“The tragedy of Harry, Diana, Charles Windsor, and Camilla Parker-Bowles points up the pernicious effects on people’s lives of the institution of monarchy. Edward VIII could not marry a divorcée and remain king. Margaret, the late Queen’s sister, could not marry the man she loved, Group Captain Townshend, because he was a divorcé. And Charles Windsor could not marry the woman he loved, Camilla Parker-Bowles, because she was a divorcée, and Charles would one day be head of the Church of England. So, they both married other people, with the disastrous results we know.”—Michael House
By Michael House
“You cannot hope to bribe or twist,/thank God! The British Journalist./But, seeing what the man will do/Unbribed, there’s no occasion to.”―Humbert Wolfe, The Uncelestial City.
Editor’s Note: This column is the first of a two-part book review of Spare, by Prince Henry, The Duke of Sussex, Penguin Random House, 2023.
KING’S SUTTON, Northants England—(Hubris)—November 2023—The poet was writing in 1930. But according to Harry Windsor, journalists are as despicable as ever. The leitmotif of his memoir is that the British newspapers and their parasites, the paparazzi, destroyed his mother, Diana Spencer, and are doing their utmost to destroy him and his new wife Meghan Markle.
One of the starkest and most memorable scenes in the book is the description of paparazzi, having chased Diana to her death in a Paris tunnel, photographing her in the car in which she lies dying. Harry’s loathing for these creatures is wholly understandable and justified.
Diana Spenser dominates the book. One might have thought that Harry was the only child ever to have lost his mother, so often is she referenced. It appears that for several years, Harry firmly believed that his mother had disappeared deliberately to escape from the gutter press and the pressures of being “royal” and that she would reappear at some point.
But probably no other son (except his brother William) had ever lost his mother in such a dramatic way, and it is to be hoped that no other son has had his mother treated as a human incubator while his father was having fun elsewhere.
The tragedy of Harry, Diana, Charles Windsor, and Camilla Parker-Bowles points up the pernicious effects on people’s lives of the institution of monarchy. Edward VIII could not marry a divorcée and remain king. Margaret, the late Queen’s sister, could not marry the man she loved, Group Captain Townshend, because he was a divorcé. And Charles Windsor could not marry the woman he loved, Camilla Parker-Bowles, because she was a divorcée, and Charles would one day be head of the Church of England. So, they both married other people, with the disastrous results we know.
Of course, every king needs a queen, so the destructive rule has been rescinded, and we must now call Mrs. Parker-Bowles “Queen Camilla.” One of the more paranoid (though possibly true) themes of the book is that the Palace leaked to the press damaging stories about Harry in order to draw attention away from Camilla’s stealthy rehabilitation.
In the book, perhaps not surprisingly, Harry comes across as a thoroughly likeable young man, rather different from the playboy thicko the tabloids presented to the nation. The playboy image fitted with another press obsession, that he had reached his 30s unmarried. Of course, the gutter press was to blame for that. Whenever it discovered the identity of his current girlfriend, she and her family were hounded by the paparazzi and the lies of the tabloids to such an extent that the young woman would decide that she couldn’t take the heat and would get out of the kitchen. It could be argued that the press did him a favor: he is clearly nuts about Meghan.
The book opens with Harry waiting to meet and talk to his father and his brother, having come to the UK to attend the funeral of his grandfather, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip. As he waits for them to show, Harry meditates on many matters, but mainly the secular saint who was his mother. The sentences are very short, some are three or four words only. The ghost-writer has tried to write the way he imagines many people think—Harry’s grasshopper mind springing from subject to subject. It makes for easy reading—no interminable paragraphs—but seems rather artificial.
When Charles and William show up, they are grim and hostile, and fail or refuse to understand why Harry and his new wife fled the country. Wedded to the idea that being royal is a duty which must be performed, Charles and William have no empathy for someone who has shirked that duty. No one should be allowed to escape from the gilded cage.
Balmoral Castle was one of Queen Elizabeth’s many homes. Harry loved it and described it in detail. For two weeks of the year, in late summer, the Germans pretended to be Scots. The Queen had a tame kilted bagpiper who accompanied her everywhere. On the second floor of the castle was a statue of Queen Victoria—Harry and William had been instructed to bow every time they passed it.
Balmoral was where Harry learnt of his mother’s death. Charles told his “darling boy,” as he habitually called Harry, that his mother had been involved in a car accident, and “didn’t make it.” There were no comforting hugs—Charles simply put his hand on Harry’s knee and told him, “It’s going to be OK.” The following day, Sunday, the boys had to go to church, running the gauntlet of the press photographers, the same breed as the “fiends” (Harry’s word) that chased Diana to her death in the Paris underpass.
The funeral was in London. The boys were told to process on foot behind the coffin. Diana’s brother raised hell: “You can’t make these boys walk behind their mother’s coffin! It’s barbaric.” But they were Royalty. They had to put on a show for the gawping crowds.
Harry records that at the age of 20, he was told this story about the day of his birth. Charles said to Diana: “Wonderful! Now you’ve given me an Heir and a Spare—my work (sic) is done.” He then went off to meet Camilla. Diana had achieved the purpose for which she was chosen.
We are taken through Harry’s childhood, with the recurring theme that he believes his mother has simply disappeared and will reappear when she is good and ready. Lots of detail about his school life, interesting to those who like that sort of thing. He had an armed bodyguard with him at all times (doubtless at the taxpayers’ expense.) His elder brother William, when they were both at Eton, refused to acknowledge his existence. A weird and unnatural upbringing.
Two trips, to South Africa and Botswana, are important, since they gave Harry the impetus for future charity work, and lay the foundations for another quarrel with William, who regards African charity work as his exclusive cause. When a leopard turns up outside a tent in Botswana, Harry regards this as a sign that his mother will soon be reappearing.
There is a particularly revolting passage in which Harry describes his first killing of an animal and the ritual blooding that follows: blood of the dead animal being smeared over his face. Even worse is the killing of his first deer, following which his guide pushes his head inside the carcass. Opponents of killing animals for fun will find this a useful passage to quote. Back to Balmoral to slaughter rabbits and birds. Harry’s great-grandmother, aged 101, Queen Elizabeth’s mother, arrives. He calls her “Gan-gan” throughout the book. Perhaps baby talk should be reserved for babies.
Harry’s first pasting by a tabloid newspaper: he is a drug addict. He apparently doesn’t like the editor, and she gets both barrels, being described as a “loathsome toad” and “an infected pustule on the arse of humanity.” No defense from the Palace. They were co-operating with the press, going “full Neville Chamberlain” (the British PM who appeased Hitler in 1938.) Harry was assured by the family that this sort of thing went with the territory, was just part of being royal. But in Harry’s mind, the people who hounded his mother to her death (or disappearance) were now after him. Another journalist claimed to have a photo of Harry smoking cocaine. He would suppress it if Harry agreed to an interview. Harry adopted the Duke of Wellington’s approach to the gutter press—“Publish and be damned.” There was no photo. Then he was accused of cheating in an exam at Eton. He wanted to deny the allegation, but the Palace held to its usual line— “Never complain; never explain.” This arrogance was deeply scarring to an 18-year-old boy. The press dubbed him “Prince Thicko.” Charles had a solution: “Darling boy, just don’t read it.” (Calling Harry “Darling Boy” was probably the high point of Charles’s fathering skills.)
On his return from Lesotho, doing charity work among AIDS victims, Harry learns that his father Charles is going to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles, his long-term companion. Harry mentions, almost as an aside, that the Queen has given permission for her son, a man in his 50s, to marry. If Elizabeth had said no, Charles could not have married. This, in the 21st century. You couldn’t make it up.
It has been decided that Harry should join the British Army, and he sails through his exams to get into Sandhurst (read West Point). Brother William gives a fancy-dress party, and Harry goes dressed in a Nazi uniform. Someone photographs him and sells the picture to the press, where it appears on every front page, with the ghastly punning headlines sub-editors are so fond of. He is excoriated. Ban him from the Army, say Members of Parliament. The family sends him the Chief Rabbi to educate him about the Holocaust, fill him with self-loathing, and then “forgive” him. Reading what has happened to him (much more to come), it seems to me amazing that he has turned out so normal.
Harry is now in the army. The following chapters will be of interest to the military-minded. Two things strike me. First, to attain an important role in the armed forces seems to entail some pretty hellish training. However, he was good on the shooting range: “I’d been shooting rabbits and pigeons and squirrels with a .22 since I was twelve.” Second, that Harry was pretty good at soldiering. But he had to be withdrawn from war-zones when the enemy found out where he was and targeted him. He was in Afghanistan when an Australian journalist told the world (and the Taliban) that he was in Helmand Province.
Harry returns to UK. His current girlfriend is being stalked and harassed by the gutter press. The paparazzi always seem to know where she is. Check under her car, says Harry’s security man. Lo and behold, a tracking device. More and more stories are being invented and published. Harry retrains as a helicopter pilot.
To be continued.