Diana’s absence is biggest presence in Harry’s memoir
From losing his mother, losing his trust in his family to losing his virginity, Prince Harry’s bombshell memoir, Spare, leaves few royal stones unturned.
Prince Harry’s life story describes fighting his brother, taking psychedelic drugs, his love affairs and not wanting his father to re-marry.
It’s sex, drugs and rucks and royals.
But there is also a deep seam of unresolved grief, with repeated references to Princess Diana.
Prince Harry’s view is clear from the very outset of the book, in its dedication – to his wife Meghan, their children Archie and Lilibet, and “of course” his mother.
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Nothing for his brother Prince William, his father King Charles, or his sister-in-law Catherine, Princess of Wales.
As an aside, it also reveals that the sparring brothers called each other Harold and Willy.
And in another detail emerging, Prince Harry says that he first found out that his grandmother Queen Elizabeth had died from the BBC News website on his phone.
The launch of this controversial book has been overtaken by multiple leaks and a premature appearance in Spain, which allowed media outlets, including the BBC, to get a copy ahead of official publication.
Taken as a whole what’s apparent is the anger that Prince Harry still feels about much of his life as a young royal and how that bitterness continues to shape his difficult relations with the Royal Family.
He talks in the book of being left with a legacy of “terrifying panic attacks” and the sweat-drenched anxiety he felt about appearing and speaking in public.
A clue to understanding Prince Harry’s clear sense of unfinished business comes from a quote from US writer William Faulkner that’s used to start a chapter: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
It was a line used by Barack Obama before he became president – and it runs through this memoir like the writing in a stick of rock. It’s a past that dominates his present – the sense of losing his mother and then failing to find the support he expected.
This is Prince Harry’s version of events – Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace have declined to comment.
Diana, in her absence, is one of the biggest characters in this story.
Prince Harry, who speaks of Diana as “mummy”, goes to see a woman with special powers who might make contact with his mother.
The prince gets a driver to take him through the tunnel in Paris where his mother died in a car crash in 1997, hoping for closure from a “decade of unrelenting pain”, and this only makes him feel an even keener sense of grieving.
He went back through the tunnel with Prince William and claims that neither of them were convinced by the official account of the accident, which he calls an “insult” and raised more questions than answers.
The aftermath of her death seems to have left a divide between Harry and his father, now King Charles. Harry remembers that his father didn’t hug him when he broke the news that Diana had died, sitting on his bed in Balmoral.
And he describes the traumatising walk behind her coffin, the crowds reaching out to him and how he felt unable to cry in public.
Prince Harry still dreamt about his mother returning, maybe turning up in secret wearing a blonde wig and dark glasses. “Perhaps she will appear this morning,” he thought.
When his father introduces Camilla to his sons, Harry talks of fearing a wicked stepmother and seems desperate to avoid seeing anyone else married to his father.
The impact of his early years – and the challenge of growing up in public – are described, including taking cocaine at the age of 17.
In lines unlikely to have appeared in any previous royal memoir, he also lost his virginity in a field behind a pub, with an “older woman who really liked horses and treated me like a young stallion”.
Such was the strangeness and scrutiny of his young life that he says he welcomed serving in Afghanistan. “I savoured the sense of normality,” he writes, about being without titles or bodyguards.
He says he killed 25 Taliban fighters. “It wasn’t a fact that filled me with satisfaction, but it didn’t make me ashamed either.”
Much attention has been paid to the more domestic conflict, between Prince Harry and Prince William, and suggesting the tensions in their relationship, Prince Harry describes his brother as both “beloved” and his “arch-nemesis”.
This conflict culminates in the claim that Prince William physically attacked his brother, pushing him to the ground after a row in which William is reported to have called Meghan “difficult”, “rude” and “abrasive”.
Also previously untold was his account of finding out about Queen Elizabeth’s ill-health and death. He says he was called by his father to say that his grandmother’s health had worsened, but as Harry made plans to go to Balmoral he says he was told not to bring Meghan.
When his plane was coming into land in Scotland he says: “I looked at the BBC website. My grandmother had died. My father was King.”