As Prince Harry and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist J.R. Moehringer collaborated on the former’s memoir over the course of two years, the two naturally grew close, texting constantly and addressing one another as “dude.” But it wasn’t always smooth sailing, as Moehringer wrote in a new essay for The New Yorker.
Last summer, Moehringer and the prince were squaring off over book edits in a late-night Zoom session, and came to a passage that detailed a brutal military exercise he’d undergone while training in England. Harry had been “captured by pretend terrorists” in order to assess his capacity to endure torture, Moehringer recounts, when one of his kidnappers hurled “a vile dig” at him about the late Princess Diana.
Harry wanted to end the scene with a witty retort he’d given, while Moehringer insisted that that would “dilute” the scene’s primary theme—that of the endless recurrence of the “central tragedy” of the Duke of Sussex’s life. The pair went back and forth over whether to include or cut the quip, and Moehringer could feel his temper flaring.
“My head was pounding, my jaw was clenched, and I was starting to raise my voice,” he writes. “And yet some part of me was still able to step outside the situation and think, This is so weird. I’m shouting at Prince Harry. Then, as Harry started going back at me, as his cheeks flushed and his eyes narrowed, a more pressing thought occurred: Whoa, it could all end right here.”
Eventually, Moehringer and Harry were able to talk it out, and the line stayed on the cutting room floor. It was one of several fights they had as they hashed out the book’s final draft, but their working relationship was largely buoyed up by their bond, according to the ghostwriter.
“I just liked the dude,” Moehringer recalls about meeting Harry for the first time over Zoom in the throes of the pandemic. “I called him dude right away; it made him chuckle. 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.”
Also, on some selfish level, he adds, it was cathartic to talk to someone else “about that never-ending feeling of wishing you could call your mom.”
Moehringer’s own mother had died shortly before he agreed to meet Harry, and despite the fact that Diana died in 1997, he writes, “our griefs felt equally fresh.” That shared heartache was the “surprising” reason for the near-instant kinship between the prince and his ghostwriter, according to Moehringer.
The pair were in contact—on Zoom, over the phone, via text—“around the clock” over the ensuing months. Later, when it was safe to do so, Moehringer journeyed out to Harry and Meghan’s Montecito home, where he stayed in their guesthouse.
“Meghan and Archie would visit me on their afternoon walks,” he notes. “Meghan, knowing I was missing my family, was forever bringing trays of food and sweets.”
As Harry became more comfortable with sharing his life with his ghostwriter, eventually “no subject was off the table,” writes Moehringer. (Hence the world’s knowledge of Harry’s frost-bitten penis; the magic mushrooms at Courteney Cox’s house; and the time he lost his virginity in a field.)
Whether or not due to Harry’s candor, Spare’s rollout sparked a feeding frenzy that quickly shot it to the top of the bestsellers lists. Moehringer, who previously worked with tennis legend Andre Agassi and Nike co-founder Phil Knight on their respective memoirs, also chronicles the process of being swept up in the chaos, up to and including being tailed by the press.
In one instance, Moehringer recalls being “stalked” by a photographer as he drove his son to preschool. “When I lifted him out of his seat, a paparazzo leaped from his car and stood in the middle of the road, taking aim with his enormous lens and scaring the hell out of everyone at dropoff,” he writes. Less than an hour later, he was at home and trying to shake off the encounter when he looked up to see another reporter’s nose pressed up against his window.
“As if in a dream, I walked to the window and asked, ‘Who are you?’” he continues. “Through the glass, she whispered, ‘I’m from the Mail on Sunday.’”
A rattled Moehringer called Harry, who was “all heart” and promised to make some calls. “I felt gratitude, and some regret,” Moehringer writes. “… 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.”
But of course, by that point, the book was no longer theirs alone.