In fact, he only needed to look at the actions of his own father (and mother) for a set example.

Princess Diana finally sharing her truth to Andrew Morton in 1992 for Diana: Her True Story may be fresh in the minds of many due to its recent retelling in The Crown, but many forget that our current Head of State did exactly the same.

As a man who felt so misunderstood during the breakdown of his marriage and his journey to the throne, Charles turned to BBC journalist Jonathan Dimbleby in 1994 to write a once-in-a-lifetime biography on his life so he could be better understood. Sound familiar?

Charles and Harry on a skiing holiday in 1994 in Switzerland. (Getty)
Charles and Harry on a skiing holiday in 1994 in Switzerland. (Getty)

Just like Harry’s ghostwriter J.R Moehringer, the then Prince of Wales spent countless hours sitting down for interviews with Dimbleby, as well as providing access to his friends and aides, and opening up his private archives of 10,000 private letters, journals and diaries.

The result was a tome that offered a deeply intimate look at Charles like never before. The story of an heir's emotionally repressed childhood, his “detached” and often absent mother who was too “preoccupied” with her career to show warmth, and a capricious, judgmental father who just wanted his son to grow up to be a thicker-skinned, aggressive leader.

Writing about both books, a New York Times critic said at the time that each biography painted pictures of “hapless victims — victims, for all their wealth and glamour, of emotionally deprived childhoods, a voracious press, unfortunate circumstances and duplicitous friends”.

Picture taken on October 17, 1994 at london showing the headlines of the national morning newspapers published the day after the Sunday Times published extracts from an authorised biography on Prince Charles by Jonathan Dimbleby. In the book the prince claims to have been pressured into his marriage to Diana by his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, and that he, in fact, never loved her. - traitement cc (Photo by Johnny EGGITT / AFP) (Photo by JOHNNY EGGITT/AFP via Getty Images)
UK newspapers the day after the Sunday Times published extracts from the authorised biography on Prince Charles by Jonathan Dimbleby. Charles claimed to have been pressured into his marriage to Diana by his father. (Getty Images)

For Charles, the negative response from the British press and public was intense. Accused of ferociously attacking his family and disgracing the monarchy, newspaper polls and opinion pieces declared him unfit to be king and some journalists even suggested he should be stripped of his titles. (Sounds familiar again?).

But there have been no regrets about sharing his story, sources have told me in more recent years. If he didn’t do it then, he would have had to forever deal with the fact that only tabloids, newspapers and unauthorised biographers told his story in their words.

The Guardian’s Martin Pengelly—a reporter with an impressive track record of getting copies of embargoed books—was first to reveal some of SPARE’s biggest page-turning moments on January 4. Tabloids were quick to label them “attacks” on the monarchy, claiming Harry is “bashing” his family once again. It’s a sloppy narrative.

A woman leafs through the
Revelations from Harry's book emerged after it went on sale in Spain five days earlier than planned. (Getty Images)

Sure, there are still plenty more shocking moments in SPARE to be read — after all, there was a reason lawyers at Penguin Random House sent back 41 pages of questions (single spaced!) to Harry and Moehringer after submitting a final draft in April 2022. Among those, Harry accuses family members, including William, of leaking information on himself in exchange for positive coverage or favours. Camilla sits at the centre of those claims, with surprising details about how her image rehabilitation efforts involved throwing a young Harry to the wolves. Though it was difficult for him, he says he now understands that this was not personal and simply part of his role as "the spare" — an easy fall guy to prop up more important family members.

But this is also a book that, when read in full, paints a sympathetic picture of the family at the heart of this institution. One that, in rare private moments, is (kind of) like any other. They fight, they’re competitive, they get jealous of each other, they fall out. Sure, King Charles may not love for the world to know he used to do home workouts in his underwear, but candid moments like these and others do help humanise a group of people who have all been reduced to caricatures in a very public circus.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Prince William, Prince of Wales, Catherine, Princess of Wales, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex pay their respects inside the Palace of Westminster during the Lying-in State of Queen Elizabeth II on September 14, 2022 in London, England. Queen Elizabeth II's coffin is taken in procession on a Gun Carriage of The King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall where she will lay in state until the early morning of her funeral. Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on September 8, 2022, and is succeeded by her eldest son, King Charles III.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
The fractured relationship between two couples is laid bare by Harry. (Getty Images)

The story here is so much bigger than "angry son lashes out at the monarchy, off with his head!". Just like his father and mother, Harry is highlighting the impossible challenges and difficulties faced by a family trapped in a gilded cage. Harry vividly depicts a world in which no one is able to have healthy relationships, where hierarchy leaves some lost and purposeless, where innocent women marry in but leave emotionally battered and bruised, and a putting on a brave face is only achievable alongside serious mental health struggles behind closed doors. All of this while the press—newspapers that the Royal Family foolishly believe they still need in order to remain visible and relevant—pick apart every piece of their pain and suffering for profit.

This is unlikely to be the final “bombshell” memoir written by a senior British royal — but it may be the last for a while. Whether this is Harry’s final word on his relationship with his family remains to be seen. The ball, as he says, is very much in their court.

Watch: The bitter story behind Princess Diana’s ‘revenge dress’ and what The Crown got right