Her late Majesty nailed this book on the head before we even knew of its title – Spare – let alone of its existence.
‘Recollections may vary,’ Elizabeth II memorably said after a previous installment of the longest lament in royal history (one which shows no sign of abating three years after the Sussexes fled the royal nest).
It is now certain to be the response from plenty of people who remember — and, in some cases, feature in — the events described in Spare. Many of these people — from humble school staff to colleagues and bodyguards — believed they were only doing their bit to help a young man very much in need of help.
I suspect many of them will now be every bit as offended as the Duke of Sussex seems to be (about almost everything) but, in their case, without a bestselling book in which to reply. For this is a book which does not just lob grenades at the Royal Family or the monarchy, as well as at the ‘detestable’ media.
ROBERT HARDMAN: Her late Majesty nailed this book on the head before we even knew of its title — Spare — let alone of its existence. Pictured: Harry in his interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby
It also casually drags in umpteen blameless souls who have spent decades nobly refusing to say a word about Prince Harry. They know how much he treasures his privacy, they remember the pressures on a clearly troubled youth and they have done the decent thing in keeping it to themselves.
How much longer they will feel bound to maintain their honorable discretion remains to be seen. For now, I dare say that most will take their lead from Harry’s father and brother and bite their lips. But, despite Harry’s professed wish for ‘reconciliation’ – he said it six times in last night’s interview with Tom Bradby – it is not just the Royal Family with whom he needs to be reconciled.
Midway through the book, in one of his numerous homilies on the ghastliness of the media, Harry laments that the Press, and especially, the paparazzi, are ‘incapable of understanding nuances’.
It is a revealing line since no one seems more immune to nuance than Harry himself. The tiniest non-slight is amplified into yet another cause for self-pity. He gets given a comic part in a school play but is upset when his father comes to watch and laughs in the wrong places. Has anyone ever been at a school play where parents don’t laugh in the wrong places?
When the Prince of Wales takes Harry to South Africa during half-term, on a trip which includes Nelson Mandela and a Spice Girls concert, Harry says it is purely about generating positive PR for Prince Charles. What rot.
The Prince was there because the concert was in aid of the Nation’s Trust which Mandela had set up with the Queen. Clearly, a photo of the Prince with the globally revered statesman and the most popular girl band of the age would do him no harm, but that was not the point of the exercise. My own recollection on this certainly varies because I was there (reporting on the trip for another newspaper).
A prince among them: Harry, then 13, meets Spice Girls Mel B, Baby and Posh in South Africa in 1997
Ditto when it comes to one of the most wounding charges early on in this book. Harry claims that his future stepmother, then Camilla Parker Bowles, leaked the story of her first encounter with Prince William to cast herself in a good light. That absolutely did not happen.
I well remember the chronology of that story because it remains a classic example of cock-up over conspiracy. It also contradicts Harry’s overarching excuse for writing this book, one to which he returned time and again during last night’s ITV interview: that the Palace and the Press were, and are, in each other’s pockets.
In this instance, Mrs. Parker Bowles was utterly mortified when the story of her encounter appeared in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun. The only person to whom she had spoken about it was her personal assistant. However, the assistant had then subsequently mentioned it to her own husband in confidence.
He then let it slip during a game of tennis with someone who had business dealings with the Murdoch empire. This all came to light when the private secretary did the honorable thing and immediately resigned.
Harry makes the same conspiracy charge against his stepmother, however, when he writes of his mixed feelings watching his father remarry in 2005. He told ITV last night that he was ‘100 per cent’ happy that his father was happy but he describes it in a detached, wistful tone in the book. He also denies press reports that he and his brother attached a ‘Just Married’ sign to the car.
Again, this jarred with my impressions of the day. I remember it well because the departure of the happy couple was captured in some detail for a BBC documentary called The Queen’s Castle and I happened to be the writer of the series.
My recollection is of an exuberant Harry in jubilant form, warmly kissing his stepmother, showering the happy couple in confetti and chasing the car through the Windsor Castle quadrangle shouting jokes through the car window. So I looked it up on the internet yesterday. Sure enough, that is exactly how it was. As it happens, the car was also decorated with the words ‘Just Married’. The film is there online for all to see. I leave it to readers to form their own opinions of Harry’s mood on that day.
In another section, Prince William is very ‘gloomy’ when the Queen dictates what uniform he will wear at his wedding — the full dress uniform of the Colonel of the Irish Guards. ‘He told me several times that he was frustrated,’ says Harry.
Really? When I interviewed Prince William about his wedding a few weeks after the event for my book, Our Queen, he not only had fond memories of the Queen’s insistence on his choice of uniform. He was very funny about it and laughed a lot. Once again, memories may vary.
However, it is in his casual disregard for the minor characters that Harry has been particularly harsh. For example, his account of his prep school, Ludgrove, paints several unkind portraits of individuals.
A matron is mocked and ridiculed for her physical shortcomings as well as her character. Harry describes his pain from the taunts of a history master who mocks him for his lack of interest in royal history. It combines an image of a boy who seems to have been miserable from start to finish.
Ludgrove contemporaries have a very different recollection. They remember the way in which the school, the staff and especially the headmaster’s wife, Mrs. Barber, rallied around Harry after the death of his mother.
They remember what a pain in the neck Harry – though lovable – could be and describe the history master as having ‘the patience of a saint’.
When the Prince of Wales takes Harry to South Africa during half-term, on a trip which includes Nelson Mandela and a Spice Girls concert, Harry says it is purely about generating positive PR for Prince Charles. What rot. Close: Charles and Nelson Mandela in London in 1996
They recall how the school did its level best to soften the blow when Harry was held back for an academic year when it was obvious that he was unready to move on to Eton.
They all steadfastly refused to blab to the Press when Harry first returned as an old boy and came to blows with a viscount’s grandson – who was still at school – leaving the latter with a broken nose.
And they were all delighted when Harry returned for big occasions, even opening a new theater. It is why they are ‘gobsmacked’ by some of these revelations.
Or take Harry’s equally steadfast ‘surrogate big sister’, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, another heroic stalwart who has resolutely refused to utter a word about her years as a shoulder for him to cry on.
She even had to endure the humiliation of false rumors about her and Prince Charles bandied around by Diana. These came to light once again during the recent investigation into the deplorable conduct of the BBC’s Martin Bashir in luring Diana into that notorious Panorama interview.
Although the BBC has paid out substantial damages to Miss Legge-Bourke, she has refused to say a word on the subject and has even issued a legal notice warning the media not to ask for one. They need not bother. Harry has splurged on the details in this book anyway.
From the bodyguard mocked for having a panic attack while protecting Harry in Afghanistan (his colleagues will have no problem identifying him) to the royal staffer who dared to park in front of his flat, they and everyone else will all know who they are.
Harry even lambasts a pesky journalist who was interviewing him during a tour of Lesotho and had the temerity to ask him about recent headlines involving girlfriends and drug abuse (doing his job in other words).
‘I could hardly make out the journalist behind the red cloud that suddenly enveloped me,’ he writes. ‘In Lesotho, no matter what you were going through, you were very rich compared to other people.
‘I suddenly felt embarrassed and wondered if the journalist had sense enough to be embarrassed too.’ He was so infuriated by the interview that he then ran off and drowned his sorrows with ‘liters of beer’ and ‘a grocery bag full of weed’.
Perhaps all that ‘weed’ has obscured his recollection of that frightening experience. Who was the ghastly reptile?
Looking back through the archives, I see that it was none other than ITV’s Tom Bradby.