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Authors: The Duke of Sussex Prince Harry

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BOOK: Spare
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That flag mesmerized me. Maybe because of my boyish war games. Maybe because of my precocious patriotism. Or maybe because I’d been hearing rumblings for days about the flag, the flag, the flag. That was all anyone could talk about. People were up in arms because the flag hadn’t been lowered to half-mast over Buckingham Palace. They didn’t care that the Royal Standard never flew at half-mast, no matter what, that it flew when Granny was in residence, and didn’t fly when she was away, full stop. They cared only about seeing some official show of mourning, and they were enraged by its absence. That is, they were whipped into rage by the British papers, which were trying to deflect attention from their role in Mummy’s disappearance. I recall one headline, addressed pointedly at Granny:
Show Us You Care.
How
rich
, coming from the same fiends who “cared” so much about Mummy that they chased her into a tunnel from which she never emerged.

By now I’d overheard this “official” version of events: Paps chased Mummy through the streets of Paris, then into a tunnel, where her Mercedes crashed into a wall or cement pillar, killing her, her friend, and the driver.

Standing before the flag-draped coffin, I asked myself: Is Mummy a patriot? What does Mummy really think of Britain? Has anyone bothered to ask her?

When will I be able to ask her myself?

I can’t recollect anything the family said in that moment, to each other or to the coffin. I don’t recall a word that passed between me and Willy, though I do remember people around us saying “the boys” look “shell-shocked.” Nobody bothered to whisper, as if we were so shell-shocked that we’d gone deaf.

There was some discussion about the next day’s funeral. Per the latest plan, the coffin would be pulled through the streets on a horse-drawn carriage by the King’s Troop while Willy and I followed on foot. It seemed a lot to ask of two young boys. Several adults were aghast. Mummy’s brother, Uncle Charles, raised hell.
You can’t make these boys walk behind their mother’s coffin! It’s barbaric.

An alternative plan was put forward. Willy would walk alone. He was
fifteen, after all.
Leave the younger
one out of it.
Spare the Spare. This alternative plan was sent up the chain.

Back came the answer.

It must be both princes. To garner sympathy, presumably.

Uncle Charles was furious. But I wasn’t. I didn’t want Willy to undergo an ordeal like that without me. Had the roles been reversed, he’d never have wanted me—indeed, allowed me—to go it alone.

So, come morning, bright and early, off we went, all together. Uncle Charles on my right, Willy to his right, followed by Grandpa. And on my left was Pa. I noted at the start how serene Grandpa looked, as if this was merely another royal engagement. I could see his eyes, clearly, because he was gazing straight ahead. They all were. But I kept mine down on the road. So did Willy.

I remember feeling numb. I remember clenching my fists. I remember keeping a fraction of Willy always in the corner of my vision and drawing loads of strength from that. Most of all I remember the sounds, the clinking bridles and clopping hooves of the six sweaty brown horses, the squeaking wheels of the gun carriage they were hauling. (A relic from the First World War, someone said, which seemed right, since Mummy, much as she loved peace, often seemed a soldier, whether she was warring against the paps or Pa.) I believe I’ll remember those few sounds for the rest of my life, because they were such a sharp contrast to the otherwise all-encompassing silence. There wasn’t one engine, one lorry, one bird. There wasn’t one human voice, which was impossible, because two million people lined the roads. The only hint that we were marching through a canyon of humanity was the occasional wail.

After twenty minutes we reached Westminster Abbey. We filed into a long pew. The funeral began with a series of readings and eulogies, and culminated with Elton John. He rose slowly, stiffly, as if he was one of the great kings buried for centuries beneath the abbey, suddenly roused back to life. He walked to the front, seated himself at a grand piano. Is there anyone who doesn’t know that he sang “Candle in the Wind,” a version he’d reworked for Mummy? I can’t be sure the notes in my head are from that moment or from clips I’ve seen since. Possibly they’re vestiges of recurring nightmares. But I do have one pure, indisputable memory of the song climaxing and my eyes starting to sting and tears nearly falling.

Nearly.

Towards the end of the service came Uncle Charles, who used his allotted time to blast everyone—family, nation, press—for stalking Mummy to her
death. You could feel the abbey, the nation outside, recoil from the blow. Truth hurts. Then eight Welsh Guards moved forward, hoisted the enormous lead-lined coffin, which was now draped in the Royal Standard, an extraordinary break with protocol. (They’d also yielded to pressure and lowered the flag to half-mast; not the Royal Standard, of course, but the Union Jack—still, an unprecedented compromise.) The Royal Standard was always reserved for members of the Royal Family, which, I’d been told, Mummy wasn’t anymore. Did this mean she was forgiven? By Granny? Apparently. But these were questions I couldn’t quite formulate, let alone ask an adult, as the coffin was slowly carried outside and loaded into the back of a black hearse. After a long wait the hearse drove off, rolled steadily through London, which surged on all sides with the largest crowd that ageless city had ever seen—twice as large as the crowds that celebrated the end of the Second World War. It went past Buckingham Palace, up Park Lane, towards the outskirts, over to the Finchley Road, then Hendon Way, then the Brent Cross flyover, then the North Circular, then the M1 to Junction 15a and northwards to Harlestone, before passing through the iron front gate of Uncle Charles’s estate.

Althorp.

Willy and I watched most of that car ride on TV. We were already at Althorp. We’d been speeded ahead, though it turned out there was no need to hurry. Not only did the hearse go the long way round, it was delayed several times by all the people heaping flowers onto it, blocking the vents and causing the engine to overheat. The driver had to keep pulling over so the bodyguard could get out and clear the flowers off the windscreen. The bodyguard was Graham. Willy and I liked him a lot. We always called him Crackers, as in Graham Crackers. We thought that was hysterical.

When the hearse finally got to Althorp the coffin was removed again and carried across the pond, over a green iron bridge hastily positioned by military engineers, to a little island, and there it was placed upon a platform. Willy and I walked across the same bridge to the island. It was reported that Mummy’s hands were folded across her chest and between them was placed a photo of me and Willy, possibly the only two men who ever truly loved her. Certainly the two who loved her most. For all eternity we’d be smiling at her in the darkness, and maybe it was this image, as the flag came off and the coffin descended to the bottom of the hole, that finally broke me. My body convulsed and my chin fell and I began to sob uncontrollably into my hands.

I felt ashamed of violating the family ethos, but I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

It’s OK, I reassured myself, it’s OK. There aren’t any cameras around.

Besides, I wasn’t crying because I believed my mother was in that hole. Or in that coffin. I promised myself I’d never believe that, no matter what anyone said.

No, I was crying at the mere idea.

It would just be so unbearably tragic, I thought, if it was actually true.

7.

Then everyone moved on.

The family went back to work, and I went back to school, same as I did after every summer holiday.

Back to normal, everyone said cheerily.

From the passenger seat of Pa’s open-topped Aston Martin everything certainly looked the same. Ludgrove School, nestled in the emerald Berkshire countryside, looked as ever like a country church. (Come to think of it, the school motto was from Ecclesiastes:
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.
) Then again, not many country churches could boast two hundred acres of woodland and meadows, sports fields and tennis courts, science labs and chapels. Plus a well-stocked library.

If you wanted to find me in September 1997, the library would’ve been the last place to look. Better to check the woods. Or the sports fields. I was always trying to keep moving, keep busy.

I was also, most often, alone. I liked people, I was gregarious by nature, but just then I didn’t want anyone too close. I needed space.

That was a tall order, however, at Ludgrove, where more than one hundred boys lived in proximity. We ate together, bathed together, slept together, sometimes ten to a room. Everyone knew everyone’s business, down to who was circumcised and who wasn’t. (We called it Roundheads versus Cavaliers.)

And yet I don’t believe one boy so much as mentioned my mother when that new term began. Out of respect?

More likely fear.

I certainly said nothing to anyone.

Days after my return I had a birthday. September 15, 1997. I turned thirteen. By long-standing Ludgrove tradition there would be a cake, sorbet, and I was allowed to choose two flavors. I chose black currant.

And mango.

Mummy’s favorite.

Birthdays were always a huge deal at Ludgrove, because every boy, and most teachers, had a ravenous sweet tooth. There was often a violent struggle for the seat next to the birthday boy: that’s where you’d be assured of the first and biggest slice. I don’t remember who managed to win the seat beside me.

Make a wish, Harry!

You want a wish? All right, I wish my mother was—

Then, out of nowhere—

Aunt Sarah?

Holding a box.
Open it, Harry.

I tore at the wrapping paper, the ribbon. I peered inside.

What…?

Mummy bought it for you. Shortly before…

You mean in Paris?

Yes. Paris.

It was an Xbox. I was pleased. I loved video games.

That’s the story, anyway. It’s appeared in many accounts of my life, as gospel, and I have no idea if it’s true. Pa said Mummy hurt her head, but perhaps I was the one with brain damage? As a defense mechanism, most likely, my memory was no longer recording things quite as it once did.

8.

Despite its two male headmasters
—Mr. Gerald and Mr. Marston, both legends—Ludgrove was largely run by women. We called them the matrons. Whatever tenderness we got, day to day, came from them. The matrons hugged us, kissed us, bandaged our injuries, wiped our tears. (All except mine, that is. After that one graveside outburst I’d not cried again.) They fancied themselves our surrogates. Mums-Away-From-Mums, they’d always chirp, which had always been odd, but now was especially confusing, because of Mummy’s disappearance, and also because the matrons were suddenly…hot.

I had a crush on Miss Roberts. I felt certain I’d marry her one day. I also recall two Miss Lynns. Miss Lynn Major and Miss Lynn Minor. They were sisters. I was deeply smitten with the latter. I reckoned I’d marry her too.

Three times a week, after dinner, the matrons would assist the youngest boys with the nightly wash. I can still see the long row of white baths, each
with a boy reclining like a little pharaoh, awaiting his personalized hair-washing. (For older boys who’d reached puberty there were two tubs in a separate room, behind a yellow door.) The matrons came down the row of tubs with stiff brushes, bars of floral soap. Every boy had his own towel, embossed with his school number. Mine was 116.

After shampooing a boy the matrons would ease back his head, give him a slow and luxurious rinse.

Confusing as hell.

Matrons would also help with the crucial extraction of lice. Outbreaks were common. Nearly every week another boy would come down with a fierce case. We’d all point and laugh.
Nyah, nyah, you’ve got nits!
Before long a matron would be kneeling over the patient, rubbing some solution into his scalp, then scraping out the dead beasts with a special comb.

As a thirteen-year-old I graduated from matronly bathing assistance. But I still depended on their nightly tuck-ins, still treasured their morning greetings. They were the first faces we saw each day. They swept into our rooms, threw open our curtains.
Morning, boys!
Bleary, I’d gaze up into a beautiful visage framed by a halo of sun…

Is that…could that be…?

It never was.

The matron I dealt with the most was Pat. Unlike the other matrons, Pat wasn’t hot. Pat was cold. Pat was small, mousy, frazzled, and her hair fell greasily into her always tired eyes. Pat didn’t seem to get much joy out of life, though she did find two things reliably satisfying—catching a boy somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be, and shutting down any bouts of roughhousing. Before every pillow fight we’d put a sentry on the door. If Pat (or the headmasters) approached, the sentry was instructed to cry:
KV! KV!
Latin, I think? Someone said it meant: The head’s coming! Someone else said it meant: Beware!

Whichever, when you heard it you knew to get out of there. Or pretend to be asleep.

Only the newest and stupidest boys would go to Pat with a problem. Or, worse, a cut. She wouldn’t bandage it: she’d poke it with a finger or squirt something into it that hurt twice as much. She wasn’t a sadist, she just seemed “empathy-challenged.” Odd, because she knew about suffering. Pat had many crosses to bear.

The biggest seemed her knees and spine. The latter was crooked, the former chronically stiff. Walking was hard, stairs were torture. She’d descend
backwards, glacially. Often we’d stand on the landing below her, doing antic dances, making faces.

Do I need to say which boy did this with the most enthusiasm?

We never worried about Pat catching us. She was a tortoise and we were tree frogs. Still, now and then the tortoise would luck out. She’d lunge, grab a fistful of boy. Aha! That lad would then be well and truly fucked.

Didn’t stop us. We went on mocking her as she came down the stairs. The reward was worth the risk. For me, the reward wasn’t tormenting poor Pat, but making my mates laugh. It felt so good to make others laugh, especially when I hadn’t laughed for months.

BOOK: Spare
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