Prince Harry and Writing Memoir
The conflict of telling your story
My pre-order of “Spare” finally dropped into my Audible account, and I’m bawling my eyes out at Prince Harry’s intro—
Penguin Random House Audio presents “Spare” by Prince Harry.
Read by me—the author.
For Meg, and Archie, and Lili, and of course, my mother.
The past is never dead—it’s not even past.” -William Faulkner
Sniff, sniff. Excuse me while I get a tissue. Before even telling his story, Harry hinted at why he did it. And he used one of my favorite quotes for why I write memoirs. Hearing it in his beautiful English accent brought tears to my eyes. Something in his voice tells me that Harry fully understands why that quote means so much to all of us memoir writers.
Anyone who’s written a memoir knows it’s an act of courage to tell your story. But what if the world thinks they own your story? What if people have been making millions from taking pictures of your face and telling tales about you from the day you were born? What if you got tired of all the lies and decided to tell the truth?
Writing a memoir about his life seems a logical move for Prince Harry, but telling his truth has stirred up judgment and extreme opposition from his family, the press, and the average person on the street who feels they already know all about him.
Harry might have been born famous, but the criticism he’s run into for telling his story resounds with many writers. There will always be pushback, no matter who you are or what you have to say. Harry’s story is more public, but the opposition he’s dealing with reflects the struggles of every person who writes a memoir, and it helps to pay attention to why people are so determined to silence him.
A real-life fairytale
The story of Harry’s family is like a real-life fairy tale. A prince is born to royal parents who were famous and celebrated before his birth. His grandmother was the longest-reigning queen, while his father spent seventy years waiting to be king. His father betrayed his mother into a loveless marriage. His mother died a tragic death due to being chased by people who wanted to make money from her story — taking her from him while he was young.
The young prince struggles with losing his mother, but he eventually grows up, falls in love, and plans to live happily ever after — except his family dislikes his choice of a wife and conspires against him. Sibling rivalry with a brother born to higher privilege and a wicked stepmother round out the tale. It sounds like a Shakespearean tragedy, but for Prince Harry, this isn’t an evening’s entertainment where he can watch a play and go home to resume a normal life — this drama is his real life.
Who can blame Harry for wanting to tell his story? And who wouldn’t want to hear these events from a prince’s point of view? Plenty of people, it seems. People who want to profit from using his face to sell magazines. People who want to use his personality to strengthen the corporation of the royal family. People who are afraid of being exposed. People who are angry because they can’t control him (or his wife). And people who might be jealous of the love and freedom he’s found.
It seems many people wish to profit from Harry’s image, but since he decided to sell his side of the story, he’s been accused of betraying his family and country. He’s a modern prince using various media to set the record straight, yet he’s viewed as the rebel son who broke the family rule of “never complain and never explain.”
Going against expectations
No one would be criticizing Harry if he didn’t go off-script. The royal family wouldn’t be judging him if he’d stayed quiet and done his duty by marching in line behind his father and brother. If he hung around like a spare tire, hidden in the boot, ready to be used at a moment’s notice in case of tragedy, everything would be fine between him and the palace. But no, Prince Harry insisted on choosing his own destiny.
No one would criticize Harry if he’d just married an acceptable white woman who knows her place in the royal family hierarchy — someone who is content to fade into the background behind the palace walls. But Harry had to marry the strong woman he fell in love with — Meghan Markle, who had already acquired fame and power in her own right.
No one would judge Harry if he’d stayed calm and carried on with a stiff upper lip. But he had to discuss mental health, sobriety and becoming anti-racist. That last bit went a little too far for the comfort of his blue-blood family.
In the same way, many memoir writers have disrupted their family’s expectations. When people have a preconceived notion of how you should behave and who you should marry, it makes them mad when you ruin their plans.
The bottom line is no one, and nobody has the right to tell another how to live, love, or worship. Harry has left the world of obligation and charted his own destiny — something you can’t do if you wish to be king. But Harry doesn’t wish to be king. Prince Harry is a hero for breaking the norms and becoming himself.
Prince Harry got tired of the gossip and lies. Fearing for his family’s safety, he decided to play by his own rules, but those who wished to control his life can’t get over what he’s done.
Tabloid journalists don’t want Harry to tell his story because that’s their gig. Selling stories about the royal family is a billion-dollar industry — whether they’re true or not. The paparazzi don’t want Harry to tell his story because their industry relies on gossip and speculation. When Harry tells his stories, it exposes their lies.
The royal family doesn’t want Harry to tell his story because they’ve got conflicts of interest. Each family member has their own point of view, and there’s bound to be someone who doesn’t see things his way.
Members of the royal family, who are used to manipulating the press and exerting their control over others, don’t want Harry to tell his stories because it might expose them. This could include anyone from King Charles to Prince William, to Kate, and of course, the wicked stepmother Camilla with her racist friends.
Despite the wealth and power at their command, some in the royal family might even be jealous of Harry’s freedom. He’s got more freedom than his father, the King, who felt he had to marry Harry’s mother because he couldn’t marry Camilla the first time around. He has more freedom than his brother, who has to watch every step if he hopes to someday sit on the throne.
Some women in the royal family who have to toe the royal line might even be jealous of Meghan as Harry’s wife. Meg didn’t grow up with all the palace rules and seems to have no qualms about being herself and living free.
Most families hate memoir
Harry has lived his entire life in the public eye, but even those of us who didn't have discovered that our family members get paranoid when we write a memoir. They worry about what the world will think. Even if you sell only twenty copies to people your family members might never come in contact with, they’ll still believe you’ve ruined their reputation. And that reminds me of another one of my favorite quotes for writing memoirs.
You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better. — Anne Lamott
By writing his memoir, Harry has chosen to live authentically. He aims to share his heart over the tragic loss of his cherished mummy and wants people to respect the woman he loves and the mother of his children.
As a boy who lost his mum at an early age, he wants to ensure that he leaves a record for his children. He wants to tell the world what it was like growing up in the palace under the shadow of a grandmother who seemed larger than life. And an often-disgruntled father and controlling, privileged older brother.
Harry isn’t fighting his brother for the throne like a prince in a Shakespearean play might — he’s taken the road less traveled. He doesn’t need to live in a castle to be happy. Harry simply wants to love who he loves and live the life he has chosen for himself. And why shouldn’t he?
So many people are willing to pay for the prince’s voice over the tabloids’ lies, that Audible struggled for hours to get all the pre-orders sent out. That is some proof that he did the right thing. Millions are eager to listen to what Prince Harry says despite his critics.
Cherilyn Christen Clough broke the rules when she started writing about her family’s secrets. Some claim she sold her soul to the devil, but she prefers to think of it as gaining freedom. You can read about her strange childhood in Chasing Eden A Memoir.