UK Bookstores React to Prince Harry’s Memoir

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The release of Prince Harry’s memoir, “Spare,” was hotly anticipated in Britain, with revelations from leaked passages headlining newspapers across the country in recent days.

But as bookstores placed “Spare” in window displays and flung open their doors on Tuesday, reaction appeared muted in London under a rainy gray sky. Early-morning lines teemed with journalists, but regular book buyers were slower to file through the doors.

That seemed at odds with the interest that some booksellers said the memoir had drummed up and with the anticipation it had garnered online. Waterstones, Britain’s largest bookstore chain, said that it had seen some of the biggest preorders in a decade, and that “unprecedented” numbers of people had ordered the memoir for in-store pickup on Tuesday. The memoir also raced to the top of the list of best sellers on Amazon’s websites in Britain and the United States.

“We expect ‘Spare’ to be one of this year’s best sellers,” John Cotterill, the nonfiction category manager for Waterstones, said in a statement on Tuesday, saying that the book “added welcome interest to a usually quieter month.”

A spokeswoman for another retailer, WH Smith, declined to comment on sales but said that the company had extended hours at a small number of stores so that they would be open at midnight for the memoir’s release.

Of those who did venture into bookstores, some were curious and others were dismissive of the latest episode in a mounting royal drama that has played out in tell-all interviews, in a Netflix documentary series and on social media.

Some said they saw recent revelations by Prince Harry as nothing more than a distraction — the machinations of Britain’s aristocracy at stark odds with the deepening economic squeeze being felt across the country.

“It’s been hugely overblown. I don’t think people care,” said Nikki Kastner, an owner of Herne Hill Books, a small independent seller in South London. “It’s not exactly the ‘Harry Potter’ launch, is it?”

Others, however, appeared to be more intrigued.

Monika Nicolaou, a self-described fan of Britain’s royal family, dropped by the Waterstones bookstore in London’s Piccadilly Circus to pick up a copy of “Spare” on Tuesday and planned to start reading it on her way to work.

“Dirty laundry should be left behind the scenes,” she said, explaining that she disapproved of Prince Harry’s decision to share secrets about the royal family. “I don’t think it was brave.” Still, she said, she wanted to read his perspective.

In the book, Harry writes about the death of his mother, Princess Diana; about his account of the negotiations over his role in the family that led Harry and his wife, Meghan, to eventually leave England; about his tense relationship with his brother, Prince William; about his own battles with anxiety and about his time in Afghanistan, among other insights.

“​​It’s making people question whether they really like him or not,” said James Broadley, who was looking at the bookstore’s display with his wife. The book is retailing for 28 pounds, or about $35, but many retailers like Waterstones and Amazon are selling it for half price — a customary offer for a “highly anticipated and prominent publication” to compete with heavy online discounting, according to a spokeswoman for Waterstones.

Although Mr. Broadley said he did not see himself as a huge royalist, he said he was considering buying the book and nonetheless found the situation intriguing.

“It feels like they’ve gone the tabloid aspect of dishing dirt,” he said, adding that although the book was a “cash grab,” he understood the motivations behind it.

“This is part of him going alone,” Mr. Broadley said. “He’s got to make it somehow.”

Prince Harry has said that he will give a portion of proceeds from the book to British charities, according to a description on the memoir’s website.

The biggest revelation for Elisabeth Stang, 56, a tourist from Norway who picked up a copy of the book at Waterstones, was the extent of the rift between Prince Harry and his older brother, Prince William, now heir to the throne. “They are a hurt family,” she said, adding that the two had lost their mother so young and with the whole world watching them.

“I just think they are more normal than maybe we all think they are,” she said.

Joanna Davey, 38, who was passing through Waterstones for a meeting but did not buy the book, said: “I just feel really sad for him. I think you can tell he’s really experienced a lot of trauma in his life.”

“It would be better if he sat down with a therapist instead of spilling his guts on paper,” she added. In the book, Harry does write about going to therapy, saying his wife persuaded him to continue it.

Aside from rainy skies, some blamed the wall-to-wall news media coverage of the memoir’s leaked contents in previous days for any less-than-enthusiastic in-person reaction on Tuesday.

“It’s been on the radio all week. People are sick of it,” said Salman Gohar, a London cabdriver. “It took the magic out of the launch.”

“I liked him before, but he’s just going after them one by one now,” Mr. Gohar added in reference to Prince Harry.

The book’s revelations have reignited older gossip about the family among royal watchers — Prince Harry writing, for example, about how he and his brother begged his father not to marry Camilla, now the queen consort.

For those unwilling to brave the weather on Tuesday, there was social media. Reactions flickered between the comical, the supportive and the morally outraged. The hashtags #SparebyPrinceHarry and #Camilla trended on Tuesday on Twitter, with many lamenting that Prince Harry was aggravating mounting rifts in the royal family, while others expressed sympathy for his account of what he and his wife had endured.

Even bookstores themselves could not resist getting in on the action, with one independent retailer in Britain opting for a characteristically more satirical window display.

“Anyway, we do have some spare copies of Spare if you want one,” it concluded.


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