Prince Harry’s Ghostwriter Talks What It Was Like Writing ‘Spare’
The ghostwriter for Prince Harry’s tell-all memoir, Spare, is clearing the record.
In a new essay published by the New Yorker, J. R. Moehringer—also the author of The Tender Bar—opened up about writing the book with the Duke of Sussex for two years. The essay illuminates his close relationship with the royal, from the fight that almost ended their professional relationship to what it was like to temporarily live with Harry and Meghan Markle in their California home.
Moehringer recalls a late night Zoom session with Harry to go over the book’s edits. The two reached an impasse over a specific section in the book, in which Harry is in the midst of a brutal military training that simulates the experience of being kidnapped and tortured by terrorists. He is beaten, starved, stripped, and—at one point—the pretend captors hurl insults at him, one of which is a “vile dig” at his late mother, Princess Diana.
Harry insisted that this part of the book end with a witty comeback he hurled back at the captor, but Moehringer disagreed.
Although this wasn’t the first time that Harry and I had argued, it felt different; it felt as if we were hurtling toward some kind of decisive rupture, in part because Harry was no longer saying anything. He was just glaring into the camera. Finally, he exhaled and calmly explained that, all his life, people had belittled his intellectual capabilities, and this flash of cleverness proved that, even after being kicked and punched and deprived of sleep and food, he had his wits about him.
In the end, Moehringer convinced the royal to exclude the witticism from the passage, arguing that it unnecessarily detracts from the story’s narrative power. Harry relented, then cheekily joked to the writer afterwards, “I really enjoy getting you worked up like that.”
Despite the occasional editorial disagreements with Harry, Moehringer wrote that his impression of the prince was generally a positive one.
“I just liked the dude. I called him dude right away; it made him chuckle,” he said. “I found his story, as he outlined it in broad strokes, relatable and infuriating. The way he’d been treated, by both strangers and intimates, was grotesque.”
The author added that the two bonded in their shared grief over their mothers; Moehringer’s mom had recently died when he and Harry first met.
“I wondered if we’d have any chemistry. We did, and there was, I think, a surprising reason. Princess Diana had died twenty-three years before our first conversation, and my mother, Dorothy Moehringer, had just died, and our griefs felt equally fresh,” he wrote.
He later added, “In retrospect, though, I think I selfishly welcomed the idea of being able to speak with someone, an expert, about that never-ending feeling of wishing you could call your mom.”
Moehringer stayed with Harry and Meghan at their Montecito home multiple times over the course of writing the book—once accompanied by his wife and children, and twice by himself.
He noted that “Harry won the heart of my daughter, Gracie, with his vast Moana scholarship; his favorite scene, he told her, is when Heihei, the silly chicken, finds himself lost at sea.”
Moehringer stayed in the couple’s guesthouse, “where Meghan and Archie would visit me on their afternoon walks. Meghan, knowing I was missing my family, was forever bringing trays of food and sweets.” The Duchess of Sussex also gifted toys to Moehringer’s children.
When someone leaked the news that Harry would be releasing a memoir and that Moehringer was ghostwriting it, the author and his family were quickly hounded by the press. He described the terrifying experience of paparazzi following him and his wife as they dropped their son off at preschool, and of the endless false headlines published about him that he felt powerless to correct. To express his frustration over the public scrutiny, Moehringer called up Harry.
It was like telling Taylor Swift about a bad breakup. It was like singing “Hallelujah” to Leonard Cohen. Harry was all heart. He asked if my family was O.K., asked for physical descriptions of the people harassing us, promised to make some calls, see if anything could be done. We both knew nothing could be done, but still. I felt gratitude, and some regret. I’d worked hard to understand the ordeals of Harry Windsor, and now I saw that I understood nothing. Empathy is thin gruel compared with the marrow of experience. One morning of what Harry had endured since birth made me desperate to take another crack at the pages in “Spare” that talk about the media.
Moehringer also reflected on Harry’s true intention for publishing Spare.
“While I always emphasized storytelling and scenes, Harry couldn’t escape the wish that Spare might be a rebuttal to every lie ever published about him,” he said. “He knew, of course, that some people would be aghast at first. ‘Why on earth would Harry talk about that?’ But he had faith that they would soon see: because someone else already talked about it, and got it wrong.”
Harper’s Bazaar previously reported that the royal family felt “rattled” following the book’s January release.
“There was a feeling that whatever Harry said in his book would just be news today, gone tomorrow,” a palace insider told Harper’s Bazaar at the time. “However, the level of detail given in the book about specific relationships with the media has put it all under the microscope now.”
A source additionally said that Prince William—who faces several damning allegations in Spare, including instigating a physical fight with Harry after a fight about Meghan—felt “devastated.”
“He’s not ignoring the things his brother has shared,” the source shared. “The dust needs to settle, but … this has been food for thought.”
Harry was recently in London for the coronation of his father, King Charles III. Meghan and the couple’s two children, Archie and Lilibet, did not join him.
Digital Associate Editor
As an associate editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com, Chelsey keeps a finger on the pulse on all things celeb news. She also writes on social movements, connecting with activists leading the fight on workers’ rights, climate justice, and more. Offline, she’s probably spending too much time on TikTok, rewatching Emma (the 2020 version, of course), or buying yet another corset.