Prince Harry’s revelatory memoir 'Spare' has only officially hit the shelves today, even though its contents have been plastered over the media for days.
Revelations and promotional interviews with Harry have dominated the headlines and the release of 'Spare' and its candid insider’s account about the royal family have created something of an unprecedented crisis for the monarchy.
Euronews Culture spoke to Angela Levin, journalist, royal commentator and biographer, about 'Spare', Harry’s accusations, the role of tabloid press in the UK and whether the negative ripple effects created by Harry’s revelations could irreversibly damage the monarchy.
Euronews Culture: You wrote a biography on Prince Harry in 2018 – ‘Harry - A Biography of a Prince’ – which painted the portrait of a rebel-turned-role-model, someone who was giving the British Royal Family a 21st Century makeover. You accompanied him on several engagements over the years, and yet now, you Tweet that he should “shut up” and that he’s “very ill”. I’m guessing that the recent interviews that he gave on 60 Minutes and ITV were not to your liking…
Angela Levin: Well, he just seems so robotic and as if he’s saying something that has been drummed into him, not something that’s spontaneous. People have said that he’s a dope, that he doesn’t know much. He’s not academic, but he’s very quick thinking, with humour and coming back with ideas. He didn’t need a script when he was giving a speech – he would do it from his heart. That’s what I was used to. Obviously, I’ve changed, because I have seen how he has developed over the years since then. But sitting there like a zombie and saying things which I don’t even think he believes, it made me feel so angry. There’s no reason why I should feel angry, but I think it’s a mixture of sadness and anger that he has self-destroyed.
I can’t see how people would accept him in the way they did – whether it’s his family, the army, young people, who have stopped thinking very much of him. Everyone has got a family and a large percentage of people don’t attack them when everyone can hear. If you have a row, which everybody can do, you do it quietly – you sort it out between you. Harry is saying all these hideous private things – he’s been a man who has always looked after his own privacy and will sue any newspaper. He hates the British press and will sue them at the slightest opportunity. Yet what’s he’s said about his father and William and himself I just think is absolutely shocking. I don’t know how he can do that.
Was he on drugs? Is he on drugs? It doesn’t seem to make sense that a mature man of 38 will say that he wet his pants an hour before he met Megan for the very first time. You put that in a memoir? And he’s reporting very secret information to the public. He says that William has been circumcised. We don’t need to know that. He says that he’s been circumcised. I don’t need to know that either. But to say that about his brother, who’s in fact heir to the throne, is just nasty, stupid, idiotic, and I think a lot of people have turned against him because of that.
Whether the royal family is good or bad, like it or not, but we all have a family, and I think that the way he deals with his own family at the moment is shocking, particularly about Camilla.
He’s been very outspoken about Camilla in the book and the interviews, saying that she was “the villain” and that she “sacrificed (him) on her personal PR altar”. As someone who also wrote a book published last year about the Duchess of Cornwall, do you recognize or understand where these comments come from?
I think he’s just made them up. She’s not like that. She’s a woman who doesn’t like to be in the middle of the attention. She’s ideal for King Charles because she’s very supportive to him. She makes him very happy and makes him stronger, and she’s always there. That’s her priority. The other thing about her is that she wants to help those who are needy – she’s done a tremendous amount about domestic violence and she does loads behind the scenes. She’s very funny and loves people. She hasn’t tried to take up any space that Diana had – she’s not tried to be a mother, she’s tried to be a good friend. I’ve seen them together and she’s not going to push – she’s got her own children anyway.
So, to say these things about Camilla is utterly shocking and there’s no proof of that whatsoever, and actually, the truth is that she’s spent 20 years being attacked by the public before she married Charles and she never complained and stuck to the royal rule, even if it wasn’t necessary. It came naturally to her. She’s not somebody who cuddles up to the press. It’s just very upsetting that he could use those words about her.
As somebody who has been in close contact with Harry in the past, do you feel any residual sympathy for him as a complex man who is just trying to tell his truth?
OK, he wanted to get a load off his chest. He’s done that. But then he had to talk to Oprah Winfrey again about mental health and he had to go on Netflix and do all these documentaries, and now he’s done this horrible memoir – how much more? Is it because he’s trying to make lots of money and the only way he can do it is by rubbishing the royal family, in which case it’s even more disgusting than you can possibly imagine. He says he wants to rehabilitate himself with the royals, but how can you do that, how can you even consider it if your behavior is so appalling? It’s madness. It’s obvious that there isn’t going to be this “Ok, Harry, let’s start again.”
He has stated that what he’s written isn’t to harm his family or intended to hurt them, but to give the full picture…
I don’t buy that at all. There’s no need to say what he said about the family, there’s no need to call somebody a villain. You can say your own feeling about how you were developing and what was very difficult, but you don’t actually attack other people. You don’t say things without any evidence. It’s just brutal.
I think he’s a bully. He’s turned into a real bully. He’s going back decades in this ghastly memoir, when his father wasn’t such a brilliant father – lots of fathers aren’t brilliant fathers. Prince Charles was an heir to the throne and had to do his duty and maybe he was a bit awkward, but he did love Harry. He absolutely loved him. And that is actually a lot more than some people get.
So to answer your previous question, I have no sympathy for him. I think it is well over the line
The book 'Spare' has created something of a transatlantic divide, with the US seemingly siding with Harry while the general feeling in the UK seems to be one of outrage. Would you agree with that?
I think that the understanding in the US is actually not as great as one would have expected. But again, he is rubbishing the family and they don’t like that. And they also do like the royal family and they have respected the Queen enormously. When the Queen died, America was full of grief and sent umpteen people over to talk about it and say what an absolutely extraordinary woman she was, and they felt very much that King Charles has taken over as king in a very good way. Still caring about the people, much more accessible than one might have thought and that he has managed a turnover very carefully. So why would you attack him in that way? I think this sort of youthfulness is fine, and he can be a rebel in that way, but not drag that in.
Could the book's publication lead the public to see the monarchy as broken, archaic institution?
I hope not, and I think not. Because a lot of people who are commenting are not journalists. Ordinary people are saying that the royal family are being very wise and are being very dignified. But of course what they really feel surprised about is that Harry is now saying that he never call the royal Family racist, when anyone who watched the Oprah Winfrey interview would have thought that he obviously did.
Harry and Megan also accepted a Kennedy Prize for handling with enormous courage the racism within the royal family – why did they do that? That was in November. You can’t take that award if you don’t actually believe in it. He had almost two years to say “I’m very sorry, there was a slip of the tongue – we didn’t mean to say that the royals were racist” but instead of which, he’s let it hang over the family and the Commonwealth that they are racist. This was a major thing and that’s where the monarchy looked as if it was cracking. But the fact that it was a lie is extraordinary.
One aspect in the revelations is the role of the British press and how the monarchy seeks out positive headlines. Harry describes tabloids as cruel and that the royal family have “made a deal with the devil”...
The tabloid press is always naughty. They want the story, there’s always a lot of competition and they want to get it out there. But Harry and Megan have had this PR company who have been pouring information though to us non-stop. Also, if you’re rude to the royal family, that is also news. I mean, this is a country that can use newspapers and has magazines because we can – we’re a free country. If you go to Russia, you would find that you were tied and that you could only say certain things that Putin would want you to say.
I’m not trying to say that the papers are wonderful in any way, but Harry’s obsessed – he wants to actually get rid of the whole of the British media. He can’t bear it. Yet – and here’s the hypocrisy bit – he’s gone to several very highly respected interviewers to promote his book. So on the one hand, he doesn’t like it, and he doesn’t want them to say anything bad – neither does Megan – it’s not allowed, they’re perfect and they’re never wrong – but then he uses this to promote his memoir.
Granted, but the British tabloid press are guilty of negative coverage of Megan Markle compared to Catherine – a recent example being in The Sun, a publication you have written for, in which Jeremy Clarkson said some hideous and completely unjustified things about Megan. There does seem to be an issue here…
Well, you’re taking one example there. I thought that this article you’re referring to was disgusting – I agree with you there. But on the whole, that’s not what’s happened. Megan is not popular – she’s not liked, she’s not a very nice person. And I think that they’re entitled to say that. You don’t have to like somebody, but in general, you can say what you like.
But from Harry’s perspective, isn’t that what he’s doing? And considering his past, there are fears of history repeating itself, considering the role the paparazzi played in the death of Diana and in reportedly driving Megan to have suicidal thoughts.
Well, he’s incredibly neurotic now, and the fact is that Harry has said that they’re being hunted and people have been taking pictures of it – there’s nobody around. So, I think this is an understandable but not true anxiety. Of course he doesn’t want to lose her (Megan) but if they lived a quiet life, there would be much less chance of that. I’m not saying they should, but they have protection officers, they’re paying a fortune all the time to look after themselves, but Harry is a complete idiot by saying that he killed 25 Taliban and described them as pieces of chess on a chess board. That’s how emotionally he was involved. Now, anyone with any connection to the army in any country knows that you don’t actually say the absolute number because it brings a lot of anger from the other side. What he’s done is that he’s put his family a lot more at risk because the Taliban want revenge. It was a terrible thing to do. If he wants to keep his family safe, he should be more careful and should not have done that. I can’t believe he doesn’t know that.
What with the interviews, the Netflix show, the memoir – this ongoing soap opera does seem to be an unprecedented crisis for the royal family. How do you measure the impact?
I think it’s an incredible worry because it is going on and on. And when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. Especially when he’s talking about taking drugs and thinking that dustbins are talking to him. That is a very big concern. And maybe he shouldn’t have put that in there. He’s probably getting into trouble in America now, because you’re not allowed in if you’ve taken cocaine and other heavy drugs.
You can’t stop him doing it, really. But I do think that people can get bored of it. We’ve heard it so many times. I mean, I say there for six hours watching the Netflix documentary and it’s yawnsville, because it’s the same whining.
People are having a really hard time at the moment paying from their bills, for electricity, are worried about their health – it’s a difficult time after Covid and in Europe. And Harry is just talking about him. I think that people are quite angry about it. You can’t really wail when you live in a house with 16 bathrooms and you’re by the seaside with acres of land. And when you’ve got the woman you absolutely adore. You’re not doing too badly! So if he goes on whining and whining and whining with the same old story, he’s not going to be listened to and people won’t want to watch.
Part of the appeal of the monarchy for many is the mystique around it, the fact that people don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and marvels at the image they project. Now that there have been these revelations, do you think that the institution of the monarchy can recover from this?
I think that so far, it is. People look at King Charles and Queen Camilla with respect because they aren’t actually having a fighting match- they’re getting on with their duties. They’re working very hard. They are showing that not everyone in the royal family is like this. I think people know that you can have a rough one in any family and that it’s not going to destroy the family – you just carry on and hope that one fine day they see sense.
I think it is extremely unpleasant and that the more Harry goes on and the more he reveals things about himself that we don’t want to know – these vulgar, personal details about how he lost his virginity - the less he’ll have left. What has he got left? He’s out of touch with what’s going on in the royal family and he doesn’t know how the nation is responding to it. He’s getting weaker.
There’s always a chance that the monarchy can fall. You can’t just say “there it is”. Prince Phillip was very good about that – he used to say that you can’t just sit here and wait for things to happen – “We have to go out and prove to people that we are there for them and that we’re working for them.” He saw this many years ago, and I think that’s right. So you can’t sit there on your sofa and not do anything. They work incredibly hard. But I do think that they are strong themselves – William and Catherine are strong and I feel that when there are difficulties, you want the royal family there, because it is stable. You can look up to them and they will help you.
But is that still the case now?
Well, I can’t think of anybody wanting the prime minister or somebody else to take over. That would not work for us. I think people are very grateful that they are there, so long as they don’t interfere too much in politics and that they are there for us. And I think that there are people who feel sorry for them that they are having to deal with this current situation with Harry.
You’ve stated that Harry “is the one trying to destroy the royal family”. But in your opinion, is there a way back from this family feud and the possibility of a reconciliation?
I think it’s gone too far. But you never know, do you? He might one day wake up and think “What on earth have I been like? How awful” and he might change. You never know and the door is always open I think. But at the moment, if he’s like that, laying down the law, telling them how to behave and what to do and saying nasty things about them, he’s not going to get far.