You’ll have heard about Prince Harry’s tell-all memoir, Spare, by now, whether you wanted to or not. The content of its pages has seeped into the water table and osmosis-ed into your brain, where it’ll fester for a bit, then harden. From there, the book’s words will etch themselves into the deepest grooves of your memory. One day, sooner than you ever thought possible, you’ll be aged and bedridden with a tenuous handle on the world around you. Even though you’ll have forgotten the faces of your children, King Charles III’s offspring will remain lodged, and for comfort or because it’s all that’s left, you’ll return to what you know from an earlier time, shouting to the reluctant stranger changing your bedpan: “Kate and Wills were huge Suits fans before they met Meghan Markle!” or “Prince William broke Prince Harry’s necklace when William grabbed Harry by the collar and threw him down on the dog’s bowl! Allegedly!”
Sorry about all that. I had to do some priming. As we’ve processed the torrent of leaks from Spare this week, it’s almost been hard to keep track of it all. But for my money, the most genuinely jarring bits have been the corporeal candor that Prince Harry took in writing the book. Like when he addressed one rumor that I don’t recall ever reading—that Princess Diana did not want the boys to be circumcised. Turns out they are. So there’s another little fact to shout at the overworked orderly in the years hence. It’s a pretty stark diversion from the Windsor clan’s usually steadfast commitment to decorum.
The Duke of Sussex didn’t bring this detail about his most private parts up out of nowhere in the book, which has dominated headlines nearly everywhere since the first excerpts of it leaked on Wednesday. There was context. The context was that before the wedding of his brother and Kate Middleton in April 2011, Harry had been on a charity expedition to the North Pole, where he’d walked 200 miles across arctic landscape alongside fellow soldiers who’d served in Afghanistan. The thing about walking 200 miles across arctic landscape is that your extremities will possibly suffer, and his did. Harry’s ears, cheeks, and penis got frostbitten. His circumcised penis, that is. (Before we go on, it should be clarified that “Willy” is what he calls his brother and “todger” is the polite term he uses to refer to his penis.)
“There were countless stories in books, and papers (even The New York Times) about Willy and me not being circumcised,” he reportedly writes in the memoir. “Mummy had forbidden it, they all said, and while it’s absolutely true that the chance of getting penile frostbite is much greater if you’re not circumcised, all the stories were false. I was snipped as a baby.”
The frostbite healed as the duke returned to England’s gentler climes, and most was well in time for the big royal wedding. But, as would be expected, the most extreme of his extremities took a little longer to get back to normal. So, he reportedly writes, as he walked down that aisle of Westminster in support of his brother’s new chapter in life, his “todger” was ailing. I don’t know exactly what sharing all of this is for necessarily, but now, you can google “Prince Harry penis” and receive vaguely more safe-for-work results than before. (I assume!)
The big freeze is not the only bit of body horror that has made headlines from this memoir. The other one—the one that is deeply funny and sad and has been banging around my skull since yesterday—is the moment after their grandfather Prince Philip’s funeral, when the boys and their father, the soon-to-be-crowned King Charles III, convened in the family cemetery to talk about Harry and Meghan’s decision to defect to America. It was a moment when Harry felt misunderstood, and worse, as though no one was even trying to understand him.
He reportedly writes, “I looked at Willy, really looked at him, perhaps for the first time since we were little, taking in every detail: his familiar scowl, which had always been the norm in his dealings with me.” William was balding, Harry noted, and it was more “advanced than mine.” That’s a great burn to levy between brothers. But then this: Harry noted that with the balding, William’s resemblance to their late mother had “faded.”
Harry’s brother was, in a way, unrecognizable to him. And what’s more horrifying than that? The person who is perhaps the only one who has access to what you went through—the struggles of the monarchy, having that father and those expectations, the tragedy of losing their mother—fading into something different, something more bald. William had aged out of the thing—his hair, and thus the resemblance—that had made him a bridge to what came before, and what’s worse, he’s Harry’s big brother.
These moments, first with the frostbite and then with the hairline, make it seem as though Harry’s masculinity, and more so his humanity, is at stake in the writing of Spare. These parts are when the book—which, we should remember, few people outside of Spain have been able to read cover to cover—seems most like an exorcism so far, especially when paired with the Sussex’s Oprah interview and their Netflix documentary. Whether this is the intention or not, the duke has blanketed the internet, the television, the published word with his own stories about every single bit of himself, down to the most personal, physical matters.
To some, watching the whole exercise might register as the real body horror here. But if this is useful for him—if he’s able to find peace in the informational spew—then we can at least understand it. After all, sometimes getting all the sick out is the only relief you can find.