Spare by Prince Harry – A Review

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Prince Harry served in the army for 10 years

“It’s better to be a “misfit” than a “one-size-fits-all”! Mandy Hale

“ The Monarchy, always, at all costs, had to be protected’ Prince Harry, Spare (p.351)

I have just finished reading the book Spare by Prince Harry, who is described in the inner book-jacket as  “The Duke of Sussex; husband; father; military veteran; mental wellness advocate; and environmentalist”.  I found the book  immensely readable, which had  a seamless structural flow of words that leapt out of  the pages into the  inner sensibility of the dread of isolation and loneliness that haunts the human.  Royal correspondent Sean Coughlan is reported in the BBC as describing the book as: “ Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, is part confession, part rant and part love letter. In places it feels like the longest angry drunk text ever sent. It’s the view from inside what he calls a “surreal fishbowl” and “unending Truman Show”. It’s disarmingly frank and intimate – showing the sheer weirdness of his often-isolated life. And it’s the small details, rather than the set-piece moments, that give a glimpse of how little we really knew”.

Rebecca Mead writing in The New York Times says the book is “compellingly artful.  Another spectral figure haunting the text of Spare—that of Harry’s ghostwriter, J. R. Moehringer. Harry, or his publishing house…could not have chosen better … Moehringer has what is usually called a novelist’s eye for detail, effectively deployed in Spare … Moehringer has fashioned the Duke of Sussex’s life story into a tight three-act drama … Spare is worth reading not just for its headline-generating details but also for its narrative force, its voice, and its sometimes-surprising wit …”

My Take

The book is replete with personal details of a little boy in his bedroom, told of his mother’s fatal accident; his solipsistic isolation and his finding refuge in the “pleasure” of going to war; the vilification he suffers at the hand of the Press and the relentless hounding by “paps” (as he calls the paparazzi) of his wife Meagan and himself. In between, there are facts which bewilder the reader such as the narrative where Prince Harry discusses that both he and his brother “Willie” separately drove through the short tunnel in Paris where his mother died in the car accident, and as a result of their findings where both brothers requested that the inquiry into the circumstances of the crash be reopened which was ignored by powers that be. Prince Harry recounts throughout the book innumerable such requests made by him regarding blatant falsehoods reported in an inimical Press that were ignored or treated with indifference by Palace authorities

Family squabbles aside, the most telling message conveyed by the book is in what I consider its thrust – The insidiousness of tabloid journalism and social media that erode the pristine right to privacy and reputation.  Some have described paparazzi as “vultures” preying on celebrities for their gain, while destroying their right to a private life.  The Press, in its worst form, is no better, according to Prince Harry’s narrative of being erroneously branded throughout his childhood and adolescence as an obstreperous, vapid and frivolous spoilt brat, and later in adult life as a drunken lothario. The prince recounts that in every instance, either the Press blatantly misrepresented facts or exaggerated them.  In other words, he was an embarrassing misfit in an otherwise proper royal family.  Ironically, the prince recalls egregious and improper instances of conduct by other members of the royal family who received much less criticism than did Harry.

The book asks the inarticulate question: how can the fifth estate conduct itself with such flagrant disregard to journalistic ethics and carry on with impunity? According to the book Prince Harry’s life, as well as that of his family, were destroyed by both the Press and the paparazzi while the Palace looked on.  At a time when the Press provides yeoman service elsewhere, and functions as the watchdog against corruption, fake news, gaslighting which prompted President Biden to say at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner over the weekend that he preferred a press without government to a government without the Press, Prince Harry’s experiences seem  an counter intuitive anachronism and an existential nightmare. 

The book impels the reader to inquire into the vulnerability of the Press in various jurisdictions to actions of misinformation, disinformation and false reporting which can undermine public trust in journalism. For example, in France, there is a a law titled Law Against the Manipulation of Information which empowers the judiciary to order the removal of false or misleading information during election periods and requires online platforms to disclose the sources of sponsored content. In Germany, a law called Network Enforcement Act requires social media platforms to remove illegal content, such as hate speech and defamation, within 24 hours or face fines up to 50 million euros.  In the United States, the media can be sued for defamation if it can be proved that the media published a false statement that harmed reputation of individuals. In this context, public figures have a higher burden of proof and must also show that the media acted with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth.   A government task force called the Electoral Integrity Assurance Task Force was set up in Australia to identify and counter potential cyberattacks and foreign influence campaigns targeting upcoming elections.  Cambodia has brought into effect a law called the Law on State of Emergency which empowers  the government to exercise sweeping powers to restrict civil liberties and punish anyone who spreads false information that may cause public fear or unrest during a state of emergency.

As a member of the legal profession I felt somewhat distraught that Prince Harry did not have recourse to protection against the breach of privacy against him and his family. brought about by the violation of their right to control the collection, use, and disclosure of their personal information. There was obviously irrevocable damage to reputation. In common law jurisdictions a commoner (let alone a prince) who has suffered a breach of privacy can seek legal remedies, such as damages, injunctions, or class actions, depending on the circumstances and the applicable law. In Canada, a class action lawsuit was filed against the Bank of Montreal for a large-scale breach of personal information of approximately 113,000 customers due to security deficiencies in its online banking software. In France, a case was brought by Max Mosley, a former motor racing boss, against Google for displaying images of him participating in a sex party that were originally published by a British tabloid. The court ordered Google to remove the images from its search results and pay damages to Mosley.

Given the above, this book is by no means a rant.  Nor is it an angry drunk text.  It is a concatenation of single instances that tells the story of a young man who, in his words, flees in fear for his sanity.  When Prince Harry asked for retractions of the numerous untruths printed in the press the request  was refused or ignored time and again. When he and Meagan finally decided to branch out of the trappings of royal duties and attendant vicious defamatory and libelous publicity, not to mention the predatory “Paps”, they were told it was “massively damaging the reputation of the family and making “our relationship with the media complicated”.

From the eloquent and articulate words in the book one could feel the voices of their frowns and the sound of their derision.  Above all, the failing heartbeat of the Rule of Law.

Ruwantissa Abeyratne

Dr. Abeyratne teaches aerospace law at McGill University. Among the numerous books he has published are Air Navigation Law (2012) and Aviation Safety Law and Regulation (to be published in 2023). He is a former Senior Legal Counsel at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

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