Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex’s Spare – Book Spotlight

I’ve been sitting here for five minutes trying to think of a way to reformat the title of this Spotlight. As it stands now, it fits the standard for every single other one I’ve written but it also begs the question: His spare what?

Welcome back, Readers! I hope April treats you well and gives you plenty of quiet moments in which to crack open a book!

This was one I was a little on the fence about Spotlighting here. I knew I was going to be very interested in it and was going to consume it for my own enjoyment, but considering I tend to focus on the nerdy, genre stuff, it might be a bit out of place here on Nerd News Social. The thing is, it’s just such a wonderful book I’d feel remiss if I didn’t suggest it to people. Not that it needs my help or anything – it’s broken non-fiction sales records already! Over 1.43 million copies sold between the U.S.A., Canada and Great Britain before being out even a month. (That’s including pre-orders, of course.) But, even still, I have a drive to share the things that I enjoy (Why else would I write about them for you every month, right?) and I very much enjoyed this one.

So, grab a cup of tea and a tray of cucumber sandwiches and join me on the south lawn, won’t you? It’s time to delve into the inner workings of the Royal Family.

Book Stats

Basic Premise

Basic Premise

Much like with William Shatner’s Boldly Go I find it’s hard to offer a simple synopsis here without giving it all away. This is a biography, not a work of fiction so I can’t tell you what happens, waddling our way to the precipice of that third act before pulling back and leaving you on a cliffhanger. For starters, so much of Prince Harry’s life has been the subject of press attention (We’ll get to that.) that many of the points I’d make if this WERE a work of fiction have been done to death in the public arena.

We start with a description of one of the last meetings he’d had with his brother and father, right after Prince Phillip’s funeral. His description of that cloudy, windswept day won me over immediately. There’s an elegance in the way he describes the scene, his feelings and the relationships he’s trying to salvage – especially in how they’re weighed down by protocol, etiquette and the conflicting personalities of those involved.

Before the culmination of this meeting, we’re drawn back into Harry’s childhood. Memories of his mother and father, his relationship with Willie, his fascination with the bagpipes, the color of the water in the bath tub (Like that of weak tea – a real highland bath in water filtered through peat.) and various other things. It all seems fairly charming. It was interesting to learn about Princess Margaret a bit more, too – she was never much reported on in my time so I found the story of her Christmas gift for Prince Harry to be quite funny!

Then, of course, there’s the passing of Diana, Princess of Wales. Chased by paparazzi into an early death. Harry’s way of dealing with this pain, his inability to cry, all the things that he notices afterward; not ashamed to say that it brought a bit of a tear to my own eye. I remember that time vividly myself so seeing it from this close perspective was hard.

We follow him through school, the military and Africa. That last one is something we get to see several times – one thing the general press missed about Prince Harry (In my experience, anyway.) is his deep love and appreciation for wildlife. His encounters with a fox, a leopard and a herd of elephants… fantastic stuff. (To clarify, these were all separate encounters. He didn’t find them all at once.)

Of course, one of the best bits is his relationship with Megan Markle. It’s something I’d watched with a lot of interest. (A lad from the Commonwealth meets a lovely American lady and moves over? Yep, I can relate! I moved from New Zealand to live with my own American love.) However, where I wanted to read about an idyllic happily ever after, it’s a lot more complicated than that. The sheer level of conflict they’ve had to put up with is just beyond the pale. If you ever thought that racism was somehow dead? Job done? You should probably read this.

These are rough, bullet-pointed bits and pieces. If any of them interests you, check this book out.

My Take

Growing up in New Zealand, I was inundated with Royal news from an early age. A Commonwealth nation with many close ties to Britain… makes sense, right? And my family, in general, LOVED Princess Diana, or Di as they’d call her. Di; like she was a family friend. And in many ways, she felt that way. Her example of kindness in all situations is something that many have found inspiring, myself included.

I will never forget the day she died. My aunt called on the phone in tears, telling us we needed to turn on the TV. The TV was already on but we were playing VHS tapes of some cartoon or other for my little brother. (Who had no clue why everyone was suddenly so upset – we could just turn the tape back on, after all. He was almost 2 years old.)

That week at the public library there was a book you could sign and put a little note in to send your condolences to the Princes. I’d always been a big fan of them – William was basically my age and we both had little brothers who were redheads. (Practically twins! Our current hairlines aren’t far off identical either.) I don’t recall what I wrote… there was a queue and I didn’t want to hold up the people in behind me too much. (I hope whatever I jotted down was fine.) The key part I do remember was the feeling of solidarity among those who had gathered to perform this small act of kindness. At that moment, I believe none of us were thinking of royalty, titles, Princes; we were trying to comfort a couple of children who had lost their Mum.

At some point in my late teens I realized how rough the British press was. This book explores the topic in some great detail and it’s far worse than I might have supposed. The paparazzi (Or paps as Harry calls them.) are just ruthless. They were the ones who, essentially, killed Princess Diana and who have made the lives of many people so hard. Prince Harry explains the unique pressures the paps placed on anyone he had even a passing interest in. The saddest part being, behind all the baggage of his family name and all the extra responsibility placed on his shoulders… he’s a pretty regular guy. Reading through his thoughts and experiences, a lot of them are intensely relatable. He has the same worries and dreams we all do and so it makes you ask yourself: If I were in his place, could I handle this level of constant scrutiny? The lies the press tell? Having to let go of people dear to me for their own sake?

My answer? I certainly couldn’t. I’d be an absolute wreck.

Having said all that, one could easily flop into a cynical little foxhole and point out that Prince Harry, despite everything else that has gone wrong, still has a very privileged life and therefore a lot of this book can be dismissed – there is a giant portion of this book that is him complaining about his relationships with his family and things that Prince William was given by virtue of being the Heir rather than the Spare. (It’s literally in the title of the book.) That’s definitely the low-hanging-fruit take-away, here. I prefer a more nuanced approach. Public life isn’t easy and he’s had a life more public than most since before he could walk. Everything has been controlled for him, from go to woah. He comments that he’s never had the need to carry a passport, a house key, cash – imagine a life where those simple rights of passage are denied you before you’re turned out into the world. Key life lessons left unlearned. His life has been one of service, from the military to many charitable acts to improve the lives of others yet, there are many things the rest of us take for granted that he simply hasn’t and may never have! Privacy being the main thing. Familial support (To clarify, emotional support.) being the other. Problems are relative and kindness is key.

In short, it’s a highly recommended read from me.

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