tMonarchy is based on imagination. It is a constructed reality, in which adults are asked to co-opt the idea that man is more than just human – that there is something approaching the ineffable essence of Britishness. Once upon a time, this fantasy rested on political and military power, backed up by a direct line, as it was supposed, to God. It relies at present on the feeble foundations of habit, the secrets of Britain’s unwritten constitution, and the spectacle: a kind of symbolism without symbolism. Celebrations such as the late Queen’s funeral are not just decorations; They are the foundation’s means of ensuring its continuity. The monarchy is the theatre, the monarchy tells tales, and the monarchy is illusion.
It all explains why fantasy writers, from Alan Bennett to Peter Morgan, are so irresistible to royals: they’re already halfway to legend. And no one seems to cling to legends more than the royals themselves. There is a wonderful passage in Prince Harry’s autobiography, Spear, in which he describes his father’s delight in Shakespeare: how he regularly took his son to Stratford, and how he “loved Henry V, and likened himself to Prince Hal”. Harry himself experimented with Hamlet. “Hmm. A lonely prince, obsessed with his dead father, watching the surviving parent fall in love with… parental rapist? I shut him down.” At Eton he was cast as Conrad, one of Don John’s comic henchmen in Much Ado About Nothing. To his surprise, it was rather good. “It turns out that being a royal wasn’t far from being on stage.”
Prince Harry portrays himself as not being a good reader. The study of invited thinking. Thinking called grief. It is better to avoid emotions. But he wronged himself. He is a voracious reader of journalism. For years, it seemed, he had devoured every syllable published about him, in outlets from the London Review of Books to The Sun to fecal depths below the line on social media channels. The most frequently quoted of his father in the book is, “Don’t read it, darling boy.” He wrote that his therapist indicated he was addicted to it. Spare is about the doom of a royal in the age of the smartphone and Instagram; A torment of a different order even than that suffered by his mother, certainly by Princess Margaret, being forbidden to marry the man she loved by her sister. (To Harry, Margaret is “Aunt Margo,” a cold-blooded old lady who could “kill a houseplant with a single frown” and once gave him a pew — “Oh. pew. Wonderful” — for Christmas.)
The royal family’s imagination can only be kept alive if its personalities are visible, hence their symbiotic relationship is rarely direct with the media. Speer alleges that the portrayals of royals in sections of the press — aside from their occasional involvement in horrific criminality, outright invention, intolerable harassment and outright racism — have also often relied on a kind of zero-sum game, in which one of the family members is the spokesperson. They will try to protect their customers at the expense of someone else trading gossip for favors. He argues that Harry, in his role as expendable “reserve”, was too often a victim of this process. Metaphors and archetypes as old as the hills are cited in Distortions: The Prodigal Son; Warring brothers. In Megan’s case, there is something more corrosive: the witch-like woman.
It is the royal press for which Harry retains a particular loathing. “It always made me sick,” writes the Royal Telegraph correspondent. And he can’t even bear to name Rebecca Brooks, CEO of News UK, referring to her fondly as Rehabber Kooks. As for her boss: “I didn’t care about Rupert Murdoch’s politics, which were just to the right of the Taliban.” Harry may be clueless about the sheer extent of his privilege – he writes early in the book, “It looks sumptuous and I think it was ‘from childhood meals of fish fingers served under silver domes by walkers’ – he is not remotely arrogant, nor inferential.” Moods from the right.
An eye-catching clip recounts the prince’s conversation with his therapist about Hilary Mantel’s 2013 LRB article About Kate Middleton. She became notorious, and was deliberately misread by the tabloids as anti-Kate, even though she was a savage of the acting Henceforth the Princess of Wales whom Mantel was mocking. Harry remembers his disgust at Mantel calling the royal family “pandas” – adorable, dazzling animals kept in a zoo. “If even a famous intellectual dismisses us as animals, what is the hope of the man or woman in the street?”
However, he got about half of what Mantel was driving. He writes that the lyrics “always struck me as so perceptive and singularly barbaric”. We lived in a zoo. Describing his unwillingness to cut his funding in 2020, he wrote: “I recognize the absurdity, a man in his mid-thirties his father cut him off…But I never asked to be financially dependent on the PA. I was forced into this surreal state, The Truman Show The infinity in which I’ve never carried cash, never owned a car, never carried a house key, never ordered anything online, never received a single Amazon box, never traveled on the subway.”
In her article, Mantel notes, “Harry doesn’t know who he is, a person or a prince.” Spare is clearly Prince’s attempt to reclaim the character, to claim his own narrative. He writes of his oppressors in the tabloids: “I was a Royalist and in their minds royalty was synonymous with non-persons. Centuries ago, royal men and women were considered divine. Now they were vermin. What fun, to pluck their wings.” This, of course, is somewhat unremembered by Shakespeare: they kill us for their sport,” says the blind Gloucester in Lire. The gods in Harry’s version are neither Olympians nor kings, but photographers and messengers—and so the circle is turned.
Precaution is by turns pathetic, depressing, oddly compelling, and absurd. Harry is shortsighted because he sits at the center of his own truth, at the same time abhorring and locking in tabloid storytelling tropes, a style he echoes in his ghostwritten autobiography. Had he seen more of the 2002 Golden Jubilee anniversary, he would have noticed that his impression that “Britain was drunk…everybody’s wearing some copy of the Union Jack” was completely wrong. Parts of the United Kingdom were indifferent, some hostile. His remarks about the darkness of the basement flat he once inhabited at Kensington Palace, its windows cut off from light by a neighbour’s SUV, would seem insulting to those who could not find a home or afford a house heat. The logical consequence of the views he now espoused would be a personal republic, but needless to say that was not the path he was taking: “My problem,” he wrote, “was never with the concept of monarchy.” But what it does show – whether intentionally or not – is that ownership makes fools of us all.
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