Prince Harry’s relationship with Meghan Markle has been a tabloid obsession since they met in 2016, but with Prince Harry’s autobiography, Spare, we’re finally getting a look from the inside – at how Harry sees Meghan. Even in the US where they’ve enjoyed a lot of underdog sympathy, Harry and Meghan’s telling their side of the story through their Netflix docu-series and the book release actually seems to have hurt their popularity. So what is the portrait of the Duchess of Sussex that her doting husband paints in this book? And are there some revealing gaps between the portrait he wants to paint of Meghan and how she actually comes across through his account?
Prince Harry’s relationship with Meghan Markle has been a tabloid obsession since they met in 2016, but with Prince Harry’s autobiography, Spare, we’re finally getting a look from the inside – at how Harry sees Meghan.
Even in the US where they’ve enjoyed a lot of underdog sympathy, Harry and Meghan’s telling their side of the story through their Netflix docuseries – and now through the book release – actually seems to have hurt their popularity. Still – so much of the book feels like a love letter from Harry to his wife – full of emotionally charged passages about their relationship. So, what is the portrait of the Duchess of Sussex that her doting husband paints in this book? Does it humanize her more – or are there some revealing gaps between the portrait he wants to paint of Meghan and how she actually comes across through his account?
Here’s our take on the real Meghan who emerges from Harry’s controversial and shocking tell-all.
Harry dwells regularly on how Meghan is very separate from his world. He loves her beauty, her friendliness, and the way she’s more interested in him than his title.
When he describes Meghan, he says that, ‘She wasn’t impressed by royalty’ and that he thought that was ‘the first step to surviving it’. He constantly refers back to the idea that she was so unaware of his family and its practices – and to Harry, that’s magical. When she asks him who his grandmother’s ‘assistant’ was – referring to Prince Andrew – he writes, ‘She definitely hadn’t Googled us’. And in this simple act of not googling her date, Meghan solidifies herself as the perfect match: someone who likes Harry for Harry.
But many have found this innocence that Harry loves to feel odd and forced – maybe even suspect. Is there any way that a well-read, Hollywood actress really didn’t know anything about them? In Spare, Harry recounts his own version of the infamous curtsying moment – Here, as Harry tries to make Meghan’s naivete here seem endearing, her acting unaware of the fact that Harry’s grandmother isn’t just his grandma seems almost deliberately ignorant.
Prince Harry: You’re about to meet the Queen.
Meghan Markle: I know, but it’s your grandma.
Prince Harry: But she’s the Queen. - Spare
Harry also positions Meghan as the antithesis of the Royal family, but this isn’t exactly accurate – she was already a famous TV star, and fairly wealthy, when they met. There are moments throughout the book where Harry attempts to suggest the couple are unlike the snobby, upper echelon of the royal family. Like when Harry describes them shopping for a dinner party, exchanging texts with Meghan like, “What the F is parchment paper?”. But Harry’s digs also take aim at the quirky ways in which the rich royal family’s life sometimes looks less than luxurious: he complains of the 100 year old sheets at Balmoral Castle and the brown tap water.
This imagery stands in contrast to what cameras have shared of Harry’s and Meghan’s more than comfortable 21 million dollar estate in Montecito – but that’s not a contrast that exactly heightens the couple’s relatability. It doesn’t help that the pair said they were “afraid they couldn’t afford” the home because after leaving the Royal Family, they were “out of jobs”…conveniently leaving out the fact of Harry’s inheritance from his mother and their highly monetizable fame. Still, to Harry, the royals’ fake frugality is proof of how unenlightened and un-modern the royals are compared to Meghan’s fellow Americans.
Prince Harry: She was American, I was British. She was well-educated, I was decidedly not. She was free as a bird, I was in a gilded cage. - Spare
Harry regularly highlights that the thing that makes Meghan so different is her Americanness. He admits that he ‘shamefully stereotyped’ Meghan, thinking that ‘American actress equals diva’ – which is exactly what the press has suggested to us throughout their relationship.
Prince William had apparently always expressed his apprehension. When they were dating, ‘he’d predicted a host of difficulties I could expect if I hooked up with an “American actress,” a phrase he always managed to make sound like “convicted felon.”’ Then, when she does meet William, Meghan hugs him – and Harry describes William ‘recoiling’, saying ‘The moment was a classic collision of cultures, like flashlight-torch, which felt to me both funny and charming. Later, however, looking back, I wondered if it was more than that. Maybe Willy expected Meg to curtsy?’ But Harry doesn’t portray this as just a neutral culture clash – he exposes his brother’s cold demeanor to highlight Meghan’s inherent warmth.
Again, when Meghan asks to borrow Kate’s lipgloss, he claims it’s ‘an American thing’ in a passage that feels decidedly crafted to make Kate sound stuffy and unfriendly: ‘Kate, taken aback, went into her handbag and reluctantly pulled out a small tube. Meg squeezed some onto her finger and applied it to her lips. Kate grimaced. But is Meghan’s behavior here truly an American thing? And could it be that the Brit, Kate, is uncomfortable in this situation for a host of reasons – maybe she lacks the ability or desire to get close to Meghan, or there was context leading up to that moment that we’re not hearing, or Kate simply wasn’t making the happiest face in that moment due to other distractions as they prepared for their event.
One of the big reveals in Spare is the reason why Kate and Meghan’s relationship broke down. Previously, the press claimed it was due to an argument about Meghan’s bridesmaids dresses, but Spare positions that as actually just one of a few incidents that led to their fallout. The biggest, according to Harry, is that Meghan said “Kate had baby brain” and mentioned her hormones when Kate couldn’t recall something. ‘We’re not close enough for you to talk about my hormones!...It’s rude, Meghan. It’s not what’s done here in Britain.’ Again as an audience we’re forced to ask ourselves if Harry’s one-sided account seeks to make Meghan look good by painting Kate as an uptight Brit, or if telling someone that they have baby brain is rude – especially in certain contexts or cultures– and Kate wasn’t crazy to be upset.
In the book, when Harry moves to America, and returns for his grandfather’s funeral, he sets a scene, meeting his dad and brother in a garden, and quotes Shakespeare, asking, ‘Why were we here, lurking along the edge of that “undiscover’d country, from whose bourn no traveller returns”? Though maybe that’s a more apt description of America.’ The implication is that, now he’s transitioned to America – to an American life, with an American wife – he’ll never return, there’s no going back to the life he once lived.
There have been women like Meghan before – outsiders, who’ve left their mark on the Royal Family (including the infamous American bride of Harry’s great grand-uncle Wallis Simpson): but the standout is, of course, Diana. Harry writes a lot about his mother — and draws a number of parallels — both obvious and subliminal – between her and Meghan. He implies that there’s a magic that binds Meghan and his mom together. The couple start talking ‘on [his] mother’s 55th birthday’ (p313). Harry uses similar words to describe both women – ‘awesomely bright’ for his mum, ‘luminous’ for his wife, implying that both have this otherworldly quality.
Despite the fact that he intentionally links them in these ways, the likeness in their stories is also what he wants to avoid – because he doesn’t want Meghan to end up like his mother. When she’s handling the pressure of the UK press very well, he explains ‘You’re doing too well, my love. Too damn well. You’re making it look too easy. This is how everything started…with my mother.’ He even says that his therapist told him that the press attention on Meghan mirrored the attention on his mum - ‘What you’re going through right now is reminiscent of 1997.’ And Harry confirms that he’s buried his feelings about that past trauma, and that part of him is still a scared little boy. As the scenario with Meghan and the press gets increasingly nightmarish, he describes Meghan’s mom being stalked in her job as a carer. Harry fears that this horror is bound to follow any woman he loves.
Prince Harry: Paps scaled the walls and fences of many patients she visited. In other words, every day there was yet another person, like Mummy, whose last sound on earth…would be a click.’ - Spare
And yet, in a way, Meghan represents Harry’s story coming full circle. One particular memory that becomes visceral for him is the moment that he, his mother and William were being chased by paparazzi in the car. He links this moment to three more horrific moments – including Meghan’s bout with suicidal thoughts and when they lost a baby – saying that these are the four times in his life when he’s felt totally helpless.
But in leaving the Royal family behind in pursuit of a happy, quiet life with his wife, Harry feels he achieves the safety for her that his mom couldn’t have. In fact, he recounts a conversation with a medium who says exactly that – that his mom is there, and that she’s telling him he’s living the life she couldn’t. So in some ways, Meghan represents the key to getting away from his most painful moments and the loss of his mother.
Although Harry’s book is clearly a one-sided account – delivering a bit of self-propaganda for him and Meghan, just like their Netflix series – this account seems more for him than anyone else. For better or worse, it’s a love letter to Meghan. He ultimately presents Meghan as a divine intervention in his life – as this event that had to happen. He says ‘I’ve been searching for you forever.’ He describes how his previous girlfriends said he had a Jekyll and Hyde personality – and he agrees, as though he’d been torn into two people, and only Meghan had the power to connect the halves:
Prince Harry: Happy Spike in Botswana, tightly wound Prince Harry in London. I’d never been able to synthesize the two, and it bothered them, bothered me, but with this woman, I thought, I could do it. - Spare
And Meghan does facilitate the change – the melding between the two halves of Harry – but he’s no longer Spike or Prince. He’s Haz – the name she gives him – a new person, who she coaxes into being.
Prince Harry: She said that is a man. My love. She said That is not a spare. - Spare