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Strap In, or Strap On?

Why is Prince Harry publishing a memoir?

Literary history has its fair share of high-profile married writers. One thinks of Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, or Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. In contemporary terms, Michael Frayn and Claire Tomalin are a jovial, often award-winning duo, and Maggie O’Farrell’s novelist husband William Sutcliffe shows no resentment at his wife’s greater success and higher profile. But now their ranks are about to be swollen by perhaps the least likely authorial pair of the century: the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. 

Her recent children’s book The Bench  was mainly notable for being drippily platitudinous, and for its disappointing refusal to be quite as awful as the cynical had hoped. Instead, it was content to remain merely inessential and dull. But it has now been announced with appropriately regal fanfare that Harry Wales, or whatever he styles himself this month, is to publish a memoir. The title has not yet been formally announced, but it is apparently (and unfortunately) entitled Strap In: a favourite phrase of his mother’s, it would appear.

It is apparently (and unfortunately) entitled Strap In: a favourite phrase of his mother’s, it would appear

Penguin announced their acquisition of the book with suitable hyperbole. They are “honoured” (or as the press release spells it, “honored”) to publish this “intimate and heartfelt” book by “one of the most fascinating and influential global figures of our time”. While one is digesting the accuracy of such a claim, the hard sell begins. “Prince Harry will share, for the very first time, the definitive account of the experiences, adventures, losses and life lessons that have helped share him.” This “honest and captivating personal portrait” will showcase an “inspiring, courageous and human story.” Prince Harry, it should be noted, will be 37 years older when the book is published in late 2022. 

Regrettably, he has offered his own reflection on his literary endeavour. “I’m writing this not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become. I’ve worn many hats over the years, both literally and figuratively, and my hope is that in telling my story—the highs and lows, the mistakes, the lessons learned—I can help show that no matter where we come from, we have more in common than we think. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to share what I’ve learned over the course of my life so far and excited for people to read a firsthand account of my life that’s accurate and wholly truthful.”

If one was to be generous about the statement, with its tortured grammar and unfortunate phraseology, it seems likely that Harry wrote it himself. I cannot imagine that any ghostwriter would have allowed the expression “I’ve worn many hats over the years, both literally and figuratively”, to stand, as it makes the man sound like an especially angst-ridden milliner. Virtually any editor would put a red pen through the closing line, too, with the note that “accurate” and “wholly truthful” tend to operate as synonyms for one another. This raised the exciting possibility that Harry’s autobiography might be entirely self-penned, but it has now transpired that the Duke will be using the services of JR Moehringer, who has previously written books by Andre Agassi and Nike founder Phil Knight, which rejoice in the titles Open and Shoe Dog. 

Unfortunately, it seems likely that the full, uncensored manuscript will not be as exciting as its press release, but will instead be yet another exercise in score-settling. By now, the Duke has not so much aired his family’s dirty linen in public as set up a veritable bring and buy sale of soiled royal undergarments. Anyone who has followed the antics of him and his wife over the past few years will have heard, more than once, denigrations of the heartless and unfeeling nature of “the Firm”, delivered with an admirable sorrow to anger ratio, but the suspicion now is that, especially after their extraordinary appearance on Oprah Winfrey, there is a limited amount left to reveal. Penguin will no doubt be praying for some high-profile imbroglio around the time of publication, as otherwise there is the possibility that there is nothing left to sell.

Prince Harry’s memoir will be seen, rightly, as the latest public attack on the institution that he was born into, and yet another attempt to destabilise its very foundations

The difficulty that Harry and, by extension, Meghan now face is a very similar one to that of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Cast out of British society after the abdication and unable to find a suitably remunerative berth in any of their hoped-for occupations, both of them wrote (or had ghosted) tell-all memoirs, respectively entitled A King’s Story and The Heart Has Its Reasons. Hers is the more readable of the two books, but the Duke’s is fascinating in its tone, which somehow manages to combine self-righteous noblesse oblige with an entertainingly bitchy dedication to score-settling. The overall effect is rather as if a very worthy but boring memoir had been rewritten by Saki and early Evelyn Waugh, seeking to outdo one another in outrageousness.  

We can, alas, expect far less entertainment or excitement from Prince Harry’s life story. It is commendable, if predictable, that it is not being written for profit, with the no doubt considerable proceeds being given to charity, but the major purpose behind its creation is to further the multimillion pound/dollar business that is “Brand Sussex”. While most people in Britain have decided that the Duke and Duchess are an attention-seeking, money-grabbing pair of opportunists, America continues to be a receptive and more tolerant market, full of those who will be delighted by an opportunity to read about Prince Harry’s “truth”. And this book will operate as yet another instalment in the propagation of a highly partisan narrative that his father, brother, grandmother and other relatives have shown no signs of attempting to counter, for fear of disobeying their usual edict “Never complain, never explain.”  

Perhaps they should. Off-the-record briefings by anonymous courtiers to the press have led to a disturbing sense of interfamilial tensions occasionally punctuated by inadvertent comedy, such as the recent revelation that the sculptor of the reverential Princess Diana memorial had previously created a work entitled “Lord Rochester, His Whore And A Monkey”. But Prince Harry’s memoir will be seen, rightly, as the latest public attack on the institution that he was born into, and yet another attempt to destabilise its very foundations. Personally, I am more fearful of the Duchess’s inevitable memoir. If his is indeed entitled Strap In, then – given the perpetual rumours of her hold over him – then hers, surely, has to be called Strap On. And that, at least, will offer the book-buying public something truly revelatory, rather than a repetitive cash-in on a narrative that only the most salacious of us are not wearied by. 

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