London: It has been written with what the publisher promises will be “raw, unflinching honesty”: a firsthand account of Prince Harry’s life that he insists is “accurate and wholly truthful”.
As the Royal family braces itself for Spare, arguably the most eagerly awaited autobiography in royal history, the mood behind palace walls is growing increasingly weary. It can’t have been helped when the trailer for Harry and Meghan’s imminent Netflix documentary dropped, asking the loaded question: “When the stakes are this high, why wouldn’t you want to hear our story from us?”
Prince Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in an image released by Netflix.Credit:AP
Having suffered the ignominy of Harry and Meghan’s bombshell Oprah Winfrey interview, in which the couple accused an unnamed royal of racism and claimed to have been abandoned by the House of Windsor, aides are now preparing for another series of salvos, once again dressed up as the Sussexes’ “truth”.
Being privy neither to an advance copy of Spare nor a preview of the six-part, fly-on-the-wall docu-series, Harry & Meghan, everyone has naturally been left anxiously trying to predict the contents.
Will the couple cast a shadow over next May’s Coronation by singling out King Charles for further criticism, having accused him of cutting them off financially and refusing to take their calls? Or are rumours to be believed that the Prince and Princess of Wales are set for another flogging, after Harry suggested William feels “trapped” in the monarchy and Meghan claimed Kate made her cry during a bridesmaids’ dress fitting?
All will soon be revealed, with Spare set to hit bookshelves across the world on January 10 and the first three episodes of the Netflix documentary to go live on Thursday. But as one royal source explained: “The pervading feeling is one of exasperation. What on earth can they have left to say? Enough is surely enough.”
Catherine, Princess of Wales; William, Prince of Wales; Harry, Duke of Sussex; and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex at Windsor Castle in Septmeber.Credit:WPA Pool/Getty Images
While outwardly projecting a shoulder-shrugging acceptance of events that are now well beyond their control, scratch the surface and anger still permeates across “The Firm”.
The London Telegraph has spoken to a number of well-placed sources to piece together a picture of what really happened in the final weeks and months of Queen Elizabeth II’s life in relation to the couple she generously described as “much-loved members of the family”. Regardless of how Spare – or Netflix – may interpret those events, the other side of the story does not make for comfortable reading.
It already riled the late Queen’s nearest and dearest that the couple chose to appear on Oprah on March 7, 2021, while the Duke of Edinburgh was in hospital, just three months shy of his 100th birthday. We now know that his beloved wife was also suffering from her own significant health problems.
According to Gyles Brandreth’s newly published biography, Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait, the late monarch had been diagnosed with a form of myeloma, or bone marrow cancer, which caused the tiredness, weight loss and mobility issues that forced her to pull out of a number of key engagements, including last year’s Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph.
Oprah Winfrey speaks with Prince Harry in the documentary The Me You Can’t See.Credit:Apple TV+
As one insider noted: “The late Queen not only knew the Duke’s health was failing but also her own. It became clear that she was on borrowed time as she began to tie up loose ends. That’s what made the Sussexes’ behaviour doubly difficult to deal with. The timing could not have been more insensitive.”
Regardless of her own personal turmoil, in typically stoic style, Queen Elizabeth still found the strength to release a brief 64-word response to the claims made on Oprah, including the oft-quoted observation: “Some recollections may vary”, inserted on the advice of aides including Christian Jones, the then-Duke and Duchess of Cambridges’ former communications secretary.
While Queen Elizabeth insisted on publicly reiterating that “Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much-loved family members,” in private, the great-grandmother was, according to those who knew her best, “devastated”, “bewildered” and “disappointed”.
While Brandreth insists that the late Queen was sanguine about the Oprah Winfrey interview, dismissing it as “television nonsense” (compared to Prince Philip’s interpretation of the 90-minute showdown as “madness”), other insiders say she became increasingly incredulous at the damage that Harry and Meghan appeared willing to inflict on their own family.
The Queen with Meghan, Harry, William and Catherine in July 2018. Credit:AP
She repeatedly questioned why they were persisting in attacking the very institution “that had given them so much”. She also echoed her staff’s disbelief at Harry and Meghan’s tale of abandonment when the perception was that “everyone had bent over backwards for the couple”.
Although generally supportive of the union (despite describing Harry as “perhaps a little too in love with Meghan”, according to Brandreth), Tom Bower’s claim in his book, Revenge: Meghan, Harry and the War between the Windsors, that the late Queen did not want the former US actress at the Duke’s funeral in April 2021, a month after Oprah had its primetime airing, rings true.
Tellingly, Buckingham Palace did not deny Bower’s claim that Queen Elizabeth told an aide before the ceremony at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle: “Thank goodness Meghan isn’t coming”.
As Bower said this week: “You only have to look at the Sandringham agreement to see what the late Queen’s thinking was. She approved their total expulsion from royal life. She wouldn’t have done that if she had a wholly benign attitude towards them.”
The Queen and Prince Harry had at one stage enjoyed a close, playful rapport.Credit:Getty
Far from giving the Sussexes the cake-and-eat-it scenario they craved – “work[ing] to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen,” – the couple was ordered to no longer undertake any royal engagements and denied the use of their Royal Highness titles. Harry was also stripped of his military appointments and told he could no longer officially represent the Royal family at military ceremonies.
The late monarch further decreed that the couple were no longer to use their Sussex Royal branding, and the pair were also ordered to repay the £2.4 million renovation costs of Frogmore Cottage, their Windsor home.
Their sequestration from the Royal family was as swift as it was unequivocal (the late Queen would later show similarly speedy decisiveness in removing her son, the Duke of York, from public life, a month before he reached an out-of-court settlement with Virginia Giuffre in February).
The COVID-19 pandemic put paid to any visits home by Harry in 2020, although he delighted in telling James Corden in February 2021 that his grandmother had sent Archie a waffle maker for Christmas. The sharing of such personal information raised eyebrows at Buckingham Palace, not least as the interview with the Late Late Show host threatened to overshadow the late Queen’s Coronavirus vaccine push earlier that day.
In singling out the sovereign for praise while failing to reference other members of the family, including his father and his brother, Harry also set in train what courtiers would go on to decry as “divide and rule” tactics.
Then came the revelation, in July 2021, that Harry was planning to publish a “literary memoir with Penguin Random House”, sharing “for the very first time, the definitive account of the experiences, adventures, losses, and life lessons that have helped shape him”.
The announcement, which came little over a fortnight after Harry and William had been reunited for the unveiling of a statue of Diana, Princess of Wales, appalled the late Queen as much as anyone else. She struggled to forgive her former governess, Marion Crawford, for publishing The Little Princesses, a book about her time looking after Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret – but this wasn’t staff, it was one of her own.
“News of the book changed everything,” said one source. “It set back any hope of a reconciliation because there is a limit to what you can discuss with someone you suspect is taking notes of every conversation.”
Prince William and Prince Harry take the covers off the statue of their late mother at Kensington Palace statue in 2021.Credit:Getty Images
When, in April 2022, Meghan finally returned to the UK for the first time since their move to Montecito – and the birth of their daughter Lilibet Diana in June 2021 – she and Harry made a beeline for Windsor Castle en route to the Invictus Games.
But according to Bower, they did not stay long – an indication, seemingly, of the Queen’s inner sense of unease about their conduct. Having agreed that the couple would meet Charles and Camilla beforehand, Harry and Meghan barely had time for a cup of tea before resuming their journey to The Hague for the Games. “It was a very brief encounter,” says Bower. (William and Kate were skiing with their children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.)
Little wonder, then, that Harry’s subsequent interview with the US network NBC, in which he claimed that he had popped in on his grandmother to make sure she was “protected”, caused so much offence.
Speaking at the Invictus Games with the Today show’s host Hoda Kotb, Harry gushed: “It was so nice to see her. She’s on great form. She’s always got a great sense of humour with me. And I’m just making sure that she’s, you know, protected and she’s got the right people around her.” Again, he swerved any mention of Charles and William. When Kotb asked whether he made his grandmother laugh, Harry replied: “Yes, I did,” before adding, “We have a really special relationship. We talk about things that she can’t talk about with anybody else.”
It was not just the barely disguised swipe at aides who sacrificed contact with their own families for months to form “HMS Bubble” around the late monarch and her husband that rankled. It was the irony of Harry failing to realise that the only people Queen Elizabeth felt she needed protecting from at that stage were the Sussexes themselves.
“While the couple always tried to separate the monarch from the institution, the late Queen never saw it that way,” said a former aide. Having criticised courtiers for blocking meetings with both his father and his grandfather during the Oprah interview, Harry seemed to be suggesting that royal relations were being hampered by interfering employees. But as the former adviser pointed out they “are always acting on instructions. It’s their job to reflect the interests of their principals and work on their behalf. It’s the easiest thing in the world to blame the staff but they were only doing what they are paid to do.”
By the time Harry and Meghan returned for the Platinum Jubilee celebrations two months later, the late Queen had her guard up.
When the couple made another beeline for Windsor Castle, travelling straight there after landing at Farnborough Airport, she refused their request to have professional photographs taken with Archie, three, and her namesake Lilibet, one. Claiming that she had a bloodshot eye, she adroitly denied the Sussexes the photo opportunity they craved.
Harry was “persistent”, according to those party to the meeting, expressing a desire to get an official snap of the two Lilibets together at some point in the future. But, of course, it was never to be. She died three months later.
Prince Harry and Meghan in a rare photo with son Archie and daughter, Lilibet.
The Sussexes may again claim they were marginalised during the four-day Jubilee celebrations, because there was “no interaction” with William and Kate or their children.
But as a source close to the Waleses was at pains to point out: “They were incredibly busy that weekend, managing the logistics around their children’s involvement. But they also felt they needed to be steely because a line had been crossed. There had still been no acknowledgement of the pain the Sussexes have caused, let alone an apology.”
Regardless of the hurt they caused, multiple insiders insist that “an arm was thrown around” Harry and Meghan to include them in as much as possible as non-working royals – only for them to reject the peace offering. They were in such a rush to leave the Trooping the Colour ceremony in June that they missed the magnificent flypast altogether.
The swift exit meant the couple also missed a family lunch with royal cousins including Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, Zara Tindall and Peter Phillips after watching the parade of pomp and pageantry together from the Major General’s Office overlooking Horse Guards.
Peter Phillips, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Zara Tindall during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June.Credit:AP
The Sussexes’ self-imposed isolation meant there was “a bit of reluctance” among the royals to attend Lilibet’s first birthday party on the Saturday. Only the Tindalls’ and Mr Phillips’s children went, while their parents spent the afternoon at the Epsom Derby. William and Kate took Prince George and Princess Charlotte on their first official engagement to Wales that day, carrying out a series of duties in Cardiff.
The Sussexes were offered the opportunity to attend both the Party At The Palace on the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon’s Platinum Pageant. However, they declined both – leaving the UK before the colourful carnival swept down The Mall. “God, how we tried,” sighed one aide.
Queen Elizabeth’s funeral did not prove any easier, despite a joint Windsor walkabout being arranged with the Cambridges and the Sussexes, and Harry being allowed to wear his military uniform for the grandchildren’s vigil at the lying-in-state at Westminster Hall.
But the confusion that still clouds exactly when Harry found out about his grandmother’s death highlights the breakdown in communications. Buckingham Palace claims he was informed during a mid-air call from his father five minutes before the official announcement went out at 6.30pm on September 8. Sources close to the Sussexes suggest Harry wasn’t told and read it on a breaking news alert.
Having reportedly been told by his father it wouldn’t be appropriate for Meghan to accompany him to the Scottish Highlands, Harry was perhaps unsurprisingly the last to arrive and the first to leave the following morning.
Naturally, there are fears that it won’t only be the royals who come under attack in the coming weeks, but the Palace’s so-called “men in grey suits”, and “still traumatised” former employees. Although none of the former aides referenced in the bullying complaint lodged by the couple’s former private secretary Jason Knauf in October 2018 have gone public, they may be minded to publicly defend themselves should Harry and Meghan cast aspersions on their professionalism.
“Duchess Difficult”, as she was nicknamed by disgruntled staff, has already hinted in her Archetypes podcast that royal aides couldn’t meet her exacting standards. “I think a high tide raises all ships, right?” stated Meghan. “We’re all going to succeed, so let’s make sure it’s really great. ’Cause it’s a shared success story for everybody… you’re allowed to set a boundary. You’re allowed to be clear, it does not make you demanding, it does not make you difficult, [it] makes you clear!”
Although the Palace does not plan to provide a “running commentary” in response to whatever the couple claim, the press office is likely to point out any factual inaccuracies. There are already rumours of inconsistencies between what Harry and Meghan have told Netflix and the contents of the autobiography, ghostwritten by Pulitzer Prize-winning author JR Moehringer, who was conspicuous by his absence from the most recent PR round for the book.
Sources close to the Sussexes have suggested they have little control over the timing or promotion of the Netflix series and the autobiography and yet the couple are thought to be in advanced talks with their friend, CBS presenter Gayle King, to do a US broadcast interview.
Another pal, meanwhile, ITV’s Tom Bradby is being touted as a possible inquisitor on the UK side. Having split from their PR firm Sunshine Sachs in September, Harry and Meghan’s spin machine is now based internally at Archewell, meaning they are pulling all the levers on their own. Catchlined: “Shared Purpose: Global Action”, the foundation conveys the impression of a determined couple on a mission. It therefore seems unlikely that royal feelings are going to be “Spared”.
The Telegraph, London
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