Despite all the upheaval of the Oprah interview, Prince Harry is not done talking about his life. Penguin Random House has announced, in what is surely one of the biggest “gets” since the Obamas, that they’ll be publishing his memoir in late 2022. The PRH statement promised “the definitive account of the experiences, adventures, losses, and life lessons that have helped shape” the 36-year-old Duke of Sussex. Of course, the question is, what kind of memoir? Are we talking inspirational accounting of his journey—or are we talking bombshell tell-all?
“I’m writing this not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become,” Harry said in Penguin Random House’s announcement, released Monday. “I’ve worn many hats over the years, both literally and figuratively, and my hope is that in telling my story—the highs and lows, the mistakes, the lessons learned—I can help show that no matter where we come from, we have more in common than we think.” He added that he’s “deeply grateful for the opportunity to share what I’ve learned over the course of my life so far and excited for people to read a firsthand account of my life that’s accurate and wholly truthful.”
Harry isn’t the first royal to write a memoir. Queen Victoria published some of her journals, and various granddaughters published non-controversial autobiographies, royal historian Hugo Vickers told the Guardian. But a closer analog would be Sarah Ferguson’s My Story, published in 1996, or Edward VIII’s 1951 A King’s Story, in which he frankly discussed his strict childhood and loneliness as in his brief period as monarch. It wasn’t exactly jam-packed with sexy scandal, but the mere fact of his having written the book in the first place and providing a personal look at intimate royal family business was shocking, on top of everything else. Buckingham Palace is presumably braced for what, exactly, Harry is going to say this time.
Page Six reported that Harry is working with an accomplished ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer, who won a Pulitzer in 2000 for his newspaper writing and has worked with Andre Agassi and Nike co-founder Phil Knight on their memoirs. His book with Agassi, Open, was particularly well-received, threading the needle between juicy and thoughtful, unpacking Agassi’s media reputation as a bratty bad boy, delving into his difficult relationship with his father, and even admitting to using crystal meth. Clearly, Harry is aiming for inspiring, in keeping with the framing of The Me You Can’t See, his Apple TV show with Oprah Winfrey. But the whole world will be reading for gossip.
There are several topics that audiences will be looking for in particular. First off: Vegas, the Nazi uniform, and everything else. Harry had an extremely well-documented phase as a reckless party boy, careening in and out of London’s many clubs for years. He’s discussed drinking and drugs, for instance with Oprah: “I was willing to drink, I was willing to take drugs,” he said; “I was willing to try and do the things that made me feel less like I was feeling.” The phase culminated in the grainy photos that surfaced of Harry naked in Las Vegas in 2012, during a game of strip pool.
But it will be particularly interesting to see how Harry handles his 2005 appearance at a “colonials and natives” in a Nazi costume at 20 years old—especially considering, as Robert Lacey’s book Battle of the Brothers noted, Prince William was at the party too (Lacey alleges he even helped pick out the costume) and caught zero heat, leading to resentment on Harry’s part. Harry is responsible for his own, awful decision, but he was clearly already being framed by the tabloids as the bad boy counterpart to his responsible older brother, the heir, despite the fact that William wasn’t exactly staying home doing needlepoint.
This segues into another big topic of interest: Harry’s relationship with his brother. One of the big, Shakespearean elements of the royal drama over the last few years has been the souring of the historically close, if complicated, relationship between William and Harry. They have very different visions for how to carry forward their mother’s legacy. One man is inside the palace, the other outside essentially throwing rocks. The relationship between heir and spare has always been complicated, and William and Harry are no exception. Anything Harry says will be news, but the big question is how detailed he’ll get, particularly about the events that led up to the Cambridges and Sussexes splitting their palace offices and the Sussexes’ decision to depart the institution altogether.
Then there’s Harry’s relationship with his father. Harry was very frank in the interview with Oprah about the tension between them. “There is a lot to work through there,” Harry told Oprah about his relationship with Prince Charles, adding later that, “I will always love him, but there is a lot of hurt that has happened.” He returned to the subject again in The Me You Can’t See, talking about his father’s suck-it-up attitude, and he told Dax Shepherd in a podcast guest appearance that he wants to “break the cycle” of “genetic pain and suffering” with his own children. The stakes are very high because someday, in the not-too-distant future, Charles will be king, and his image needs all the help it can get.
Maybe the biggest question, though, will be: Who said the stuff about Harry’s kids’ skin color? It was one of the biggest moments of the Oprah interview, and it’s one of the first things people will go looking for the minute somebody outside Penguin Random House gets their hands on a copy.
Realistically, though, Harry will probably stay at least somewhat diplomatic—except for one group in particular. Harry has made absolutely no secret of his distaste and even loathing for the way the media has treated himself, his mother, his wife, and his entire family. Royal biographer Robert Hardman told the Washington Post that, consequently, it’s probably the press that’ll take the hardest hits: “My hunch is that the royal family will probably take a few hits, but they’re kind of used to that and they’ll get over it. I think the officials will take some fairly heavy shelling and the media are in for a kind of thermonuclear all-out attack.”
Of course, Harry and his ghostwriter could produce 400 pages of the most anodyne, diplomatic prose ever written—and the British tabloids would find something to blow into the biggest scandal since the abdication. They’re already making much of the fact that Harry will be publishing the book in 2022, toward the end of the Queen’s platinum jubilee marking 70 years on the throne. They’re gonna make all the hay they can with whatever Harry hands them. And at that point, why not just go in, guns blazing?