Long before it was announced that Prince Harry was writing an ‘intimate and heartfelt memoir’, another royal chose exile over duty and then told his story. But at least the Duke of Windsor had the decency to allow 15 years to pass before producing his ghost-written memoir of his rigid palace upbringing, education and military service – and how he came to abandon the throne to marry an American divorcee.
It is not much more than 15 months since Harry turned his back on the Royal Family, a year and a bit in which his complaints about the life he left behind have become wearily familiar. Meanwhile, the pronouncements on issues such as climate change, mental health and the media – usually delivered from the manicured luxury of his home in California – continue to fill the airwaves.
Ever since the podcasts and the Oprah interview, it seemed almost inevitable that he would put pen to paper. As long ago as 2005, Harry was complaining about the way he was covered by the media and what he called ‘truth and lies’. He couldn’t get the truth out, he said, because he didn’t have a newspaper column.
Well, now he has chosen the ultimate way of getting his voice heard: a book with his name on the cover as author.
On the record: Prince Harry (pictured at a reception for Normandy Veterans in Portsmouth in June 2016) claims the memoir will focus on his life lessons
Ever since the podcasts and the Oprah interview (pictured above), it seemed almost inevitable that Harry would put pen to paper, writes Richard Kay
But what about the objectivity and perspective that writing such a tome demands? He is promising a ‘definitive account of the experiences, adventures, losses and life lessons that have helped shape him’.
Yet this surely is an undertaking that requires reflection and maturity. It is not one to be conducted in the heat of battle when focus can be lost, but years later after the dust has settled, a time when he could explain the actions he took and why.
At the moment Harry’s and Meghan’s decisions to uproot themselves from Britain, their bombshell accusations about racism in the Royal Family and their complaints of abandonment in terms of emotional and financial support, are still painfully, brutally raw.
The only explanation for a memoir now must be to capitalise on the publicity and huge fame that he has generated ever since Megxit.
In the face of the astonishment that greeted the news of his reported $20million deal with publishers Random House, Sussex supporters have shrilly attacked critics, claiming the prince was merely following in the footsteps of his parents who both co-operated with authors.
But there are some subtle distinctions. Princess Diana’s collaboration with Andrew Morton resulted in a book written towards the conclusion of a period in her life when she was at the end of her tether.
And while Jonathan Dimbleby’s life of Prince Charles did include some criticism of the Queen and Prince Philip, it was an authoritative study of a thoughtful, middle-aged king-in-waiting and his impressive achievements as Prince of Wales.
What can Harry offer, apart from a lot of score-settling with the media? In order to justify the vast sums that are being bandied around, it can only be one thing: the book will be a tell-all.
Prince William and Prince Harry pictured arriving for the unveiling of a statue of their mother, Princess Diana, at Kensington Palace’s Sunken Garden on July 1
The only explanation for a memoir now must be to capitalise on the publicity and huge fame that Harry has generated ever since Megxit, writes Richard Kay (pictured: Harry and Meghan in September 2019)
The Duke of Windsor had the decency to allow 15 years to pass before producing his ghost-written memoir of his rigid palace upbringing, education and military service
He must therefore be prepared to expand on all the explosive ‘truth bombs’ he and Meghan detonated under the Royal Family with Oprah back in March.
Might he name the family member who, according to the couple, made comments about the colour of their then unborn son Archie’s skin? He will surely have to offer an explanation for this most sensational of claims. Will he name the anonymous member of staff who appeared to airily dismiss Meghan’s worries about her mental welfare?
And then there is the contentious issue of his relationship with Prince William which potentially could be the most damaging of all for the long-term well-being of the monarchy.
No one was saying yesterday just how much notice Harry gave his brother, father or grandmother ahead of the announcement of the book deal from New York. Very little, according to courtiers I spoke to who fear an avalanche of destructive revelations and inevitable recriminations.
As one senior figure said: ‘It takes a special kind of hypocrisy to complain about your privacy and then to co-operate on an intimate memoir covering every aspect of your life.’
No one was denying claims yesterday that Harry has been working on the book with his ghost-writer collaborator for many months.
So there must have been plenty of opportunities to mention it to his family – during his stay for Prince Philip’s funeral in April, say, or earlier this month when he flew over to join Prince William in unveiling a statue to their mother.
So who might be in the firing line? Insiders fear the targets could include Charles, William, Camilla and the institution itself
‘He is unlikely to criticise his late mother or his grandmother the Queen,’ is the view of one courtier. ‘But for everyone else it’s tin-hat time’
Might the reason he didn’t tell them sooner be that he knew what their reaction would be? Make no mistake, there is ‘growing disquiet’ at Buckingham Palace at the news and concern about its impact on the monarchy.
Indeed, the reaction was reminiscent of that caused by the announcement of Princess Diana’s secretive Panorama interview in 1995.
One element of it produced a moment of black humour. ‘Harry says he will share his mistakes and the lessons he has learned from them,’ a friend of Prince Charles told me. ‘But he has never admitted to any mistakes.’
At the same time the shock has been tinged with sadness. ‘Until this whole business began, Harry was the one son Prince Charles got on with and he is at a loss as to how things have so unravelled.’
Harry promises that he is writing the book ‘not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become’ – a flag of convenience to cover every eventuality.
He talks too of the many hats he has worn over the years, ‘both literally and figuratively’. One of those was his hat during ten years with the Army, a time when he seemed at his most content.
Will he respect the privacy of those soldiers he led during two highly successful tours of duty in Afghanistan or are they part of the narrative? Indeed, there is every possibility that the Ministry of Defence will want to see extracts of his manuscript to ensure that Special Forces troops or sensitive operations are not part of the casual backdrop to Harry’s life story.
And what of his pre-marriage ex-girlfriends? Are the doomed romances with Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas, for example, whom he dated before meeting Meghan, likely to feature as part of the prince’s ‘life lessons’ or ‘mistakes’? Then there is his co-writer, former American newspaper journalist JR Moehringer, who made his name ghosting tennis star Andre Agassi’s controversial autobiography.
Are there ‘life lessons’ here too? For the book, Open, depicted Agassi’s father as a tyrant and a bully. This will hardly encourage Prince Charles.
So who might be in the firing line? Insiders fear the targets could include Charles, William, Camilla and the institution itself. ‘He is unlikely to criticise his late mother or his grandmother the Queen,’ is the view of one courtier. ‘But for everyone else it’s tin-hat time.’
What Harry may not grasp is that any reproach of Charles, for example over his parenting skills – an issue he has raised before – is an implied criticism of the Queen. The same applies to attacks on the monarchy.
His breach with his brother is an open wound that was not even remotely healed during Harry’s flying visit to unveil the Diana statue. He said in his Oprah interview that his father had cut him off financially, a claim denied but viewed by millions around the world.
Prince Harry and William stand together during the unveiling of a statue they commissioned of the mother on July 1
And in private he has made uncomplimentary comments about his stepmother the Duchess of Cornwall. In the hands of socially unaware Harry, exploring any one of these in more detail could be incendiary.
When Edward VIII published his memoir A King’s Story in 1951, he was struggling financially, cut off from the monarchy and without any source of income.
With his Netflix, Spotify and Apple TV millions, Harry has no need to earn yet more money.
Instead, in what many will see as an attempt to deflect criticism, he is piously promising that proceeds from his book – which will cover his childhood in the public eye, his military life, marriage and fatherhood – will go to charity.
Just how charitable the Royal Family will feel towards the wayward Duke of Sussex, with a book that threatens to overshadow the Queen’s platinum jubilee next year, remains to be seen.
What is so breathtaking is that there would be no Netflix or Spotify or Apple deals for Harry and Meghan, nor any Oprah interview, were it not for his royal title. And yet, with this book, he appears determined to attack and undermine the very institution that conferred it on him.
In sunny California, Harry should be thinking carefully of the fate of his great, great uncle, the Duke of Windsor – another impulsive prince who ended his days a bitter and marginalised figure unwelcome in his homeland.