Sunday, 29 January, 2023

Spare: Which royal has come out best in the book fallout?

Spare: Which royal has come out best in the book fallout?

King Charles

It is a largely sympathetic portrayal of King Charles. Of all the Royal Family, he comes off best.

Prince Harry's observations of his father cover ground we were aware of already. They reinforce the image many have of him.

He describes "Pa" as a sensitive, bookish man who struggled to emotionally connect with Harry after the death of Diana.

But the King is now the boss and although he escapes the worst of it, he has to decide how to handle the attacks directed at others in the family.

What Harry says about the Queen Consort will be hard for his father to stomach. If there is to be any kind of reconciliation, it will have to come from the top.

Any olive branch, will probably have to be offered by the King first. And right now, publicly, there is no sign of that.

Camilla, Queen Consort

For Camilla, Queen Consort, it has been tough going. But Harry's take on his stepmother is also full of contradictions.

He directs much of his media fury her way, accusing her of courting the tabloid press to improve her public image where she was cast as a "villain." A strategy, he said, that made her "dangerous".

It is a damaging narrative for a woman for whom public support didn't always come easily.

At the same time, in a different chapter, and in an interview answer, the mood is fonder even affectionate and admiring. He recognises the happiness and peace she has brought his father and he praises her work with victims of domestic violence.

For Harry, Camilla seems confusing.

William, the Prince of Wales

Prince William comes in for some heavy, repeated criticism. The book has shifted how we view the relationship of the brothers - Willy and Harold as we now know they call each other.

Things haven't been great recently. But these were brothers bonded by agonising loss who depended on each other. Weren't they?

It seems not according to Harry. The tension between them dates back decades he says - ignored by William at Eton, privately usurped as his brother's Best Man and then attacked in the kitchen. The writing at times drips with anger and occasionally pettiness.

William is cast here as the angry, frustrated, pent up big brother. It doesn't match his public persona of the matey, personable, empathetic royal.

Kensington Palace is not responding to anything Harry has written. Instead, we will see William letting his royal work speak for him. Carrying on with duty. Focussing on vulnerable communities. And trying to move away from the furore. If, that is possible.

Catherine, Princess of Wales

This is very much Kate versus Meghan. For Harry, his sister-in-law is always a Kate, never Catherine.

References to her are often personal and have emerged from recollections of private moments. In that way they are revelatory.

Harry didn't like the media portrayal of the two women as rivals but that is the context in which The Princess of Wales is often written about in his book. It can read as uptight, formal Kate alongside open, barefoot Meghan.

Kate is not big on hugging, she doesn't like sharing a lip gloss and there was that infamous misunderstanding over the bridesmaid dresses, Harry tells us.

It is hard to see how this wouldn't feel personally wounding to the Princess of Wales, especially exposing elements of her private life and that of her children which she has fiercely protected and managed.

Again, like her husband, don't expect to hear any public response or any kind of damage limitation. Instead, she too will let her public engagements do the talking.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

To her husband, she is Meg. She has been a life changer for Harry. There is less of the Duchess than you might think in the book and the interviews.

Much of Harry's memoir covers his life before Meghan. But her influence and impact shine brightly once she's on the scene. He says writing Spare would have been "logistically, physically, emotionally and spiritually" impossible without her.

The book is likely to cement opinions on Meghan. For some, Harry has been rescued by her and escaped to a life of freedom and immense happiness. For others, she has lured him away from duty and family and will never be forgiven. Media coverage this week probably won't change your mind.

Harry, Duke of Sussex

Where to start? Nobody was expecting him to hold back. His story, his words, was the pitch.

But that story is more graphic, those words more intimate and his hatred of the British tabloid press more intense than expected. Writing the book was both a "painful" and "cathartic" experience for him.

The book will now be an obstacle stuck firmly in the way of the reconciliation Harry says he wants with his family. Finding a truce seems unthinkable at the moment. Trust has been broken.

In his interviews, Harry said he hadn't spoken to his father or brother in some time. There is a sadness on all sides here but things have got personal and that isn't a comfortable position for the Royal Family.

Interest in Harry and Meghan remains high but it is hard to judge if that will sustain in the months and years ahead now their story is well and truly out there.

The real winners

Aside from some of the Royals there are a handful of other clear winners around Spare.

The publishers, Transworld, Penguin Random House have a bestseller on their hands during January when there is normally a post-Christmas lull in sales.

It's been a lucrative project for ITV too. Their interview with Harry has now been sold to 77 territories around the world from France to New Zealand.

The power of therapy, which Harry credits as allowing him to deal with the past and write the memoir, is often mentioned. The book's acknowledgements also give an insight into Team Harry who include physios, an acupuncturist, Pilates teachers, chiropractors, personal trainers and an energy practitioner. They are all thanked for keeping him mentally and physically strong over the years.

And amongst those getting an unexpected publicity boost are beard lovers around the world. The other BBC - The British Beard Club - are thinking of asking Prince Harry to become a patron or at least give him complimentary membership after he wrote in support of beards in his book.

This has been a strange week in royal reporting.