‘I was alone. Abandoned. With only a hundred million in the bank’ – Spare, digested by John Crace

Prince Harry’s memoir is the UK’s fastest-selling nonfiction book ever. Too busy to read it? All the love, rancour, drugs and petty fights are here

The sentences were short.

Crisp. Like his shirt.

Spare. Propulsive.

See what I did there?

Italics. Random. Italics. And. Punctuation.

Why was my heart beating so fast? Was this what Meg really wanted? Why hadn’t I brought a coat? Why at Grandpa’s funeral? Why so many questions?

Relax, I told myself. I’m in the hands of a pro. One of the world’s best ghosts. This is how to appear likable. Credible.

Time to focus. I was waiting. Waiting. Waiting. To meet my nemesis. My brother. The most important meeting in modern history. Meg always said she admired my humility. If only Willy was so self-aware.

I thought of Mummy. Up there. Somewhere. Of course she would want what I would want. We were as one. How could Willy and Pa not see that?

They appeared from round a corner. In lockstep. The game was up. They would never understand me. I was alone. Abandoned. With only a couple of houses and a hundred million in the bank.

Cut to another world. A prehistory. One where Mummy was alive and Willy and I played on jet skis in the Med and the sentences were longer. Then Balmoral. My darling boy, Pa said. Your mother … I couldn’t cry. I looked at the paparazzi. And gave them what they wanted. Emotion. Drama. Pain.

Life resumed. As normal as it could be. I was the Spare. A nullity. A piece of the furniture to be moved around. Pa did his best. I suppose. He wasn’t really cut out for parenthood. More interested in his teddy. And Shakespeare and Nelson Mandela. To be or not to be. Not to be. Willy and I begged him not to marry Camilla. Be with her, if you must. Just don’t marry her. Camilla just nodded and phoned the press. Playing the long game. I was just a commodity.

In 1998 I went to Eton. I was outmatched. The teachers said I was thick. That was because they just asked the wrong questions. Willy ignored me. I begged him to help me. He just said I was too needy and should see a shrink. I said that I didn’t understand my lessons. That they felt like people were speaking in foreign languages. That’s your French class, Harold. I started smoking dope. Anything to numb the pain of reading this book.

A stack of Spare, the Duke of Sussex’s autobiography, in a bookshop.
‘I was the Spare. A nullity. A piece of the furniture to be moved around’ … Prince Harry’s autobiography went on sale on 10 January. Photograph: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Africa was where I felt most alive. Lesotho. Botswana. Out in the bush. Looking at the stars. Kissing Chelsy. No paps. No Pa. One night out in the Okavango a leopard entered the compound. The others were terrified. I embraced it. Hello Mummy, I said. I knew you were waiting for me. The leopard hugged me and left. I felt a connection to something ancient. I must have Africa for my good works. You can’t, Harold. Africa is mine. I’m the Heir. You can have Australia. Off you go.

Back home the paps and the press were everywhere. Stalking me. Hunting me. The Lies. I came to hate one I called Rehabber Kooks. An anagram. Work it out. May she die unpleasantly. I went to the tunnel where Mummy had died. It was too short. The driver couldn’t have crashed, however drunk. It must have been the paps. Or MI5. Not Grandpa. Surely not him.

Pa and Camilla got married. Of course they did. I was the Spare. So what did my feelings count? I wanted him to be happy. Sure. But not with her. Camilla flicked me a V-sign. Moments later she lit a cigarette and phoned the tabloids to tell them I’d been doing cocaine and magic mushrooms. Yeah? Of course I had. Wouldn’t you? Anything to numb the pain. But try proving it.

It was time to move on. And not just girlfriends. But what to do? Not easy when you’re the Spare. I asked Granny for a house and she found me a flat in Kensington Palace. A shit-hole. Then what did you expect? My family have always been tight. Pa told me not to complain as he leaked another story about me. University was out, dear boy. The army it was. Shame I’d already won all the medals.

Losing, losing, losing. Lost. Exposed. Naked. No, wait. That came a bit later when I got pissed in Las Vegas. Falling, falling, falling. Into a Nazi uniform. Willy said it would be a laugh. There was plenty of clobber lying around in Gan-Gan’s brother-in-law’s old room. Sorry, got to go, Harold. Just got to tip off the press. See you at the party.

Image of a throne propped up by a copy of Spare by Prince Harry.

My basic training was at Sandhurst. A breeze after dealing with the tabloids. They tried to break me. But they couldn’t. You can’t break something that’s already broken. Pa visited me once but didn’t say much. Willy gave me the cold shoulder. At passing out, Granny told me I could go awf to Afghanistan as it didn’t matter if I died. Willy was the one they cared about.

Afghanistan. Heat. Desert. Taliban. Foreigners. Though I had never really met any. I didn’t understand unconscious bias back then. Most of my family still don’t. Some men didn’t make it back. I guess I was one of the unlucky ones who did. Four years of training to fly Apaches. So who’s thick now, Willy? Suck on that. Pressing my finger on the trigger of the cannons. Rebeka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka-kah. Not seeing Taliban. But the paps. Why not? Sure I killed. Twenty-five was my number. It’s what I was there for. I have no guilt. Besides I was the real victim.

Back home I drifted. Lost. Spare. Girls came and went. They couldn’t stand the pressure. I didn’t blame them. Willy got married to Kate. I wished them well. The vanilla couple. Stuck in a gilded cage. Mummy would have laughed. He didn’t want me as his best man. Couldn’t risk the truth. Granny won’t let me use the same dressing-up box as you for the wedding, Harold. Get over it. You beat me, man. I’m living in a hovel, smoking dope. Shopping at TK Maxx. You get the castle.

Africa. Therapy. The north pole. Antarctica. I tried them all. But even the paps disguised themselves as penguins. Willy was just leaking stories about how shit I was. As was Pa. And Camilla. Then I met Meg and everything changed. I became whole. My stigmata healed. My compassion saturated. You complete me, Meg. You complete me, Haz.

Willy was furious. Hated the fact that Granny let me keep my beard. You’ve got to shave it off. I’m the Heir. Do it. No, we were getting married on my terms. A guaranteed income for being pap fodder, a dukedom and a better house from Granny. It was a fairytale. Almost as if Mummy was alive again. I love you, Meg. I love you, Haz.

The family played rough. The keeper of the royal tiaras refused to let Meg have a nice one. Kate complained about the bridesmaid dresses and made Meg cry. They leaked lies to the press. But we had something inside so strong. I wasn’t going to let them break my wounded butterfly. They weren’t going to do to Meg what they had to Mummy.

Soon Meg was pregnant and I was in the hospital at the laughing gas. I could feel Meg’s pain. Soon we were three. Our family. Not theirs. Even though our house was decorated by Dunelm and theirs was festooned with old masters, still the poisonous leaks continued. There had to be a showdown. Willy came into the kitchen, broke my Hakuna Matata necklace and pushed me on the dog bowl. Meg rushed me to A&E to have the small scratch treated.

I phoned Elton John. Chris Martin came round to play an acoustic set. I talked to my therapist. It was time for my Truth. For too long I’d played to Willy and Pa’s tune. To protect my privacy I was going to have to invade theirs. It would heal them. Kumbaybloodya. I was the shaman. Reclaiming my identity. Soon we would all be together again. In time, they would appreciate what twats they had been. And how right and how damaged I had been.

Or not. Things moved fast. Granny offered me another house. But she couldn’t promise to have the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Times and the Telegraph shut down. Nor could she offer me a round-the-clock armed guard and a choice of whatever gigs I fancied. And Willy still dug his heels in over Africa. Mummy would have sobbed at history repeating itself.

Meg and I left for Canada. And then for Montecito. Still the press came for us. Though God knows what we would do if no one bothered us. How would we know that we are alive? Scary. There will be no reconciliation with Willy and Pa. Not until they say sorry for forcing me to tell my story. That much I learned from Granny’s death. They wouldn’t even allow me on the plane to see her before she died. So I had to buy my own. And they denied a 96-year-old woman the closure of saying goodbye to the only man who truly loved her.

I sit in the garden with Meg, Archie and Lili. I hold a hummingbird in my hand. Is that you, Mummy? Fly away. You’re free at last. Don’t go.

Digested read, digested: I want my mummy.

Spare by Prince Harry is published by Bantam (£28). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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