LONDON — Tuesday marked the publishing debut of Prince Harry’s memoir “Spare,” a book described by the press as a bridge-burner and a flamethrower, with its revealing — heartfelt? cruel? banal? — portraits of his family and the inner circles within circles of the House of Windsor, which he portrays as a devious coven of backstabbing, jealousy and bottomless need.
Safe to say that the book launch didn’t turn out as Harry and his publisher had so meticulously planned. Early copies printed in Spanish were available last week, and so there were days of tell-all revelations in the very tabloids that the Duke of Sussex so loathes.
In any case, the book is a smash. It’s already at the top of the bestseller lists. Its publisher claimed Tuesday that only books in the Harry Potter series had sold more copies on their first day.
So, what now, what’s next? What impact might the book have on the British monarchy in this new age of Charles III — or on how British tabloids cover the institution?
The quick consensus is that Harry wounded, schooled, outed and embarrassed the royal family, by exposing how dysfunctional (or how ordinary?) they all are, how they must arrange secret meetings in graveyards, to mostly ignore each other, and how their competing press teams are wolf packs.
But the monarchy? The monarchy keeps on keeping on.
Harry says in the prologue — and in the stream of interviews he has given — that he wrote the book as a way to get through to his family, so they would understand him, his panic attacks, his years of therapy, and why he and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, had to flee his “mother country” for California “in fear for our sanity and physical safety.”
But then on ITV in Britain, he said, “I don’t think my father or brother will read the book.”
And what about the reconciliation, peace or reckoning that Harry speaks so much about? Is that a possibility? Not very likely, say the royal correspondents, whom Harry also dislikes — and mocks.
Harry’s father, Charles, is set to be coronated in May. It is not clear whether Harry and Meghan will attend.
Harry told an interviewer that he would forever be a part of the family, pushing aside a question about whether he and Meghan would give up their remaining royal titles. At the same time, he said he saw no way back as a working royal in Britain. But who knows? Members of the House of Windsor tend to be very long-lived.
Many Britons have soured on the prince and his American wife. Some see the book and accompanying media blitz as whiny indulgence — and just the opposite of the late Queen Elizabeth II, who was praised for her duty, service, honor and inscrutable quiet on all things familial.
A YouGov poll published Monday, a day before the book launch, found that only 26 percent of people in Britain had a positive opinion of Harry, a record low for him and down from 33 percent in December. William’s popularity ratings have also taken a hit, with 69 percent saying they had a positive view of him, down from 77 percent last month.
“William doesn’t come across terribly well — seems he has a temper,” said Valentine Low, author of “Courtiers: Intrigue, Ambition and the Power Players Behind the House of Windsor.”
“Was he a bit overbearing to his brother? Possibly, but we just have Harry’s word for it,” Low said. “But on the other hand, they are brothers, and these are the kind of fights brothers have. Harry is also complaining about everything and everyone, and people are starting to discount that.”
But Harry and Meghan still have their fans, and some who have related to their story.
A few minutes after midnight on Tuesday, Sarah Nakana, 46, a property surveyor, was one of the first in the country to buy a hardback copy of “Spare,” from a bookshop in London’s Victoria Station.
“I’m excited to hear about Prince Harry’s life from Prince Harry,” she said, clutching a hardback copy of the 417-page book. “I want to get ahead of the U.K. press. … There will be a frenzy of anti-Harry and Meghanness in the morning, because hate sells … and it’s important for me to hear his story in his words.”
As if on cue, this first book-buyer was surrounded by a throng of about 30 photographers and journalists. “It’s a bit ridiculous,” Nakana said of the scrum, “but I understand the interest in the book, because he’s the first prince of our generation to put his life in writing.”
In “Spare” — and before it the 2021 Oprah Winfrey interview, various podcasts, the six-hour “Harry and Meghan” documentary they produced about themselves for Netflix — Harry has surely gotten his side out.
Harry lost his virginity in a field, we learn. Harry shot 25 Taliban fighters.
He writes that he and his brother, William, the heir, bickered — a lot. And their wives had awkward moments about lip gloss and “baby brain” and bridesmaid dresses.
In the book, Harry says Charles implored his sons to stop their ceaseless arguing, saying after the funeral of his father, Prince Philip, in 2021: “Please, boys. Don’t make my final years a misery.”
It is a sad line in a book filled with sadness.
Catherine Mayer, author of “Charles: The Heart of a King,” said Harry and Meghan have become proxies in a larger culture war that has created the concept of two teams — Team California vs. William and his wife — which allows people in Britain and beyond to take sides, to root for one and hoot the other, to hate-tweet and to hashtag, with Harry representing a kind of “weird, progressive Californian New Age” and William standing for traditional values.
Harry appears to really have it in for his stepmother, Camilla, Queen Consort, the wife and longtime lover of his father. She, in Harry’s take, is a schemer who played “the long game. A campaign aimed at marriage, and eventually the crown.”
Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace have continued to decline to comment on any of this — as is their way.
“He’s an angry young man,” said Dickie Arbiter, a former spokesman for Queen Elizabeth II. “He is making these accusations and these allegations and not backing them up with any further information about them. He’s just saying, this is what they’ve done, and he’s saying it knowing full well that they’re not going to respond.”
Imagine if William did respond publicly, Arbiter said: It would descend to “He says, he says, she says, she says.”
The silence from Buckingham Palace prompts people to “fill in the blanks” on what they think Charles and William’s response might be, said Pauline Maclaran, a monarchy expert at Royal Holloway, University of London.
“Harry has said so much, people are likely to think, ‘Oh, poor Charles’ — it’s like a Shakespearean drama with a wayward son,” she said. “I think people can relate to these battles very clearly. But they can’t relate to Harry so much, at least on the British side, because he’s not acknowledging any faults. Really everyone else is to blame; even his famous wearing of the Nazi uniform is William and Kate’s fault.”
On the flip side, Maclaran said, the royals “are inherently pretty boring, but now suddenly, with the emotional engagement, we’d miss them if they were gone. We bond with our neighbors, saying, ‘What has Harry done now?’”
Anna Whitelock, a professor of history of the modern monarchy at City, University of London, said Harry’s claims were “uncomfortable for the royal family.”
But “beyond bad PR and the sense that the British royal family drama is something akin to a box set thriller, the damage to the institution of monarchy per se is harder to assess at this stage.”
Whitelock added that “certainly, in raising the issues of the toxic relationship between the press and palace, the briefing of rival households, the treatment of ‘spares’ and the inherent misogyny and unconscious bias within the institution, Harry challenges the monarchy to reflect and reform. But whether it does, and whether the public demand it or not, remains to be seen.”