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Authors: The Duke of Sussex Prince Harry

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BOOK: Spare
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At all costs, I avoided sitting quietly with a book.

It struck me at some point that the whole basis of education was memory. A list of names, a column of numbers, a mathematical formula, a beautiful poem—to learn it you had to upload it to the part of the brain that stored stuff, but that was the same part of my brain I was resisting. My memory had been spotty since Mummy disappeared, by design, and I didn’t want to fix it, because memory equaled grief.

Not remembering was balm.

It’s also possible that I’m misremembering my own struggles with memory from back then, because I do recall being very good at memorizing
some
things, like long passages from
Ace Ventura
and
The Lion King
. I’d recite them often, to mates, to myself. Also, there’s a photo of me, sitting in my room, at my pull-out desk, and there amid the cubbyholes and chaotic papers sits a silver-framed photo of Mummy. So. Despite my clear memory of not wanting to remember her, I was also trying gamely not to forget her.

Difficult as it was for me to be the naughty one, and the stupid one, it was anguish for Pa, because it meant I was his opposite.

What troubled him most was how I went out of my way to avoid books. Pa didn’t merely enjoy books, he exalted them. Especially Shakespeare. He adored
Henry V
. He compared himself to Prince Hal. There were multiple Falstaffs in his life, like Lord Mountbatten, his beloved great-uncle, and Laurens van der Post, the irascible intellectual acolyte of Carl Jung.

When I was about six or seven, Pa went to Stratford and delivered a fiery public defense of Shakespeare. Standing in the place where Britain’s greatest writer was born and died, Pa decried the neglect of Shakespeare’s plays in
schools, the fading of Shakespeare from British classrooms, and from the nation’s collective consciousness. Pa peppered this fiery oration with quotations from
Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice—
he plucked the lines from thin air, like petals from one of his homegrown roses, and tossed them into the audience. It was showmanship, but not in an empty way. He was making the point: You should all be able to do this. You should all know these lines. They’re our shared heritage, we should be cherishing them, safeguarding them, and instead we’re letting them die.

I never doubted how much it upset Pa that I was part of the Shakespeare-less hordes. And I tried to change. I opened
Hamlet
. Hmm: Lonely prince, obsessed with dead parent, watches remaining parent fall in love with dead parent’s usurper…?

I slammed it shut. No, thank you.

Pa never stopped fighting the good fight. He was spending more time at Highgrove, his 350-acre estate in Gloucestershire, and it was just down the road from Stratford, so he made a point of taking me now and then. We’d turn up unannounced, watch whatever play they were putting on, it didn’t matter to Pa. Didn’t matter to me either, though for different reasons.

It was all torture.

On many nights I didn’t understand most of what was taking place or being said onstage. But when I did understand, worse for me. The words burned. They troubled. Why would I want to hear about a grief-stricken kingdom “contracted in one brow of woe”? That just put me in mind of August 1997. Why would I want to meditate upon the inalterable fact that “all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity…”? I had no time to think about eternity.

The one piece of literature I remember enjoying, even savoring, was a slender American novel.
Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck. We were assigned it in our English divs.

Unlike Shakespeare, Steinbeck didn’t need a translator. He wrote in plain, simple vernacular. Better yet, he kept it tight.
Of Mice and Men
: a brisk 150 pages.

Best of all, its plot was diverting. Two blokes, George and Lennie, gadding about California, looking for a place to call their own, trying to overcome their limitations. Neither’s a genius, but Lennie’s trouble seems to be more than low IQ. He keeps a dead mouse in his pocket, strokes it with his thumb—for comfort. He also loves a puppy so much that he kills it.

A story about friendship, about brotherhood, about loyalty, it was filled with themes I found relatable. George and Lennie put me in mind of Willy
and me. Two pals, two nomads, going through the same things, watching each other’s back. As Steinbeck has one character say: “A guy needs somebody—to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody.”

So true. I wanted to share it with Willy.

Too bad he was still pretending not to know me.

21.

Must’ve been early
spring, 1999. I must’ve been home from Eton for the weekend.

I woke to find Pa on the edge of my bed, saying I was going back to Africa.

Africa, Pa?

Yes, darling boy.

Why?

It was the same old problem, he explained. I was facing a longish school holiday, over Easter, and something needed to be done with me. So, Africa. Botswana, to be precise. A safari.

Safari! With you, Pa?

No. Alas, he wouldn’t be going along this time. But Willy would.

Oh, good.

And someone very special, he added, acting as our African guide.

Who, Pa?

Marko.

Marko? I barely knew the man, though I’d heard good things. He was Willy’s minder, and Willy seemed to like him very much. Everyone did, for that matter. Of all Pa’s people there was consensus that Marko was the best. The roughest, the toughest, the most dashing.

Longtime Welsh Guard. Raconteur. Man’s man, through and through.

I was so excited about the prospect of this Marko-led safari, I don’t know how I got through the following weeks of school. I don’t actually
recall
getting through them, in fact. Memory winks out completely, right after Pa delivered the news, then snaps back into focus as I’m boarding a British Airways jet with Marko and Willy and Tiggy—one of our nannies. Our favorite nanny, to be accurate, though Tiggy couldn’t stand being called that. She’d bite the head off anyone who tried.
I’m not the nanny, I’m your friend!

Mummy, sadly, didn’t see it that way. Mummy saw Tiggy not as a nanny but as a rival. It’s common knowledge that Mummy suspected Tiggy was
being groomed as her future replacement. (Did Mummy see Tiggy as her Spare?) Now this same woman whom Mummy feared as her possible replacement was her actual replacement—how dreadful for Mummy. Every hug or head pat from Tiggy, therefore, must’ve unleashed some twinge of guilt, some throb of disloyalty, and yet I don’t remember that. I remember only heart-racing joy to have Tiggy next to me, telling me to buckle my seatbelt.

We flew direct to Johannesburg, then by prop plane to Maun, the largest city in northern Botswana. There we met up with a large group of safari guides, who steered us into a convoy of open-topped Land Cruisers. We drove off, straight into pure wilderness, towards the vast Okavango Delta, which I soon discovered was possibly the most exquisite place in the world.

The Okavango is often called a river, but that’s like calling Windsor Castle a house. A vast inland delta, smack in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, one of the largest deserts on earth, the lower Okavango is bone dry for part of the year. But come late summer it begins to fill with floodwaters from upstream, little droplets that begin as rainfall in the Angola highlands and slowly swell to a trickle, then a flow, which steadily transforms the delta into not one river but dozens. From outer space it looks like the chambers of a heart filling with blood.

With water comes life. A profusion of animals, possibly the most biodiverse collection anywhere, they come to drink, bathe, mate. Imagine if the Ark suddenly appeared, then capsized.

As we neared this enchanted place, I had trouble catching my breath. Lions, zebras, giraffes, hippos—surely this was all a dream. At last we stopped—our campsite for the next week. The spot was bustling with more guides, more trackers, a dozen people at least. Lots of high fives, bear hugs, names flung at us.
Harry, William, say hello to Adi!
(Twenty years old, long hair, sweet smile.)
Harry, William, say hi to Roger and David.

And at the center of it all stood Marko, like a traffic cop, directing, cajoling, embracing, barking, laughing, always laughing.

In no time he’d pulled our campsite into shape. Big green canvas tents, soft canvas chairs grouped in circles, including one enormous circle around a stone-rimmed campfire. When I think about that trip, my mind goes immediately to that fire—just as my skinny body did then. The fire was where we’d all collect at regular intervals throughout the day. First thing in the morning, again at midday, again at dusk—and, above all, after supper. We’d stare into that fire, then up at the universe. The stars looked like sparks from the logs.

One of the guides called the fire Bush TV.

Yes, I said, every time you throw a new log on, it’s like changing the channel.

They all loved that.

The fire, I noticed, hypnotized, or narcotized, every adult in our party. In its orange glow their faces grew softer, their tongues looser. Then, as the hour got later, out came the whisky, and they would all undergo another sea change.

Their laughter would get…louder.

I’d think:
More of this, please.
More fire, more talk, more loud laughter. I’d been scared of darkness all my life, and it turned out Africa had a cure.

The campfire.

22.

Marko, the largest member of the group,
also laughed the loudest. There was some ratio between the size of his body and the radius of his bellows. Also, there was a similar link between the volume of his voice and the bright shade of his hair. I was a ginger, self-conscious about it, but Marko was an
extreme
ginger and owned it.

I gawped at him and thought:
Teach me to be like that.

Marko, however, wasn’t your typical teacher. Perpetually moving, perpetually
doing,
he loved many things—food, travel, nature, guns, us—but he had no interest in giving lectures. He was more about leading by example. And having a good time. He was one great big ginger Mardi Gras, and if you wanted to join the party, wonderful, and if not, that was grand too. I wondered many times, watching him wolf his dinner, gulp his gin, shout another joke, slap another tracker on the back, why more people weren’t like this guy.

Why didn’t more at least try?

I wanted to ask Willy what it was like to have such a man minding him, guiding him, but apparently the Eton rule carried over to Botswana: Willy didn’t want to know me in the bush any more than he did back at school.

The one thing about Marko that gave me pause was his time in the Welsh Guards. I’d sometimes look at him on that trip and see those eight Welsh Guards in their red tunics, hoisting that coffin onto their shoulders and marching down the abbey aisle…I tried to remind myself that Marko wasn’t there that day. I tried to remind myself that, anyway, the box was empty.

All was well.

When Tiggy “suggested” I go to bed, always before everyone else, I didn’t squawk. The days were long, the tent was a welcome cocoon. Its canvas smelt pleasantly of old books, its floor was covered with soft antelope skins, my bed was wrapped in a cozy African rug. For the first time in months, years, I’d drop off straightaway. Of course it helped to have that campfire glowing against the wall, to hear those adults on the other side, and the animals beyond. Screeches, bleats, roars, what a racket they made after dark—their busy time. Their rush hour. The later it got, the louder they got. I found it soothing. I also found it hilarious: no matter how loud the animals, I could still hear Marko laughing.

One night, before I fell asleep, I made myself a promise: I’m going to find a way to make that guy laugh.

23.

Like me, Marko had a sweet tooth.
Like me, he particularly loved puddings. (He always called them “puds.”) So I got the idea of spiking his pudding with Tabasco sauce.

At first he’d howl. But then he’d realize it was a trick, and laugh. Oh, how he’d laugh! Then he’d realize it was me. And laugh louder!

I couldn’t wait.

The next night, as everyone tucked into their dinner, I tiptoed out of the meal tent. I went down the footpath, fifty meters, into the kitchen tent, and poured a whole teacup of Tabasco into Marko’s bowl of pudding. (It was bread and butter, Mummy’s favorite.) The kitchen crew saw me, but I put a finger to my lips. They chuckled.

Scurrying back into the meal tent, I gave Tiggy a wink. I’d already taken her into my confidence and she thought the whole caper brilliant. I don’t remember if I told Willy what I was up to. Probably not. I knew he wouldn’t have approved.

I squirmed, counting the minutes until dessert was served, fighting back giggles.

Suddenly someone cried out:
Whoa!

Someone else cried:
What the—!

In unison we all turned. Just outside the open tent was a tawny tail swishing through the air.

Leopard!

Everyone froze. Except me. I took a step towards it.

Marko gripped my shoulder.

The leopard walked away, like a prima ballerina, across the footpath where I’d just been.

I turned back in time to see the adults all look at one another, mouths open.
Holy fuck.
Then their eyes turned towards me.
Holy fuuuuck.

They were all thinking the same thing, picturing the same banner headline back home.

Prince Harry Mauled by Leopard.

The world would reel. Heads would roll.

I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I was thinking about Mummy. That leopard was
clearly
a sign from her, a messenger she’d sent to say:

All is well. And all will be well.

At the same time I also thought: The horror!

What if Mummy were to come out of hiding at last, only to learn that her younger son had been eaten alive?

24.

As a royal you were always taught
to maintain a buffer zone between you and the rest of Creation. Even working a crowd you always kept a discreet distance between Yourself and Them. Distance was right, distance was safe, distance was survival. Distance was an essential bit of
being
royal, no less than standing on the balcony, waving to the crowds outside Buckingham Palace, your family all around you.

BOOK: Spare
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