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So Many Thoughts on the Second Half of Spare
Reflections on what Prince Harry shared in the final stretch of his memoir, as well as the complicated, competing feelings I have after reading it.
As I reached the end of Spare, I grew anxious. Reading Harry’s recollections of his 2018 wedding to Meghan, I couldn’t help but notice only a sliver of pages remained. There is so much ground still to cover, I thought. How will he fit it all in?
With ghostwriter J.R. Moehringer, Harry crammed four turbulent years into about 70 pages, a sprint from the Sussexes’ honeymoon through the Queen’s death last fall. The reflections and retellings suddenly took on a rushed and raw feeling, markedly different from rest of the book. This is wholly unsurprising; there hasn’t been the time or the space to process what just happened in the same way as something that occurred two decades ago. Still, it made for an overwhelming end to an intense memoir. As I closed the book, my heart felt both full and heavy for Harry, for what he experienced and how he shared it.
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For these reasons and more, it took me a minute to compose my thoughts on the second half of Spare. I’ve found a bit of space from the material to be really helpful (here to normalize processing time!). Below you’ll find takeaways on moments and themes in Parts 2 and 3, which came quite quickly. I needed more time for the “but mostly” takeaway at the bottom of this email. You’ll see it turned into a bit of an essay because — like Spare — it’s complicated. And finally, I’ve collected links to other Spare pieces I found interesting.
PS: In case you missed it, here are my thoughts on the first half of Spare.
Looking for more Spare thoughts?
For a deeper dive, check out:
🎧 Audio Thoughts — A Spare Companion Podcast. This was such a fun experiment, reacting and reflecting to what Harry shared as I made my way through Spare. I discuss Part 1 in Episode 1 and Episode 2, Part 2 in Episode 3, Episode 4 and Episode 5, and Part 3 in Episode 6 and Episode 7. (You can add the feed to your favorite podcast app! Instructions on how to do that are here.) Still to come: One more episode answering your questions. Stay tuned!
🧵 SMT Discussion Threads. My favorite corner of the Internet right now, with the most insightful and constructive discourse around the book that I’ve seen! There is one for each section of Spare: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
The companion podcast and comment threads are available to paid subscribers. If you haven’t already, please consider upgrading for $5 a month — your support makes my work possible. If you cannot afford a paid subscription, please sign up for a free one first and then send me a note: Hello@SoManyThoughts.com.
PS: It would mean so much if you would forward this email to a Spare-reading friend!
So Many Thoughts on the Second Half of Spare
My take on Part 2 (beginning at Chapter 65) through the epilogue. Lots of spoilers ahead!
#TeamReadtheBook is the only way
Preaching to the choir here, obviously! But reading Spare in its entirety paints a much different portrait than anything leaked by the press ahead of its release. I was particularly appalled by the coverage of the number of people Harry said he killed in Afghanistan, which he shares in the second half of Part 2. This so-called reporting felt egregious to me — and Harry, too. “They had the whole section, they ripped it away and just said, ‘Here it is. He’s boasting on this,’” Harry said on The Colbert Show. “My words are not dangerous, but the spin of my words are very dangerous.”
When I reached his account of his second tour of Afghanistan, it became quite clear that “the number” — as the press reported — wasn’t just a number. It was part of a much broader reflection on the complexities of war and his experiences in combat. I learned so much in the details that Harry disclosed, including that footage from the Apache helicopter cameras is reviewed after every mission. “Everything I did in the course of two combat tours was recorded, time-stamped,” Harry writes. “I could always say precisely how many enemy combatants I’d killed. And I felt it vital never to shy away from that number. Among the many things I learned in the Army, accountability was near the top of that list.” AND THEN HE SHARES THE NUMBER. It all hits so differently when you read the book, the whole book.
Time to rethink the Court Circular
The way my eyes widened at Harry’s commentary on the annual record of official royal engagements! There’s a rush at the end of each year to tally up the workload for each member of the royal family as recorded in the Court Circular. I’ll be honest: This focus on quantity has always turned me off. It has never felt apples-to-apples, by my estimation, as one Will and Kate event gets loads more attention than a series of Anne engagements.
I was fascinated by Harry’s description that the tallies become a “circular firing squad” amongst the Windsors. But what was even more revealing was how the engagements are distributed. As Harry tells it, the public-facing work that he and Will could do was managed by Charles. “Pa was the sole decider. It was he alone who controlled our funds; we could only do what we could do with whatever resources and budget we got from him,” Harry writes. “To be publicly flogged for how much Pa permitted us to do—that felt grossly unfair, rigged.” I mean, yes! How frustrating would that be? And there’s more: Charles would limit his sons’ public appearances so as not to lose too much of the spotlight. Which…wow.
A royal Maxxinista (and other brilliant storytelling moves)
The writer in me particularly appreciated the storytelling in the last stretch of Part 2, when Harry is sorting out life after leaving the army. Ghost writer J.R. Moehringer did a phenomenal job (throughout Spare but particularly in this section) of pivoting from the intensity of war with unexpected aspects of his royal life. The details were divine, racing through the aisles of a grocery story looking for avocado, crisps, and salmon fillets (“fill-ettes,” as he said in the audiobook). Or how he sprinted through the sale racks just before closing at T.K. Maxx!
Then Spare layers in Harry’s hyper awareness of his age and the passing time, wanting desperately to meet someone, and you’ve got yourself the start of an epic rom-com. A moment of gratitude for reversing the tired gender roles! So often women are the ones portrayed as fixated on an imaginary clock, feeling pressure to fall in love and start a family. And here is a man (a prince, no less) articulating all of that and more.
Another well-crafted plot point was around Harry’s obsession with Friends: “I decided I was a Chandler,” he writes. Then — would you believe it?! — he ends up at Courteney Cox’s house. Would that party have been remarkable based solely on the <checks notes> “huge box of black diamond mushroom chocolates” detail? Yes, of course. Was it somehow sweeter knowing Harry had spent countless hours on the couch watching the television show of the woman whose fridge he was now raiding? You know it.
A not-so-subtle shoutout to Americans
Harry’s love of life across the pond got a big ol’ two thumbs up from this American! His descriptions were brilliant (again, h/t Moehringer). I chuckled audibly at how he was drawn to the things about us that tend to turn-off some Brits. Americans are seen as “too loud, too rich, too happy,” he writes, as well as “too confident, too direct, too honest.” My favorite bit was how he said Americans “spit things out, like a sneeze.” Hell yeah (and welcome, Harry!).
What was Meghan thinking in those early days?
We know quite a bit of the Sussexes’ early courtship, thanks to the Netflix docu-series. Still, I found this stretch of Spare to be particularly delightful because it was filled with new details from Harry’s point of view. He fell so fast! And so hard! It was all quite adorable. All the while <cue SJP voice in SATC> I couldn’t help but wonder: What was Meghan thinking?
I mean, take a second to put yourself in her shoes. She FaceTimes him after their first meeting to find him…at home, getting high with a friend, watching cartoons? Or what did it feel like to get a photo of a hand-written letter texted from a friend because Harry’s phone fell in the lake? Dying for her take on the brown bean bag and the rest of his bachelor pad decor at Nott Cott! I have so many questions about the disconnect between the fantasy of DATING A PRINCE and the reality of learning about his actual life.
How strong the bond between H&M was, right from the start
I said in this in my audio thoughts but absolutely everyone should get a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer to document the early days of one’s relationship. The ways in which Harry talked about his attraction and connection to Meghan were so moving. “There was an energy about her, a wild joy and playfulness,” he writes. “Confident. Free. She believed life was one grand adventure, I could see that. What a privilege it would be, I thought, to join her on that journey.”
What’s more, the strength of their bond is abundantly clear. “I knew her straightaway, and she knew me. The true me,” Harry writes. “Might seem rash, I thought, might seem illogical, but it’s true: for the first time, in fact, I felt myself to be living in truth.”
And you know what? I love that for him, I really do. After hundreds of pages of reading about this man’s early adulthood, wandering lost and alone, desperately wanting more from his family, I’m so glad he found someone he loves with his whole heart, someone who loves him so deeply in return.
What Harry did — and did not do — to prep Meghan for meeting his family
About that curtsy! The way Meghan greeted the Queen was the source of much debate after the Netflix docu-series. Harry, however, describes her curtsy as “flawless,” which is all I need to know. Meeting Will and Kate, too, was expected because of what they had already shared. (Although I admit I cackled at the “F--k off” uttered in disbelief in response to Meghan being on Suits. Who knew W+K watched Suits?!)
What felt particularly new to Spare was Meghan’s first meeting with Charles. Or rather, how Harry prepared Meghan to meet Charles. “Her hair was down because I suggested she wear it that way,” he writes. “Pa likes it when women wear their hair down. Granny, too. She often commented on Kate’s beautiful mane.” (Pretty sure I let out an audible WHAT? here.) Harry continued: “Meg was wearing little makeup, which I’d also suggested. Pa didn’t approve of women who wore a lot.” (Here my reaction was more of a side-eye groan.) I am a big advocate for dressing thoughtfully — that’s what SMT is all about! But what Harry is talking about here is not fashion, it’s appearance. If I’m being generous, this sort of “guidance” feels outdated AT BEST.
(Also, an aside, but if Harry had the foresight to suggest hair and makeup styles to Meghan, perhaps he could have done more to prepare her for other aspects of royal life?)
M did not Google H. Accept that!
What Meghan knew and what she didn’t heading into her relationship with Harry is a tired debate at this point. I loved that Harry slipped some not-so-subtle proof that she did not Google him (although he Googled her!). All the questions she asked? Relatable! And the bit about the wondering who the Queen’s “assistant” was? Meghan asked about “that man holding her purse. That man who walked her to the door,” Harry recalls. (It was Andrew. And, yes, I cackled.)
Meghan almost wore the Spencer tiara
I don’t feel like people are talking about this enough! I was so surprised to learn that Meghan was planning to wear the Spencer family tiara for her wedding, aka Princess Diana’s signature piece. I just had the chance to see the tiara in London last summer; it’s STUNNING. What a moment that would have been for Meghan to wear it! It sounds like plans were close to final, given that the scallop edge of her veil was designed to mimic the design of the sparkler. I understand why Meghan eventually went with one from the Queen’s collection instead — there’s no way you turn down a tiara from Her Majesty — but I would have loved to see the Spencer tiara, too.
About those bridesmaids dresses and that baby brain comment
The tensions between Meghan and Kate were a big part of the pre-publication leaks. Reading through those moments I had a pit in my stomach. At first I wondered why he was going there. Were these his stories to tell? But given the effect these moments had on Meghan, and the relationship between the couples, I understand why he did. And, in the end, I feel like Harry gave them a pretty fair shake? Reading Harry’s side, I felt like I fully saw each woman’s intent as well as their hurt. Kate failed to read the room when it came to causing a fuss about the fit of the bridesmaids dresses, especially considering what Meghan was dealing with from her father. And then it seemed that Meghan misspoke when when commenting on Kate’s hormones and “baby brain” when Kate had just given birth.
The generational trauma happening here
The bridesmaids dress incident sounds like it was resolved quite quickly — but took a horrible turn when it was spun and leaked to the press. So how did that happen? Harry points a finger, albeit indirectly, at Charles and Camilla, who learned of the story when Will told them about it during the Sussexes wildly successful tour of Australia and New Zealand. Harry’s retelling of that trip broke my heart; it went so well that he got nervous, telling Meghan: “This is how everything started with my mother.” With the incorrect spin and the leak — and the refusal to correct it —the story opened the floodgates for negative press about Meghan. Gah! I can’t. History repeating itself.
Later, there’s a scene where William confronts Charles about the bad press he and Kate are receiving, and calls in Harry for support. They have it on good authority that a member of Charles’s staff is planting stories about them and they ask him to make it stop. Instead of Charles acknowledging the harm he is causing — much less agreeing to do something about it — he attempts to justify it. “Granny has her person,” Charles says, according to Harry, who names Angela Kelly. “Why can’t I have mine?” Good God! Make it stop! I could just sense the fear and anger and hurt with which everyone was operating here.
Harry goes to therapy!
HUZZAH. I was so thrilled to read this. I did not love that it came after he snapped at Meghan, and that, at her urging, he sought help. But he got there — and what a beautiful few chapters this was to read. I was so moved by the memories he was able to reclaim of his mother, jumping on her waterbed or eating grapefruit for breakfast. And the bit about her perfume? Tears! And tears for an entirely different reason when he wrote about her pleading with the paparazzi to leave them alone.
The bad always followed the good
The therapy descriptions really summed up a theme throughout Part 3 — anything good came was quickly followed by something bad. Take Harry’s recollections of exiting the church on his wedding day. First he sees the smiling faces of the guests…then catches a glimpse of the snipers, representing the threat level. Oof.
Or after the Sandringham Summit, you can feel Harry’s relief over William’s willingness to hear him out — then he finds out his brother’s office put out a statement without his knowledge. “My name attached by faceless others to words I’d never seen—let alone approved? I was stunned,” he writes.
Perspective on Will’s attack
The first thing to leak from Spare was Will’s attack on Harry in the spring of 2019. I want to be clear: No amount of context excuses or justifies violence. Will was absolutely in the wrong.
My first reaction, reading the report in the Guardian, was one of total shock: He did WHAT? That was a pre-Spare take, having bought into the decades-long media myth of their tight brotherly bond. Reading about the incident after several hundred pages detailing the very strained relationship between Harry and Will did provide some perspective. I felt what Harry said Meghan felt when he told her: Profound sadness that it had come to that.
BTS of stepping back
The chapters discussing Harry and Meghan’s departure felt like a really important addition to the historical record. So much has been written about it, with so much spin and speculation. Now we know Harry’s side of why they did this. It was particularly illuminating to me to read about how their time in Canada primed them for this. “Brief as it was, that taste of freedom had got us thinking,” Harry writes. “What if life could be like that…all the time?” And then come the detailed descriptions of how they composed their statement, holed up inside of Buckingham Palace, and what went down at the Sandringham Summit (the printer bit!). It feels cruel, in hindsight, to present him with five options when “all in” or “all out” were the only possible outcomes. And can I just say: How gloriously short-sighted this is on the part of the Windsors! Think of what would be possible, and what they could have avoided, if they would have been open to accommodating a middle ground.
The gravity of the Sussexes’ security being pulled
Reading Spare drives home the constant presence of Harry’s security and what it meant when he was stripped of that coverage. “I’d never been allowed to go anywhere without three armed bodyguards,” he writes. They even went with him to war the second time! (As an aside: I found myself thinking about his security at various points in the book. Did anyone else wonder what they were doing at Courteney Cox’s house…?)
So to strip him of it? As quickly as they did? Unconscionable. Add to that the cost he was quoted to provide security on his own — a staggering $6 million a year. When Harry and Meghan signed deals with Spotify and Netflix, my first thought was always: It’s expensive to live their life safely. The fear he felt! After what happened to his mother! After the hate directed at his family in the media and online! It’s sickening.
Harry delivers the delivery room
If you would’ve asked me what I thought Harry would share in Spare and what I thought he’d skip, I’d have guessed that intimate descriptions of his children’s birth would be in the latter camp. But no! Harry takes us there, and what moments those were. (Again, it really helps to have a skilled ghostwriter in your corner here.) As Archie enters the world, Harry thinks, “Wow, it really all begins with a struggle for freedom.”
A few years — and an ocean away — later with Lilibet, he describes dancing around the delivery room filled with “nothing but love and joy.” The book comes to a close with Meghan’s reflections on watching Harry help deliver their daughter. “That is a man,” she writes. “That is not a spare.” After decades of navigating life alone, through pain and peril, and of wanting his father and brother to be more “family” than “Firm,” Harry is building a life with someone who sees him as he wants to be seen. What happier ending could there be for him than that?
His farewell to the Queen
Although I wanted more on his relationship with his grandmother, I appreciate that — aside from a few lines here and there — Harry kept most of it private. I feel as though she would have wanted it that way.
As for what else he doesn’t share in Spare…
I finished Spare feeling a bit disappointed Harry didn’t say more on some complicated topics in the royal watching world. I thought he could have gone a bit further to acknowledge the privilege his life afforded (although I know he was speaking from a place of immense pain). I also hoped he would discuss race beyond the racism in the press. He shared such a powerful sentiment in the Netflix doc-series about being the father of mixed race children. So to not explore that, or what it meant that Meghan was the first biracial member of the family, felt like a missed opportunity.
(In honor of the Spare companion podcast, I thought I would record this final essay. Press play to listen!)
My thoughts on Spare are, like the book, long and complicated. As I wrestled with my takeaway, I found comfort in reminding myself that two things, even competing things, can be true at once. So this is a “yes, and” situation for me.
First, YES: I understand — and I’m grateful for the chance to read — Harry’s side of Harry’s story. Along with dispelling a lifetime of myths and misconceptions, he offered a candid depiction of his pain, his anger, and his joy. I found Spare at turns revealing, shocking, enlightening, and maddening. And after reading it, I feel like I have a much better sense of who this man is, what he has been through, why he has made the choices he has, and what he wants from his life. He gave all of us — as well as the history books — an in-depth look at his struggles within his family and the Firm, as well as why he left.
AND I don’t think what Harry wanted was ever really possible. A hereditary monarchy is set up to reinforce the heir-spare dynamic, not dispel it. There was nobody within the institution to help the brothers, and particularly Harry, move through this inherent tension — let alone past it. Consider what Harry described when he tells Will about Meghan. “I confessed, for the umpteenth time, that this had long been my dream — to join them with an equal partner. To become a foursome,” he writes. “I’d said this to Willy so many times, and he’d always replied: It might not happen, Harold! And you’ve got to be OK with that.”
This sentiment made me reflect on spares in recent history. Have any siblings been on equal footing before? Queen Elizabeth II’s father is a bit of an exception, seeing as how his brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated quite quickly, so Prince Albert jumped from “spare” to King George VI. But before all of that, Bertie, as he was known, treasured his lower-profile (and less public) existence. Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret, had her struggles as spare well dramatized in The Crown; I haven’t seen anyone suggest that she was ever positioned as an “equal partner” to the eventual monarch. King Charles III’s brother, Prince Andrew, is technically the spare of this generation but I’d argue it’s actually Princess Anne who plays that role. And she has long been celebrated for her willingness to keep her head down and her diary of engagements full in support of the institution.
What exacerbated the situation enormously for Harry was the loss of his mother. Again, looking to recent history, it seems the parent who married into the royal family is often a crucial supporter of the child not directly in line to the throne. Margaret turned to the Queen Mother; Anne was famously close with Prince Philip. Diana’s death left an immeasurable void in Harry’s life, for so many reasons, including as someone who could help him navigate the difficult role of “spare.” (This is a bit of an aside, but it occurred to me that if Diana was alive today, living a life outside of the royal family, the outcome here might have been the same. Maybe Harry would have left no matter what?)
Perhaps most surprising to me, after 400-plus pages of Harry’s story, is how committed he remains to the idea of monarchy. There has been a lot of projecting (I’m guilty of this, too) around Harry and Meghan’s motives for leaving. Were they trying to blow the whole thing up? No, Harry makes it clear, they were not. “My emotions are complicated on this subject, naturally, but my bottom-line position isn’t,” he writes. “My problem has never been with the monarchy, nor the concept of monarchy. It’s been with the press and the sick relationship that’s evolved between it and the palace.”
Here again, I find myself saying “yes, and.” YES, I understand the media’s damaging role in his life and his family, causing disruption at best and deep pain at worst. The toxic tabloid spin culture and endless stream of anonymous leaks against members of the family should absolutely change — although, if I’m being honest, I don’t know that that’s even possible?
AND, let’s say it does change, would that solve the problem? There would still be a centuries-old institution, which derives power and privilege from its colonial past, to reckon with — and a system that makes life very difficult for the people within it. After everything he and his wife went through, I would’ve thought Harry would push back on that a bit? Instead, he writes towards the end of Spare: “No one wants to hear a prince argue for the existence of a monarchy, any more than they want to hear a prince argue against it.” Except that’s exactly what I wanted to hear from Harry! Why support this system that has brought him such suffering?
Maybe that’s for a second book.
And now we wait. We wait to see what happens in the months before King Charles’s coronation in May. Will the family meet and attempt to reconcile? Will we see Harry and Meghan participate in the festivities at all? I would love to hear your predictions in the comments.
More Spare takes to think about
I’ve moved from reading Prince Harry’s book to reading all the takes about it. SMT! Here are links to pieces and a podcast I found interesting (Please note I don’t agree with every aspect of every take! Aiming for a range here):
On the lack of discussion around colonialism: Prince Harry is upset about the wrong thing (The Cut)
On the implications for the monarchy: Inside the Prince Harry book blitz and what it means for the monarchy (On with Kara Swisher)
Review: The weirdest book ever written by a royal (BBC)
On writing a book about your family: Prince Harry and the value of silence (The New York Times | Opinion)
Review: A ghostwriter’s verdict on this ‘seeping wound’ of a memoir (The Times of London)
On a man talking about his feelings: Why Prince Harry is such a threat to a certain kind of man (CNN | Opinion)
On Harry’s fight with the media: Prince Harry is right, and it’s not just a matter of royal gossip (The New York Times | Opinion)