Spare – Shame, Blame, and Avoiding an Unhappy to Reign

I am just over two-thirds the way through the memoir of the month by Prince Harry, which I must point out I received for free and might not finish.[i] But I thought I would comment now, given over half the world seems to have without even reading it, perhaps glancing the click bait, the de-contextualised leaks and soundbites – the shock, the horror, the God isn’t it so awful, how undignified, how B list celebrity parts.

The loudest commentators love subjugation to an outdated institution that promotes inequality by its very existence. These are the same folk that rant against ‘cancel’ and ‘woke’ culture. Interestingly, as my article in the Times Higher pointed out, I have been cancelled from writing about the royal family.[ii] The fact that the hatred of Harry and Meghan is more vitriolic than that against Andrew says so much about British culture.

Most are not so keen on Charles III compared to Elizabeth II, but he got a bounce from her death. We have Tony Blair to blame for saving the monarchy.[iii] Looking back, I praised Charles in one of my blogs. Prince Harry says his father was not cut out to be a single dad. That is a bit harsh on Pa, as he calls him; who is? Maybe the writer JG Ballard, who raised his children after his wife died. Was Charles a single parent anyway, with Camila always on the scene, and hundreds of servants and Tiggy on hand. But we get Harry’s point. He says Charles was a good dad earlier on, but he was just too old, he ran out of ‘puff’ to quote. Should all parents be constantly horse-playing with their kids, isn’t that a choice, is H expecting too much? Yes Harry, being human is sometimes tough, we get it.  

I did not find the early part especially interesting (death of mother, school days, holidays, early girlfriends, travel, army, the press), but it gets going when we learn of his extreme army training exercises before his second tour, when two of his squad went ‘mad’. It does seem brutal the way they taunt Harry about his dead mother, pretending to be the Taliban, but it appears the kind of exercise that would make him resilient in battle.

He points out Britain is one of the most literate nations, but the most gullible to the press, the ‘no smoke without fire’ point. Why do people believe what they read in the papers and select the same paper every time? Confirmation bias, of course; you want a vehicle to confirm your hatred, and if you want to believe Harry is a privileged man-baby who should shut up and stop his moaning then read the Daily Mail. Rather than baby brain, how about Daily Mail brain; this is a popular one, fuelling hate. There is an irony here of course, in that Harold is more akin to a Daily Mail reader than he lets on.

Unlike his Pa and I assume his brother, he is a self-confessed anti-intellectual. He makes a proud point of stating he only likes one book, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which is a set text. He resents his father’s love of Shakespeare. Arrogantly, he seems to saying being an action man is superior to Pa’s ways. And he admits he is like this to avoid thinking, to avoid anxiety which I think is common.[iv] If we stopped what demons would we have to face? Harold insists, a bit too strongly, he does not regret going to university. For me his naiveté comes from his lack of a university education. Daily Mail true believers and their ilk think university is a bad move, a waste of money and time, especially media studies. But if Harold had studied media studies he would know not to expect the truth in newspapers, not to become obsessed with the news about himself, and to be healthily critical. Instead he takes everything to heart and obsesses over it. He often pushes the blame for this obsession onto his father and other royals, despite Charles telling him reading the newspapers is suicidal. It is difficult to believe his Pa used stories about Harry to quash those about Camila, but part of me does. Charles is a romantic. He would put his bride to be and The Firm above one of his son’s, the spare.

The book mentions Harry has a problem with his memory, nothing really before Diana’s death, and we know that PTSD plays with time and memory. The fact he is desperate to return to war after his fist stint suggests he did suffer from PTSD, as this is normal behaviour for those with PTSD.[v] But on the 8 January ITV interview Harry interestingly used the term post-traumatic stress injury (the actual term being traumatic brain injury), which does overlap with PTSD, one estimate being this is suffered by over 5 million Americans, so it is not uncommon.[vi] My first thoughts were why turn this into an injury (physical) rather than a syndrome (mental). He makes a point that it does not impact him now. Is there still shame in a mental health problem over a physical one?

One reader termed the book ‘sweet’ and I get their point, but again I would say naïve. It is written by a man in his thirties who seems a bit obsessed with his royal ‘todger’, to use his language, and he does use this to make a point again about the bullshit the newspapers print. What do you know in your 30s? What would your memoir be like? One criticism of celebrity culture is that the masses hang on their words, but at least this book is humble in parts; Harold admits his mistakes.

I agree with him about the Murdoch empire being evil, on one level. It is good to name it. But there are difficulties with this; once we call something evil, we give it a supernatural glamour, taking it away from human behaviour and choice.[vii] In fact, the paparazzi stunts he lists while obviously awful are not as bad as I thought they might be. I was expecting more; these will come perhaps. Or do we live in a non-shockable culture. Why should I want more extremes?

I confess I also watched some of their Netflix documentary. You realise how alone they were in this tedious Punch and Judy show. No security and no help in Canada, Meghan contacting someone she did not even know to get them out of there when it became too dangerous.[viii] There is a real tangible threat to their lives, especially from neo-Nazi groups.[ix] People have a dangerous need to vent their hate; this reminds me of the two-minute hate in George Orwell’s 1984 which aims to bond people. The documentary helped me understand we still live in a Victorian culture, that is stiff upper lip. People fear honest feelings and cravenly seek to be loved by those who they think are superior to them, the wrong type of love. The loudest voices are those that say M and H are evil to not conform to the institution, but conform to what, is it worth conforming to? These are voices thinking people are milking it when they have been abused, these are the ‘anti-woke’ crazies screaming ‘victim culture’ get over it! Some are fooled into thinking that those that reign over them are benign; they must believe this, the alternatively being too much to handle.

There is still the view held by Anna Freud, which dominated America in the 1950s, that people should ignore their feelings and conform to society. Interestingly, Anna Freud’s primary case study committed suicide in Sigmund Freud’s Hampstead house, highlighting how wrong her ideas were.[x] This is my argument in my latest book that calls for transrational knowledge to be more widely accepted.[xi]

Is Harry’s book worth reading? Yes, it does entertain in parts, or at least it is an easy read, you can skim it, taking us to places most people have not been like the north and south poles. Harry got pasted in the press for moaning about someone parking his car near his window, but that is an excellent detail. Who hasn’t been annoyed by a neighbour? And his point is a servant of the Queen has more say than him which makes it worse.

Is it a work of non-fiction? That is another question. Creative non-fiction perhaps. Harold is super-sensitive which is a trait of borderline personality disorder; when he proposes his Invictus Games he questions why William asks why he was not asked first, assuming people had told him. Why assume this, and years later still be pissed off about it? The point is to point out the rivalry, but Harry seems unable to realise that perhaps William did not speak to him at Eton because it was not the etiquette and Harry would remind William of the loss of his mother. A great example of how an older brother loathes their younger sibling is the wonderful Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

 My main criticism is it could have been more creative, more detailed, and less on larging it about the army, although that is his field so why not. Again, ironically, it is written for a Daily Mail reader. He knows his audience. The ghost writer is a Yale graduate who won the Pulitzer, but the style is disappointingly laddish. Harry’s voice is there, for sure, but surely the ghost writer could have helped to make the book deeper. It does get deeper when we learn of his therapy sessions when the memories prior to Diana’s death come back, but that is two thirds into the book and I had almost given up on it.

What do we really learn about the King, other than he liked to sniff a lot because his aftershave was so strong which is supposed to be a dig. This says more about the writer than the King. What do we learn about William, other than that he is as petty as Harold, or any of the characters here for that matter? Having read just over two-thirds of it, for me it is not clear Harold knows who he is either, which is disappointing having done all this work on himself, but to be fair it is a process of discovery. That is the point about writing; we find out who we are by writing, although this book came through a series of Zoom meetings and it shows. This unfortunately impacts on the truncated, chatty, and sometimes throwaway style.

To still be functioning, given the shit thrown at him, is impressive. But the question remains – why on God’s earth should we be interested in this chap’s life more than any other? In this sense, I feel slightly ashamed I have read this book, even in part, even if I did get it free, and I won’t be continuing. I think it is because if you have grown up in the UK or the Commonwealth you have been pumped some whopping lies which are difficult to challenge, but need challenging: the royal family are value for money (certainly not true); they are good for tourism (definitely not true); they are good for democracy (the exact opposite, in fact); they are a benign force (a total myth).

If you need to believe in fairy tales it is up to you, but most fairy tales do not cost us so much, or dominate in the real world. People select to believe these lies because it makes life easier with much of our lives lost in fantasy it is hard to rewire the brain from so much propaganda. Despite claiming he still believes in the monarchy, at least Harold has not chosen this path of conforming to the backward tax-avoiding oppressive institution of The Firm. Although, in fact, it was The Firm’s choice to throw them out; H and M wanted to continue ‘royal work’ in Canada but this request was turned down. And why bother examining the House of Windsor which came into being in 1917, which Harry points out before then was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha? Because with the royal family still ruling over us, happy and glorious, there will be no true equality which to some is a dirty word. 


[i] Prince Harry, Spare (Random House, 2023).

[ii] Off Limits? Article in Times Higher – Jason Lee (cjplee.com)

[iii] The Death of a Terrible Problem – Diana, Princess of Wales – Jason Lee (cjplee.com)

[iv] Elvis, George Michael, Psychology & Existential Theology – Caught in a Trap – Jason Lee (cjplee.com)

[v] New book on mental illness and neurodiversity – Jason Lee (cjplee.com)

[vi] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.31887/DCNS.2011.13.2/rbryant

[vii] See Jason Lee, Pervasive Perversions (Free Association Books, 2005).

[viii] Book Nazism and Neo-Nazism in Film and Media now on Open Access, plus available as free e-book. – Jason Lee (cjplee.com)

[ix] See Jason Lee, Nazism and Neo-Nazism in Film and Media (Amsterdam University Press, 2018).

[x] See Adam Curtis, The Century of Self, Episode 2, BBC iPlayer.

[xi] Madness in Film and Media – Wellbeing and the Transrational (London: Springer, 2023 in-press).

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