Analysis: Prince Harry poses as a poor rich kid in a less than glamorous book

In one of the most quoted passages from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince”, a little fox suggests that a person is responsible for what he tames. The tricky part is that the UK’s Prince Harry, 38, hasn’t charmed many people.

The publication of his memoir “O que Sobra”, in bookstores this Tuesday (10), is yet another attempt to move people with the tragedy of a poor rich boy. But the reader – who was not born into a powerful royal family – is unlikely to get very emotional.

Not that the story doesn’t contain some very sad passages – including the death of his mother, Diana, when Harry was just 12, and the subsequent sensationalization of his grief.

It’s just that the organizing element of the book is the idea that Harry suffered from always being a spare, a backup. He is now fifth in the line of succession, after his older brother William. The original title, “Spare”, makes that clear. It’s a nod to the phrase “the heir and the replacement”. Or: “the heir and what remains”.

The book arrived in Brazil via Objetiva the same day as the rest of the world. The idea was a worldwide release. The work was accidentally sold in Spain a few days ago, however, and the main excerpts have already leaked to the press. I missed some fun.

The irony of it all is that even when it hits shelves old, and even with so much ill will towards Prince Harry, ‘What’s Left’ will be selling like hot cakes. At the time of writing this review, the book was already ranked third in the Brazilian Amazon in the “memories” category. The second was Machiavelli’s “The Prince”.

Blame, if you like, the culture industry, described by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in a classic of communication theory. Everything becomes a cultural asset, in the wake of production. But the fact is that there is a voracious appetite —also proved by the publication of this text— for endless facts about the British royal family.

Controversially, Harry follows in the footsteps of his mother, Diana, who caused a stir by separating from then-Prince Charles, now King. Harry went further and divorced the whole family. Moving away from the palace, he moved to the United States with his wife, Meghan Markle, in 2020. They have given up royal duties. In the book, he describes the exodus as a way to preserve the couple’s “sanity and physical integrity”.

Harry justifies the book itself as an opportunity to give his side of the whole story. But that’s what he’s been doing for years, in interviews. The red-haired prince has just released the documentary “Harry & Meghan” on Netflix, with six hours of attacks on the family, now expanded into the book.

Diana is almost the protagonist of the work, as it could not be otherwise. Harry dedicates the text to her. In the first chapter she tells how she learned of her mother’s death. Even sadder, she talks about how she thought for a long time that Diana was faking her death. Harry also became suspicious after he inherited a lock of hair cut from the corpse of her mother, who died in Paris in August 1997.

Among the excerpts that attract the most attention – and already leaked and revealed in recent days – is the report that Harry killed 25 people in Afghanistan during his military service. Disclosure is careless, cumbersome, and an unnecessary risk. The radical Taliban organization has already publicly condemned the prince.

Another startling account is that his brother, William, beat him. According to Harry, the fight took place in 2019 inside his residence in Kensington Palace. William called Meghan, the prince’s wife, “difficult” and “rude”. In the book version, William pushed Harry, who landed on his dog bowl. The detail of the food bowl, broken in the fall, is a rather unexpected and pathetic detail.

Harry also blames his brother, whom he calls his “arch enemy,” for what is his most controversial episode: his decision to dress as a Nazi in 2005. According to the book, William and Kate Middleton, his then girlfriend, claimed the imaginative choice.

There are also revelations of less impact, but with some flavour, such as the story that Harry lost his virginity to an older woman at the age of 17 behind a pub. The prince also says he used cocaine when he was the same age.

Speaking of Brazil, there is a mild case. Harry says he was playing polo in the country to raise money for an NGO when he saw a player fall. “I jumped off my horse, ran towards the boy and stuck out his tongue. The man coughed, he started breathing again,” he says, a hero of his own story.

The text is a bit cheesy. Already in the first pages, Harry says that “the sky was gray, but the tulips were in bloom” and that “the light was pale, but the indigo lake, which meandered through the gardens, glittered”. But there are flashes of creativity, like the bit where Harry says a hill in Scotland has been ‘gnawed up by deer’. Further on, he suggests that a hummingbird’s legs were as thin as eyelashes.

There is also a princely intensity, perhaps accidental. In describing his brother, for example, Harry mentions his “alarming baldness”, which, except as an aesthetic conviction, shouldn’t alarm a prince too much.

The book is enriched, in particular, with unusual details that help imagine the life of a prince among all his bright privileges and his dark doubts. It is a life that few have.

Harry suddenly says that his father, Charles, would roll over in his boxers to ease his chronic back pain. He also recounts that in his school the circumcised pupils were nicknamed “round heads” and that the matrons washed the boys “in a slow and voluptuous way”. Harry also voluntarily recounts how his penis froze during a trip to the North Pole.

It is not clear, during the more than 500 pages, what the purpose of the book is. Reconnect with dad and brother maybe. But Harry’s criticisms only make it more difficult. Of Camilla’s stepmother, he even suggests that he always wanted the throne, a harsh accusation. Maybe the prince wants to reform the monarchy. But he ends up undermining the institution, describing it as elitist and racist, made up of cold and empathetic people.

After all, these contradictions may be the key to understanding. What’s left for Harry is to find a way to navigate his identity, no longer as a spare part, but as a prince without a principality.

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