For a word frequently used by the British royal family and media to describe Prince Harry since his birth 38 years ago, it’s ironic that the same two groups were more outraged by the Duke of Sussex’s decision to name his next book of SPARE memories.
“Royal sources” (aka anonymous palace aides), media pundits and newspapers wasted no time sharing their breathless outrage after publisher Penguin Random House revealed the tome’s title, steely cover and the publication date of January 10. “Malevolent”, “cruel”, “playing the victim once again” and, what a surprise, “everything Meghan does” were just some of the angry reactions.
Of course, calling the book SPARE, a decision made by Prince Harry early in the process, shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. It’s a telling choice, but for a word that has followed the prince like a shadow, being the spare was one of the most defining aspects of his royal existence. Leaning on the derogatory moniker of a title, Harry finally makes the term his own after a lifetime of calling it.
For the family business, Harry’s position as the heir’s spare saw him take on the obligatory role of royal supporting act at a young age. Without a definite royal job, The Firm mainly needed one thing from him: to support his most important older brother, Prince William. It is a strange and somewhat cruel existence, the result of a system based on hereditary privilege. And in many cases it is also a curse. Princess Margaret’s life as a spare for the queen was plagued by drug abuse and alcoholism, and Prince Andrew’s life… well, the less said about that, the better.
A spare also serves a purpose rarely acknowledged by any royal or palace official: the resident scapegoat to protect the Crown and higher-ranking family members. Collateral damage when guilt or distraction is needed. For those who have followed the royal beat closely enough, the coincidental timing of certain reveals or stories about Harry have already highlighted it. It will be interesting to see how SPARE, which does not shy away from this specific charge, describes these moments.
So far, the publisher has only released the smallest official details about the book’s 416 pages. They describe SPARE as a title written with “raw, unflinching honesty”, a book that is full of “insight, revelation, self-examination and hard-won wisdom”. I would expect no less from the prolific ghost writer JR Moehringer, famous for encouraging his subjects to shine a light on the darkest parts of his story.
Among those who have already seen the manuscript of the book, Harry’s journey from being the spare, plus the difficult decision to change his fate and start a new life elsewhere, are significant parts of the book. Filled with the prince’s trademark brashness, this memoir also tells a surprisingly relatable life story. Sure, his opulent royal backdrop is far beyond a world any of us will ever know, but the themes explored in SPARE should resonate with readers of all backgrounds.
Coping with grief and the tragic loss of a father, struggles to accept oneself, sibling rivalry, and falling in love with someone his family doesn’t accept are all part of the Duke’s very human story.
Although overlooked in coverage, SPARE devotes its largest sections to other key elements of the Duke’s life. Readers will hear moving anecdotes from the front lines of Afghanistan and his time in the military, plus honest insights into Harry’s quest to find purpose and why he chose to commit himself to a life of service. A spokesperson for the book, which will be released a month after the release of the Sussexes’ upcoming Netflix docuseries, adds that the intimate memoir will also “share the joy he has found in being a husband and a father.”
For all the tabloid reports about Harry supposedly “tearing apart” his family (spoiler alert: he doesn’t), the book actually offers a more sympathetic look at the realities of his near-impossible existence. There were also no last-minute rewrites or edits after the Queen’s death. The SPARE manuscript was completed almost five months before the monarch’s death, a detail that will be acknowledged in a note at the beginning of the book.
No matter how carefully Harry shares the parts of his story that involve others, there is still a very real risk of the institution and the family backing down. Palace aides recently spoke to me about the “genuine fear” among high-ranking members that this book will cause irreparable damage to reputations and relationships. But, to Harry, the broader intent of SPARE seems to make the risk worth taking. “My hope is that by telling my story, the ups and downs, the mistakes, the lessons learned, it can help show that no matter where we come from, we have more in common than we think,” he said.
Hundreds of journalists, myself included, have written versions and bits of the Duke’s story over the years. It’s a story that, as a hard-working member of the royal family, he hasn’t been able to tell himself for a long time. Now, having created an independent life far from the confines of the royal institution, Harry finally has the opportunity to establish often inaccurately reported records. The freedom of expression. And no matter how you feel about the man, it’s hard not to agree that he should be entitled to that.
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