Garry Toffoli

A Royal Second Son and a Second Realm: A Canadian Review of Prince Harry’s Book Spare



Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex

2023 Penguin Random House

407 pp; 3 illustrations



Reading reviews of Spare, the Duke of Sussex’s autobiography, I have come to the definite conclusion that the reviews reflect the reviewers’ opinions of the Duke before reading the book. Those who criticise Prince Harry often choose, and exaggerate, the parts of the book that may be legitimately open to criticism, but ignore the positive aspects. Supporters of the Prince often do the opposite.

I should therefore acknowledge my own perspective, and perhaps bias, that will frame this review. It is of a Canadian and a writer. I have not yet come across a review from the former perspective. Also, the way the Coronation of King Charles III was carried out confirmed some of the views I have about Spare.

As a writer I have more than once had my work altered by an editor after it was finished without my knowledge, so I am perhaps a bit more tolerant of apparent errors in others’ work, which may not be errors by the writer, and I feel that way about Spare.

From a literary perspective, I found the book generally well-written. The credit for that, or much of it, must, of course, be given to the ghostwriter J.R. Moehringer. But a good ghostwriter, as I understand Moehringer is, conveys the ideas and perspective of the nominal author. So those can be properly attributed to Prince Harry.

I found what the Prince had to say very engaging and I read the book in a handful of long sessions, as it held my attention. Some of the details of his life, which have been mocked, I agree were perhaps unnecessary and I must admit I would not have included them in an autobiography I might write. Whether the Prince is more honest than me or I am more circumspect, or both, I’ll leave unanswered.

Now the Canadian perspective. At the Coronation of King Charles III Prince Harry was in attendance, but given no official role to play, and was seated in the third row, behind the “working” members of the Royal Family. This was despite his being the son of the King and fifth in line to the Throne, higher than several of those who were seated ahead of him. Unlike for the prodigal son, there was no fatted calf, or modern vegetarian quiche option, offered for his return. He was not alone, however. There was another second child, the Realm of Canada, sibling to the United Kingdom, which was metaphorically also seated in the third row. Although Canada had an official role to play in the Coronation, that role was severely, and inappropriately, diminished from its role in the Coronations of 1902, 1911, 1937 and 1953, as if the 1982 patriation of the Canadian Constitution, the 1931 Statute of Westminster or even Confederation in 1867 had not taken place. 

The Coronation was organised by United Kingdom officials, not supervised by a committee of the realms as in 1953. The official invitations had only UK symbols, not those of the other realms as in all four coronations since Confederation. The King’s standards of the realms were not carried in the Abbey procession as they were in 1911, 1937 and 1953, only those of the UK. The King’s oath was only to the UK and his “other realms” rather than to each realm by name, as in the two coronations (1937 and 1953) since the Statute of Westminster. The armed forces of the realms marched in the street procession not as the King’s sailors, soldiers and aviators but lumped in with those of the republics of the Commonwealth (who are not the King’s) and in alphabetical order not seniority (by which Canada would be first). The only special acknowledgement for Canada was the contingent of Mounties leading the King’s mounted escort of the Household Cavalry. This was only done at the specific request of the King, it was not in the plans of the organisers. That was clear because there were no mounted escorts from the other realms as there were in 1953 and the RCMP led the escort, they were not part of it, as they should have been.

Essentially, Canada and the other realms besides the UK were not really acknowledged as independent kingdoms separate from their membership in the Commonwealth, who share the same monarch, but were treated as merely the monarchical wing of the Commonwealth. The indifference to the reality of the distinction between realms and republics was exhibited at the conclusion of the outdoor procession in the garden of Buckingham Palace when the troops on parade saluted the King. The British officer commanding called out: “His Majesty’s Armed Forces, Royal Salute, present arms!” The armed forces of the many republics present in the garden were not the King’s and the Commonwealth is not a defence alliance, so those troops have no relationship to the King whatsoever.

The treatments of Prince Harry and Canada were actually linked. It was the Prince’s desire to move to Canada, that is from one of Queen Elizabeth II’s realms to another one, which polls at the time showed was supported by a large majority of Canadians, and its rejection by Palace officials, which resulted in his exile to a foreign land, the United States, and his expressions of disappointment and anger in public statements, interviews and a documentary, then finally an autobiography.

This is where my Canadian “nationalism” kicks in. The Duke explains in Spare that he expected the summit at Sandringham, which led to his unwilling “departure” from the Royal Family, would be with his father, grandmother (the late Queen) and brother, not also with the two Palace officials, who he believed were controlling the agenda. I also asked myself why they were there. Canada is a separate kingdom from the UK and Palace officials have, or should have, no say in what members of the Royal Family can or cannot do in Canada. The Sussexes’ original plan was to move to Canada, not the United States, where they would have been carrying out part-time royal duties for the Queen of Canada. Why was there no representative of the Canadian Government to balance the British officials at the meeting? The Prince mentions in Spare that a previous plan to live for a few years in Africa had been seriously considered by the Palace. Apparently the only problem for the Palace was in moving to Canada and carrying out royal duties.

The alleged problem of part-time royal duty is irrelevant to Canada. All the country gets is a part-time royal presence. Prince William has not been to Canada for seven years. Canadians constitute 30% of the King’s subjects but only get less than 1% of the Royal Family’s time. Canadians accept this as the price of a shared Royal Family but they don’t actually like it or think it equitable. The Sussexes living in Canada would be a major upgrade for the Canadian Monarchy. But just as Canada’s best interests were ignored in the Coronation, they were ignored regarding the Sussexes.

Prince Harry’s antipathy towards the media is clearly evident in the book, but is understandable given the trauma they have put him through in his life. It is perhaps not wise, nor healthy for him to focus on it as much as he does. I am sympathetic to him, however. Though I am myself a part-time journalist and contributor in the mainstream media, I have also been at the receiving end of media mistakes as an advocate for monarchy. Also, when I was a youngster, my father’s company was accused in the media of corruption regarding government work. There were headlines with the allegations. My father’s reputation was put into dispute. In fact he had nothing to do with the work the allegations concerned. Sloppy research had mistaken his company for another with which it was in no way connected. The apology, when it came, was in small print on an inside page that few would have read. This was decades ago, my father has since died and I long ago put the incident behind me. But I have never forgotten it and it still informs my attitude towards the media and my actions as a member of the media, to ensure I do not do to someone else what was done to my father. The Prince’s experiences were far worse that mine, so I understand why his memories remain with him and his reactions are so strong.

I’ll address two examples of apparent mistakes in Spare that are not that important but were paraded in the media as great errors showing either how dishonest or ignorant Prince Harry is. In fact, they did not show him as such.

First is the passage stating that the Sussexes offered to fly Thomas Markle, Meghan’s father, who lives in Mexico, first class to England via Air New Zealand. Critics piled on. Air New Zealand does not fly from Mexico they gloated, so Prince Harry was not telling the truth. Even Air New Zealand joined in, claiming that they do not have first class, they have Business Premier Class. When I checked the ANZ website I found that Business Premier is the company’s name for what a reasonable person would call first class. In other words, Prince Harry is describing it so the reader would understand, not writing a commercial for the airline.

Regarding a flight from Mexico to England, the Duke does not write that the Sussexes had booked a flight for the Duchess’ father from Mexico. He says they offered to get him out of Mexico, sending a car for him, and they would fly him to England via Air New Zealand. While Mr Markle lives in Mexico, the critics did not explain that it is in a suburb of Tijuana, just a few kilometres south of the American border and San Diego airport. Los Angeles airport is within a reasonable car drive from the border. Air New Zealand does fly to England from Los Angeles. So it is clear to me that the Sussexes’ plan was to either drive Mr Markle to San Diego airport for a short connecting flight to LA or to drive him straight to LA airport for the flight to England. While Prince Harry does not specifically describe that plan, it is an obvious explanation and, if accurate, completely consistent with what he writes.

The Duke has also been mocked for referring to King Henry VI as his sixth great grandfather, which he was not. But the context is never fully described by the mockers. In the passage the Duke explains that students at Eton wear mourning clothes in memory of King Henry VI, who founded the college. He adds, however,  that the mourning might also be for King George III, who was a great benefactor of Eton. The reference to Henry VI was earlier in the passage, the one to George III in the section immediately before he wrote that Henry VI was his sixth great grandfather. George III was Prince Harry’s sixth great grandfather. It seems obvious to me that Prince Harry is referring to George III, not Henry VI, but there was a communications breakdown with his ghostwriter or editor and no one caught the mistake. That happens in many books. It has happened to me. So, yes it was a mistake in the book but it does not indicate that Prince Harry is ignorant.

I think one of the best parts of Spare is that which has been most severely criticised – describing the Prince’s experiences as a soldier, including as a gunner in an Apache helicopter in Afghanistan. His critics have said he was boastful and callous because he stated he had killed twenty-five Taliban and he thought of them as chess pieces to be removed from the board. I beg to differ. He isn’t boastful of the deaths and doesn’t say he wanted to think of them as chess pieces but that he had to, to do his job.

The following is the extensive passage from Spare leading up to the chess pieces analogy. It leaves a very different perspective of the Prince than the one described by his critics – that of a thoughtful soldier.

“Afghanistan was a war of mistakes, a war of enormous collateral damage – thousands of innocents killed and maimed, and that always haunted us. So my goal from the day I arrived was never to go to bed doubting that I had done the right thing, that my targets had been correct, that I was firing on Taliban and only Taliban, no civilians nearby. I wanted to return to Britain with all my limbs, but more, I wanted to go home with my conscience intact. Which meant being aware of what I was doing, and why I was doing it, at all times.

“Most soldiers can’t tell you precisely how much death is on their ledger. In battle conditions, there’s often a great deal of indiscriminate firing. But in the age of Apaches and laptops, everything I did in the course of two combat tours was recorded, time-stamped. I could always say precisely how many enemy combatants I’d killed. And I felt it vital never to shy away from that number. Among the many things I learned in the Army, accountability was near the top of the list.

“So my number: Twemty-five. It wasn’t a number that gave me any satisfaction. But neither was it a number that made me feel ashamed. Naturally, I’d have preferred not to have that number on my military CV,  on my mind, but by the same token I’d have preferred to live in a world in which there was no Taliban, a world without war. Even for an occasional practitioner of magical thinking like me, however, some realities just can’t be changed.

“While in the heat and fog of combat, I didn’t think of those twenty-five as people. You can’t kill people if you think of them as people. You can’t really harm people if you think of them as people. They were chess pieces removed from the board.”

Finally, one comes to the question of whether Prince Harry is trying to damage the Crown or monarchy generally or the Royal Family. He states he supports monarchy, and I believe him. His criticism, justified or not, is about how some, mostly non-royal, officials within the institution have themselves let down the Crown and how the media plays games with them. Spare is in no way an attack on monarchy as such. Not letting the Sussexes live in Canada carrying out part-time royal duties hurt the Crown of Canada more than anything they have said or done since. The tensions and conflicts within the Royal Family, which Prince Harry describes from his perspective, are those that exist in most families. I could certainly relate to them. No doubt they are not the only perspective within the family of what happened. I’m certain he still loves his family.

Canada is not mentioned much in the book but, except for a mild and probably accurate complaint that Toronto Police did not keep the paparazzi away from the Duchess’ home in the city before her marriage to the Prince, the mentions are favourable and significant. 

Prince Harry’s description of the first meeting of Meghan with Queen Elizabeth II should make every Canadian pleased.

“It was all very pleasant. Granny even asked Meg what she thought of Donald Trump. ... Meg thought politics a no-win game, so she changed the subject to Canada. Granny squinted. I thought you were American. I am, but I’ve been living in Canada for seven years for work. Granny looked pleased. Commonwealth. Good, fine.”

The complaints about royal life in Britain, some aspects of British life generally and the British tabloid press, are not issues applicable to Canada or essential to monarchy. The Canadian Monarchy exists, and the Royal Family have played a fundamental role in the history and life of Canada for more than five hundred years without them. Back in Canada after the Sandringham summit, Prince Harry says in the book, “Where to live? We considered Canada. By and large it had been good to us. It had already come to feel like home. We could imagine spending the rest of our lives there ... Meg got in touch with a Vancouver friend who connected us with an estate agent, and we started looking at houses.” What prevented this? They decided they had to move to the United States because of the, I believe unreasonable, removal of security for the Sussexes by the Palace, and the Canadian Government following along in removing its security, though it was in Canada’s interests to keep the Sussexes in Canada.

When I finished Spare two thoughts were confirmed in my mind. Had the Sussexes been allowed to remain in Canada with security, carrying out part-time royal duties, they would have established a role they wished to fulfil, there would have been no move to California, no interview with Oprah Winfrey, no Netflix documentary and no Spare. The Sussexes would have been happy, Canada would have been a better functioning monarchy and the Royal Family would not have faced the turmoil of the past three years. Prince Harry blames the proverbial men in grey suits for what happened instead. I am inclined to agree with him. But the present need not be the future. The Canadian Government should ignore the British policy and develop a Canadian role for the Sussexes, which would facilitate their return to Canada, where they belong.


Garry Toffoli is an author, contributing author or editor of seventeen books and a theatrical show. He has written for journals, magazines and newspapers in Canada, the United Kingdom and France, as diverse as Canadian Parliamentary Review, Diplomat International Canada, Ottawa Citizen and Hello! Canada and has been a commentator on royal tours and events for CBC, CTV, CPAC, etc. He is Vice-Chairman and Executive Director of the Canadian Royal Heritage Trust.