Prince Harry’s ‘Spare’ threatens to become King Charles’ biggest headache
The media furor sparked by the royal’s memoir may overshadow the monarch’s coronation and lead to a new ‘annus horribilis’ for the British royal family
Unhappy families also resemble each other when it comes to internal quarrels – contrary to Tolstoy’s famous statement in Anna Karenina – and no one would be surprised to hear a father complain to his fighting children: “Don’t make my final years a misery.” But when that person is about to be king, after 70 years on the sidelines, when the children, are Prince Harry and Prince William, the brothers most hounded by the media, and when this phrase is said at the funeral of Prince Philip, the husband of the late Queen Elizabeth II, the anecdote takes on new meaning. This story is just one of many revealed in Prince Harry’s explosive memoir Spare – a book that is threatening to become the King Charles’ biggest headache, if not the biggest crisis the British monarchy has had to face. This year may be King Charles’ annus horribilis, similar to one Queen Elizabeth faced in 1992, when Princess Diana and then Prince Charles announced their separation, a fire destroyed Windsor Castle and the monarchy was hit by a series of scandals.
“The monarchy has faced crises more serious than the current one. The War of the Wales – which pitted Charles and Diana against each other – during the 1990s did far more damage to the Crown’s reputation. And the 1936 abdication [of Edward VIII] completely undermined the institution. In this case, an enormously popular king like Edward VIII was replaced by an unknown like his younger brother, George VI,” Ed Owens, a historian and honorary associate researcher at London University’s Centre for Modern Monarchy, told EL PAÍS. “However, Harry’s comments threaten to overshadow King Charles’s coronation ceremony if they continue to receive the same media attention they have had so far. The royal family must trust that media interest in Harry will subside, and that there will be no more allegations or revelations that do even more damage to the Crown.”
The coronation ceremony, the most symbolic act to mark the beginning of King Charles’ reign, will be held on May 6 at Westminster Abbey. In the lead-up to the ceremony, King Charles and his wife Camila, Queen Consort, have been holding events to improve their popularity among the British public. King Charles’ popularity rating is far lower than that of Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton. And even 25 years after her death, Lady Di remains more popular than her former husband.
The controversy surrounding Spare is affecting King Charles – who Prince Harry blames for various incidents – more than Prince William. And Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have also fared badly. According to a YouGov poll, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are as unpopular as Prince Andrew, who was ostracized following the 2019 scandal over his friendship with sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein and allegations he sexually abused Virginia Giuffre when she was a minor. The British press and public have responded negatively to Prince Harry and what is believed to be his revenge against the Crown. But that hasn’t translated into warmer feelings for the monarchy, especially among younger generations.
“Harry has lost his legion of followers in this country, but there are many young people who may be attracted by his contempt for convention,” Jonathan Sumption, a historian and former judge of the Supreme Court of the UK, told EL PAÍS. “But it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s looking for a lot of publicity for his own self-interest. There is also a widespread and firm belief that his wife is a manipulator. People, in general, are beginning to be fed up with both.”
Not even Prince Harry’s time in the military, which has been lauded by older generations, is cause for admiration anymore. In Spare, the Duke of Sussex claims that he killed 25 Taliban fighter while serving the British Army in Afghanistan, describing his victims as “chess pieces removed from the board.” This statement has sparked widespread criticism. “A lot of soldiers do know how many people they have killed. They just don’t think it is appropriate to publicize the kill count – never mind whether it is satisfying or embarrassing to them or whatever. It’s not about macho codes. It’s about decency and respect for the lives you have taken,” Conservative MP Adam Holloway wrote in a column published in The Spectator. Before taking a seat in the House of Commons, Holloway served in the British Army’s Grenadier Guards, working on missions in Iraq and Germany.
The revelations from the memoir, which will be officially released on January 10, have caused a media furor. Paradoxically, while the British public is very critical of Prince Harry’s decision to publish the book, it still has an insatiable hunger for gossip about the inner workings of the royal family – which has proved very profitable for publishers.
“The Duke of Sussex’s book is a sad tale of anger, pain, provocation and plain stupidity,” The Times newspaper wrote in its editorial about Spare. “His decision to bare all and in doing so wound the monarchy and hurt his family, as well as all those once close to him, is monumentally ill-advised. It will hardly help him to achieve new balance or inner calm. It will infuriate millions.”
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition