Prince Harry’s tell-all rips open old wounds in the British royal family

Prince Harry’s tell-all rips open old wounds in the British royal family

A version of this story appeared on the Dec. 10 edition of CNN Royal News, a weekly broadcast that brings you the inside scoop on Britain’s royal family. Register here. Prince Harry’s memoir has officially hit bookstores in the UK and elsewhere around the globe. Here in London, several retail chains opened their doors at midnight to allow eager readers to grab their copies before sunrise.

There have been plenty of revelations from leaks in the run-up to the chaotic launch of Spare over the past week, but the sensational, and sometimes inflammatory, headlines have lacked the context of the full book. What is clear now is Harry’s years of frustration at playing second fiddle to his brother. His memoirs reveal the full extent of his desperation to play the role of royal tutor to William and his treatment by some members of the family and the wider establishment.

Harry’s version of events is an eye-opening account of a royal experience that may be perceived from the outside as luxurious and privileged, but for him has also been traumatic and heartbreaking. Publisher Penguin Random House had promised “raw and unflinching honesty”. Of course there was more besides.

The Duke of Sussex bares almost nothing as he dispels the public perception that he’s the fun-loving, carefree party prince, delving into the devastating impact of his mother’s death, experimenting with drugs as a method of coping with grief and his efforts to find love.

It is at points chilling and hypercritical of some family members, who are not defending themselves as the palace is not responding to claims and revealing deeply personal conversations, despite Harry’s previous accusations against the media of privacy breaches.

The royal establishment may be internally shaken by Harry’s decision to air the family’s dirty laundry to the world, but externally there has been a wall of silence, with Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace consistently refusing to comment. The 410-page tome isn’t just a bombshell about toxic family dynamics, however. Princess Diana is a prominent presence throughout the book — what she would have thought, how she might have handled a situation, or the effects of her death on the boys.

A selection of front pages from various national daily newspapers in the United Kingdom on 6 January. Credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Another theme is the lifelong sibling rivalry between Harry and William and how their positions as ‘heir’ and ‘changer’ have driven them apart. Some parts of the book feel like a success for William, but Harry has insisted that’s not his intention. He seems to be trying to show that his brother is partly a product of a dysfunctional institution, where mistrust and competition are ingrained in the culture. He recounts times when things got heated — both verbally and physically — but he also stands up for his sibling.

Harry recalls how “the papers were full of stories about Willy being lazy”, which he describes as “disgraceful” and “very unfair”. Not only was William “busy with children and raising a family,” Harry writes, but he was “still devoted to Pa (as King Charles is referred to throughout the book).

“He did as much as Pa wanted, and sometimes it wasn’t much because Pa and Camilla didn’t want Willy and Kate to get too much publicity,” Harry adds. “Pas and Camilla didn’t like Willy and Kate drawing attention away from them or their causes. They had openly reprimanded Willy for it many times.”

The Duke of Sussex’s hatred of the tabloid press is also woven throughout the book. He often details the invasive methods used by the paparazzi before dramatically alleging some of the “firms” fed negative stories in the media in an attempt to curry favor with journalists for their favorable coverage. He specifically names his stepmother Camilla as one of those he believed engaged in such practices.

CNN correspondent reveals Prince Harry’s latest accusation

Some commentators are taking note of some glaring omissions in the book, particularly the outrage that erupted after Harry and Meghan told Oprah there had been “concern” from within the family about the color of their child Archie’s skin.

When asked by Anderson Cooper why he was not mentioned in the book, Harry said the remarks had been misinterpreted by the British media. “None of us believed that that comment or that experience or that opinion was based on racism. Unconscious bias, yes,” the prince replied. “The key word was ‘concern’ as opposed to ‘curiosity’. But the way the British press, what they turned it into, it wasn’t what it was.” He and Cooper then discussed how he had also said at the time that he would not discuss it further and they moved on.

Harry may not wish to expand on the matter, but many observers have criticized the Duke for failing to set the record straight sooner, particularly as he has criticized his family for not correcting inaccurate headlines in the tabloid press.

Some may say they’re not interested in British royal family drama or are getting tired of it, but “Spare” shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list upon its release. There wasn’t a rush at bookstores Tuesday morning, but retailers told CNN they had stacks of pre-orders ready to ship. By Tuesday afternoon, its publishers claimed it was the best-selling non-fiction book ever, with 400,000 copies in hardback, ebook and audio formats, Britain’s PA Media reported.

“We always knew this book would fly, but it is exceeding even our wildest expectations,” said Larry Finlay, managing director of Transworld Penguin Random House.

One thing is clear: the Sussexes are becoming more and more divisive characters, and each new publication or interview has reinforced both supporters and critics.

In general, here in the UK, there has been some disbelief over Harry’s stated desire to mend fences and that “nothing I’ve written, anything I’ve included is meant to hurt my family”, as he told Cooper in a pre-publication interview, while simultaneously publishing a book that both criticizes and casts the monarchy in a very unflattering light.

Most Britons polled by Savanta ahead of the book’s publication did not trust Harry to give an accurate account of his experience in the royal family — 53% said they did not trust Harry to do so in his book, while 39% said they trusted him.

Young people (18-34), those who said they voted for Labour, the liberal opposition party, in the last election and those who described themselves as republicans rather than monarchists were more likely to say they trusted Harry.

2005 photo of then-Prince Charles posing with his sons Princes William and Harry during a skiing holiday in Switzerland. Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

CNN royal historian Kate Williams says Harry’s confession tarnishes the monarchy and raises questions about its structure.

“Even though he says he supports the monarchy, he blames it for so much that went wrong,” she says. “We have a situation where one kid gets everything and all the attention and the other kid gets nothing. But he’s also sold to the press and that’s why he was so unhappy and that’s why he felt he had to leave.”

The family rift also threatens to overshadow the biggest royal event of the year: the coronation of King Charles III in May. In an interview to promote his book, Harry was non-committal about whether he and Meghan would attend.

Planning for the event should be well underway with the big day fast approaching. It would go against the spirit of the occasion to exclude anyone, especially family members — whether the Sussexes or Prince Andrew, who was forced to step back from royal duties amid a sex abuse scandal last year.

“It would help Charles a lot in terms of his image if Harry and Meghan were there,” says Williams. “It will look particularly bad for him if his son is not there because, of course, Harry is still very high in line to the throne, as are his children.”

She adds that, “Charles would love for him to be there, and Charles would love for Meghan to be there,” and recalls that many were excited to see the couple return for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee last summer.

The Sussexes during the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations last June. Credit: Toby Melville/Pool/Reuters

No one from the palace has said the Sussexes aren’t invited, so it’s assumed they remain on the guest list for now. Then it is up to them whether they choose to come and celebrate with the new sovereign.

“I miss the UK, I miss my friends,” Harry said on his Netflix show. “I came here [the US] because I had changed. I had changed to the point where I had outgrown my environment.”

Does this mean he and his family won’t be back in May? Time will tell, but he also mentioned the lack of “the odd family gathering where we’re all together under one roof at certain times of the year.”

Add to Queue: More royal reads for your bookshelf

Need more royal revelations to add to your reading list? Here are some titles that most royal reporters have in their home libraries:

Read: Queen of Our Times: The Life of Queen Elizabeth II by Robert Hardman (2022)

Hardman, one of Britain’s best-known royal biographers, distills the Queen’s life into a study of dynastic survival and renewal as she led the monarchy into the modern era.

Read: The Other Side of the Coin: Queens, Dressers and Wardrobes by Angela Kelly (2019)

Kelly worked for the Queen for 25 years, first as Her Majesty’s senior dresser, then as her personal adviser. In this book, filled with charming photographs and anecdotes, Elizabeth gave Kelly her blessing to share their relationship with the world.

Read: The Prince of Wales by Jonathan Dimbleby (1994)

Dimbleby, the veteran British broadcaster and personal friend of Charles, wrote his biography of the future King in the early nineties. It details how Charles was preparing for the role of monarch, his split from Diana and his future vision of the monarchy.

Read: “Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words” by Andrew Morton (1992)

Diana was one of the first family members to speak openly about life inside the institution. When this biography was first published, it shot to the top of the bestseller lists and changed the way the public viewed the British monarchy.

Read: “Princess Margaret: A Life of Contrasts” by Christopher Warwick (2000)

Harry’s aren’t the only memories of a “reserved” heir. Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, was one of the most controversial royal figures in recent times.

Read: The Final Curtsey: A Royal Memoir by the Queen’s Cousin by Margaret Rhodes (1994)

In this autobiography, the Queen’s cousin details her life in the Scottish aristocracy. Born into a Downton Abbey-style family, Rhodes later served as lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother and was at her bedside when she died.

CNN Style’s Culture Queue is an ongoing series of timely recommendations for books to read, movies to watch, and podcasts and music to listen to. Look here.

Watch: Anderson Cooper reflects on his interview with Prince Harry

Anderson Cooper joined “CNN This Morning” to talk about his one-on-one meeting with Prince Harry for “60 Minutes,” in which Harry details the loss of his mother, Princess Diana. Take a look:

Anderson Cooper reflects on his interview with Prince Harry

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