I didn’t want to write this piece. The royals already take up so much oxygen, it’s merely adding fuel to the fire. But Prince Harry’s long-awaited memoir Spare (ghostwritten, of course) has finally found its way onto British bookshelves. Accompanying the release has been a PR offensive which, rather than bolster support for the errant royal and his wife, Meghan Markle, has torpedoed a large chunk of the goodwill the pair had built up after distancing themselves from his family amid tabloid harassment and claims of royal racism.
Ever since Harry and Meghan lost access to the royal coffers, they’ve been cultivating a celebrity brand that could prove robust enough to keep them ‘afloat’ as private citizens, rather than active, senior members of the British monarchy. It’s not quite going down the mines, but accepted as part of the celebrity ecosystem – perfectly standard. The problem is that the couple had attempted to market themselves as young, progressive figures who were rejecting the monarchy on the basis of wanting to live life outside its rigid and bigoted constraints. Rosa Parks they weren’t, but there was an opportunity there to operate in a lane with other celebrity philanthropists who parrot politicised, quasi-leftwing messaging, while in practice being arch capitalists (see: Beyoncé).
But the more they open their mouths, unfiltered and unguarded, telling their story, the more this benevolent image is left in tatters on the floor of the Archwell editing suite. Instead, what comes across – particularly in Harry’s case – is that their objection to the royal operation is not – shock! – based on strong anti-imperialist principles but, in fact, a deep hurt that they were prevented from participating in the institution the manner of their choosing.
The more artless details Harry reveals in an attempt to garner sympathy, the more gormless (and royal) he appears. Leaked extracts – albeit removed from context – told of killing apparent Taliban fighters while the prince served in Afghanistan; he supposedly blames brother William and his then-girlfriend Kate Middleton for the infamous 2005 incident where he arrived at a party dressed as a Nazi. In an interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby, aired just days before Spare dropped, Harry oscillated between self-victimisation and odd attempts to defend his family. He took them to task over petty, interpersonal disagreements, including an attack on his stepmother Camilla Parker-Bowles and her “campaign” for the crown. But when it came to addressing recent incidents of palace racism – a topic Harry had been eager to confront previously, however he referred to it – the prince was quick to defend former staffer Lady Susan Hussey, who stepped down from her royal household role in December 2022 after she repeatedly asked Black British campaigner Ngozi Fulani where she was “really from”.
“Meghan and I love Lady Susan Hussey, we think she’s great!” Harry told Bradby. “She never meant any harm at all”.
He also condemned the reaction of the British press to Hussey’s comments as “horrendous” which puts him at odds with both his estranged brother and father. At the time of the furore, both William and Charles released statements condemning the outright “racism” experienced by Fulani and an investigation into the matter was launched. Similarly, Harry was quick to clarify and Meghan had never labelled the royals as “racist” (true), instead referring to the cloud that hovers over an institution that used to directly enslave Black Africans and is the embodiment of empire, as one of “unconscious bias”.
“The difference between racism and unconscious bias […] the two things are different,” he explained, helpfully. “Once it’s been acknowledged or pointed out to you as an individual, otherwise an institution, that you have unconscious bias, you therefore have an opportunity to learn and grow from that […] otherwise, unconscious bias then moves into the category of racism.”
Sure, except that didn’t fit the pattern of behaviour detailed by Harry and Meghan previously. “Negatively speculating on the skin tone of an unborn child is not ‘unconscious bias’,” pointed out writer Jason Okundaye. “Unconscious to who? That is someone actively and consciously freaking out about skin colour. Harry knows this but protecting the monarchy is ultimately still his priority.”
Harry and Meghan never wanted to take down the monarchy; they just wanted to reform it in their image. He even spells it out: “My problem,” writes the beleaguered prince in ‘Spare’, “has never been with the concept of monarchy”. It feels odd to have to articulate that when it’s so obvious. On a personal level, they have suffered; the agony of breaking ties with your family, no matter how turbulent the relationship, is one many can attest to. But what they have to say holds no serious political weight for the likes of the left beyond gossip. Indulge it in a speculative fashion, hope Harry’s revelations bring the whole sorry lot down – but don’t kid yourself that these two are the freedom fighters Gotham needs. They’re just another pair of jokers.
Moya Lothian-McLean is a contributing editor at Novara Media.