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Frankly, Harry’s just lucky he didn’t grow up in North Korea

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Artist Kaya Mar holds up his painting of Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle in Westminster, London, on Jan. 11, 2023. After days of hype and leaks, readers have the chance to judge Harry’s book, “Spare,” for themselves.

Prince Harry’s book “Spare,” about his terrible tiffs with higher-ups in the British royal family, including the “heir” to the throne, elder brother Prince William, invites comparisons with another royal family, that of Kim Jong Un, in North Korea. Had Prince Harry lived in another age, he would have suffered the same consequences as did relatives and courtiers of the Dear Leader.

In “Spare,” the enemy, the bane of Harry’s existence, and later that of his bride Meghan Markle, was the accursed British media led by the paparazzi, who he says ruthlessly besieged them night and day. Aside from the camera-snapping “paps,” media villains ranged from royalty writers and gossips to the owners of their powerful newspapers.  

In North Korea, of course, there is no obstreperous press, no “paps” in wild pursuit of Kim or his wife Ri Sol Ju or younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, or tween-aged daughter, Kim Ju Ae, though they’re followed with mordant fascination whenever they show up in the North Korean state media. Up there, the powers-that-be rule with the ferocity of, say, Henry VIII, who ordered the beheading of difficult wives and numerous other lords and ladies.

The travails of Harry and his American actress wife Meghan, who still claim the titles of Duke and Duchess of Sussex while living in splendid self-exile in southern California, have implications that go beyond the fun of headlines in the tabloids that Harry hates. You wonder, reading “Spare,” if something really serious is going on, a brutal class war in which the goal — instinctive, not fully understood even by those responsible for making Harry’s life a living hell in royal palaces and cottages and playgrounds — is to get rid of the monarchy, to drive it into obscurity, to destroy it in a class war against a family steeped in inherited wealth and privilege.

Harry comes close to accusing the “paps” of murdering his beloved mum, Princess Diana, implying but not saying they flashed  laser beams on the vehicle in which her intoxicated chauffeur was careening through a Paris tunnel, getting the car to veer fatally. He can’t quite explain the underlying causes for the media’s inordinate lust for Diana and him, and later Meghan. You would have thought their unscrupulous editors would have had enough of the lot. He does, however, give enduring images of his version of the inner lives of the British royal family, of their struggle for relevance and meaning in a society where actually they wield no real power.

It’s the absurdity of the monarchy that comes through to a non-British reader who frequently visits London and is actually quite addicted to the garish tabloids. Having seen numerous articles about the foibles and oddities of British royalty and never taken them for anything other than fleeting entertainment, I’m startled to discover the young man should have cared so much. Well, it’s hard to put myself in the psychological place of a prince. We just have to accept the fact that he, and Meghan, were terribly, terribly hurt.

On the way to that unavoidable conclusion, Harry portrays himself as quite the lad, able to go through unbelievably tough training to become an army officer and helicopter pilot and shoot up bad guys in Afghanistan, also able to survive in the jungles of Africa, to reach both the North and South poles and rush back to blighty in time for parties with Granny, the late Queen Elizabeth II.

You have to wonder how he could drink so much and who, exactly, was paying the bills. Harry likes to present himself as an ordinary guy, buying clothes at a discount store and shopping for cheap dinners at the local grocery. He never mentions using a credit card, dipping into a checking account, in need of cash, and he has no problem jetting off, presumably first class, to see dear  old friends and mates in Africa, Las Vegas, anywhere, anytime, he needed a break. 

The cost of these adventures — roughing it in Africa while hoping to save elephants from poachers, drinking tequila after tequila with his new American mates in a palatial Las Vegas suite — is a mystery. Nor do we know really how Harry latched on to a string of shrinks to whom he bared his troubled soul, and who paid for all that counseling. Presumably not Britain’s National Health Service, on which mere commoners depend for care.

But what was going on in the United Kingdom while Harry was off to war, helping impoverished people in Lesotho, setting up the Invictus Games for wounded veterans, getting drunk and high on drugs? This book, so glibly written by ghostwriter J.R. Moebringer, who is barely acknowledged on the final page, gives no clue about the suffering of ordinary Brits, of the ins and outs of power struggles, of the great issues of the day — other than the survival of the monarchy and its “Spare” prince, fifth in line for the throne after Willy and wife Kate, with whom Meghan reportedly didn’t get along, spawned three kids.  

Moebringer, who won a Pulitzer as a journalist for feature writing and has ghostwritten several other books, may be partly responsible for these omissions. He has put together a saga for which Harry is raking in more than enough to make up for the financial sacrifices he had to endure when the royal family unceremoniously cut him off, and he reportedly has agreed to do more.

Maybe Harry’s future books, if there are any, will tell a little more about who was running the British government and how elected leaders got along with the royals who came in for such awful articles. Who were the prime ministers? He doesn’t name one, gives no clue about the drift or direction of national policy. He doesn’t seem to have looked at serious articles about Brexit. His raw patriotism showed through as he fired away at the enemy in Afghanistan, but he had nothing to say about the rights and wrongs of the war — while flinching and wincing over all the falsehoods about himself.

Harry can count himself lucky, though, to have been a child of a monarchy in decay and disarray. He would never be expelled to a gulag or face a firing squad. He and Meghan, spurned by royalty, are rolling in royalties for a book that purports to say all about what they endured but says little or nothing about the future of the monarchy and the kingdom that nurtured and then regurgitated them.

Donald Kirk has been a journalist for more than 60 years, focusing much of his career on conflict in Asia and the Middle East, including as a correspondent for the Washington Star and Chicago Tribune. He currently is a freelance correspondent covering North and South Korea. He is the author of several books about Asian affairs.

Tags British Royal Family Kim Jong Un Meghan Markle North Korea Prince Harry Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Prince William

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