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Through the publication of Spare, Prince Harry has lifted the lid on royal life like never before. Well, hang on, not quite like never before. Back in 1951 the former King Edward VIII wrote a tell-all autobiography covering his decision to abdicate, and a few decades later, both of Harry’s parents collaborated with authors on revealing books about their lives.
But Spare is nevertheless an astonishingly rare confessional and the only one to shatter the mystique on this generation of royal life. The growth of the internet has amplified the hype and also allowed everyone to weigh in on Prince Harry's story.
It feels by now like the whole world has had their say on Spare apart from one notable absence—the royal family. From the moment the book’s content started to emerge, thanks to a leak to the Guardian and the Spanish edition going on sale early, the royals made no comment. They repeated this stance to journalists when asked about the book generally or any of the individual claims within it. There is clearly concern behind the scenes—lawyers for the royal household asked ABC and CBS news for details of their interviews with Harry (which both broadcasters refused to hand over). But so far there has been absolutely no public word from the royals.
Indeed, this has long-been their stance; they did not respond to Harry and Meghan's Netflix series and they did not respond to most of the claims that the Sussexes have made in previous interviews and podcasts, with the one notable exception of the short statement after the Oprah interview. The royals have long been famed for their “never complain, never explain motto,” and as public reaction to this book begins to filter out it seems that it is working for them once again.
“As King Charles’s former Communications Secretary I have to say I think the strategy of saying nothing and remaining silent at this moment is serving them all very, very well,” former aide Kristina Kyriacou told ABC News this week. “I really and truly believe that Harry has got in further than he ever wanted to get in.”
The royals keep a keen eye on the opinion polls, and it’s likely that one of the reasons for continuing not to comment is that staying silent is doing them no harm with the public. YouGov found this week that Harry’s favorability—already low since he stepped back from royal life—has fallen further even with younger people in the UK. The working royals remain much more popular, although the findings did show that William’s positive rating had fallen to 69% from 77% in December. The tracker does not appear to have a recent result for Camilla, but Charles and Kate’s popularity has not moved much. The big takeaway seems to be so far that the British public has not turned against the monarchy in any great way since Spare’s contents were revealed.
Commenting would also serve to give insight into how the royals are reacting to this, something which it is clear they do not want to do. Anything they say will be dissected and will also fuel the coverage further and create more headlines. Instead, they have let Harry stand alone as the one talking about personal matters while they will want to be seen to be shifting the focus to their work. “All of this becoming the dialogue when there are so many world issues, I think it will be hard for Harry to recover,” Ms Kyriacou told ABC.
Let us also remember that this is a family—and that despite everything they do still care deeply for one another. Perhaps it is unwitting, but in Harry’s book William comes across as someone who is very concerned about his younger brother and wants to help him, even if they no longer seem to understand each other. It will take a lot of time to build back trust again to the point where they can have frank conversations, but a statement from the royal household could have the effect of alienating Harry even further.
As wall-to-wall coverage of Spare begins to become that little bit more sparse we are also reminded that even the biggest of royal scandals comes and goes. Prince Harry chose to open his book with William Faulkner’s quote “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” But if the royal family has learned one thing over the years as it has weathered numerous storms it is that people can and do move on.
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