Princess Diana Tried to Shield Prince Harry from the “Spare” Label, Royal Expert Says

She knew how damaging it could be for her younger son.

Princess Diana and Prince Harry
(Image credit: Getty)

The single-most repeated word on every royal follower’s lips this week? Spare. It’s the much-anticipated and finally revealed title of Prince Harry’s upcoming tell-all, due out January 10, 2023—an obvious nod to the complicated heir and spare dynamic between him and older brother Prince William. (In all fairness, how would you feel if, upon your birth, you were given that description?)

Harry’s mother, the late Princess Diana, apparently was cognizant of how damaging the “spare” label could be to her younger son and tried to shield him from it, The Independent reports. (For maybe non-royal followers, William, the elder of King Charles and Diana’s two sons, is the heir to the throne; Harry, the second-born, has been known as the “spare” since his birth, a nod to his place in the line of succession behind his brother.)

Knowing that William would receive favoritism for his role as heir “troubled” Diana, says bestselling author James Patterson, whose book about the royals, Diana, William, and Harry: The Heartbreaking Story of a Princess and Mother, was released in August.

“I think she tried to control it as much as she could,” he says. “I think she was troubled about it. That’s a standard thing for families. One of the kids [will] do better in school or become a better athlete seems to be a little more charming and lovable. How do you make the other kids feel that they’re just enough? It happens pretty much to all families. And, in this case, the stakes are much higher because one is presumably going to be king someday.”

Diana was “very aware of the situation,” he says, adding “she had experienced how difficult it was to be in her role as a princess…She wanted to have her own life. And that was very hard for her. She didn’t want the boys to experience the same struggles she faced. She tried as much as she could to control it. She simply wanted them to be normal kids and understand that the real world doesn’t operate in the same way it worked within the Palace. They shouldn’t see themselves as special or different.”

Diana tried to provide as “normal” of a childhood for the boys as she possibly could, given the unique circumstances, Patterson says, famously taking them to McDonald’s for Happy Meals alongside bringing them to homeless shelters and charity events.

“She wanted to shield them from some of the things that were troubling her within her role,” he says. “The whole thing of being in the eye of the press and having to be a role model, even as a kid, was difficult. She didn’t want the kids to suffer through that. She wanted them to be as normal as they could be.”

Diana so fiercely tried to protect Harry that she even called him “Good King Harry,” The Independent reports, a moniker adopted after a young William allegedly said, “I don’t want to be king,” to which Harry replied, “Well, I’ll do the job instead of you, then.” 

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.