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Prince Harry’s ghostwriter opens up on writing ‘Spare’: ‘I was exasperated’

Four months after the memoir’s publication, J. R. Moehringer recalls the ups and downs of the experience: from feuding over scene endings to receiving trays of sweets from Meghan Markle

Principe Enrique
Prince Harry as he leaves Westminster Abbey after the coronation of Charles III, on May 6, 2023, in London.Dan Charity (AP)
Andrea Jiménez

Just when it seemed like the controversy around Prince Harry’s memoir Spare had calmed down, the book’s ghostwriter J. R. Moehringer has opened up on what it was like working with the Duke for nearly two years. Since hitting the shelves last year, Spare has become a global bestseller, setting the record for the fastest-selling nonfiction book of all time. The memoir contained many revelations about the British royal family, further straining Prince Harry’s relationship with his family.

Now, Moehringer — who was also the ghostwriter for tennis star Andre Agassi’s autobiography — has revealed the challenges involved with writing the book. In an article published in The New Yorker, Moehringer explains that he and the prince had a serious disagreement regarding one chapter. “We’d come to a difficult passage,” the writer recounts. “Harry, at the close of grueling military exercises in rural England, gets captured by pretend terrorists. It’s a simulation, but the tortures inflicted upon Harry are very real.”

After the prince is hooded, stripped and dragged to an underground basement, his captors bring up his mother, Princess Diana, who died in 1997. “Even the fake terrorists engrossed in their parts, even the hard-core British soldiers observing from a remote location, seem to recognize that an inviolate rule has been broken,” writes Moehringer. “Clawing that specific wound, the memory of Harry’s dead mother, is out of bounds.” In Spare, which is narrated in the first person from Prince Harry’s point of view, the fake kidnappers apologize to the prince.

Moehringer and Prince Harry were at odds over how to end the passage. The Duke of Sussex wanted to end the scene with a phrase that he said to one of the captors. But the writer thought including the comeback was “unnecessary, and somewhat inane.” “I was exasperated with Prince Harry. My head was pounding,” Moehringer writes. “Although this wasn’t the first time that Harry and I had argued, it felt different; it felt as if we were hurtling toward some kind of decisive rupture.” The tension began to ease after Prince Harry “exhaled and calmly explained that, all his life, people had belittled his intellectual capabilities, and this flash of cleverness proved that, even after being kicked and punched and deprived of sleep and food, he had his wits about him.”

But they still didn’t agree on how to end the scene. Moehringer feared the worst, worrying he might be fired. “Should I have been more diplomatic? Should I have just given in? I imagined I’d be thrown off the book soon after sunup,” he writes. “I could almost hear the awkward phone call with Harry’s agent, and I was sad. Never mind the financial hit—I was focussed on the emotional shock. All the time, the effort, the intangibles I’d invested in Harry’s memoir, in Harry, would be gone just like that.”

In the end, Moehringer wasn’t fired, and he even got his way: Prince Harry’s comeback to his captors wasn’t included in the book, nor does the writer reveal what it was he said.

Prince Harry's book 'Spare' is displayed at Sherman's book store in Freeport, Maine, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.
Prince Harry's book 'Spare' is displayed at Sherman's book store in Freeport, Maine, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Robert F. Bukaty (AP)

And while there were moments of tension, Moehringer says he also enjoyed the process, particularly his stays at Prince Harry’s family home in Montecito, California. “Harry put me up in his guesthouse, where Meghan [Markle] and Archie would visit me on their afternoon walks,” he recalls. “Meghan, knowing I was missing my family, was forever bringing trays of food and sweets.”

Indeed, Moehringer says that the two hit it off from their very first Zoom call. But the writer — who explains that he has never taken on a ghostwriting projects for money — explains was concerned by the fact that “Harry wasn’t sure how much he wanted to say in his memoir.” On the other hand, he liked that there was no deadline, and that he would have time to develop the book.

Moehringer and Prince Harry built up trust, and felt connected by their joint loss. “Princess Diana had died 23 years before our first conversation, and my mother, Dorothy Moehringer, had just died, and our griefs felt equally fresh,” writes Moehringer.

The ghostwriter was also drawn in by Prince Harry’s experiences. “I found his story, as he outlined it in broad strokes, relatable and infuriating. The way he’d been treated, by both strangers and intimates, was grotesque,” he writes.

In an interview with People magazine ahead of Spare’s publication, Prince Harry recounted how it felt to be constantly compared to his older brother, Prince William. “While I know much of my life may seem unrelatable, I do think most siblings can relate to struggling with comparisons,” he said in the January interview. “My brother and I are no exception.”

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