By: Stuart White 13-01-2023

Last night I watched the Netflix movie ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’. Loosely based on true events, it follows the life of Paul Connolly, a man who was abandoned as a baby in a dustbin when he was just two weeks old. Paul later went on to find himself at the now-notorious St Leonard’s Children’s home in the UK, which was closed down in 1984. The film’s synopsis is that of "a young man who grew up in an abusive children's home and must revisit his turbulent past after his boyhood friend's death triggers a police investigation." It is not easy to watch, in fact, quite uncomfortable due to the subject matter.

Understandably Paul grows up a troubled man with serious issues of self-esteem. The effects of childhood brutality and the cost of growing up being told you’re nothing, leave invisible scars. Throughout the movie you can see Paul having flashbacks of his perpetrators telling him he is useless, unworthy, scum and will amount to nothing. 

This week, Tuesday night to be exact, I started reading ‘Spare’, the biography of Prince Harry the Duke of York and last night couldn’t help but see similarities with the two life stories. Sure, there are dramatic differences between the backgrounds of Paul Connolly and Harry Windsor and what they faced but the similarity of the result of low self-esteem and the scars it leaves really struck me. 

With so much media attention on the release of Harry’s memoir this past week and it erroneously going on sale in Spain a week before the launch date, I had heard all the highlights and meaty parts of the story before I received my copy. By Tuesday I felt that I knew everything about his life and regretted having bothered to pre-order it. What I have read so far, though, has given me information and insight that I didn’t know or bargained for. 

While I thought the title Spare might be a reflection on Prince Harry’s bitterness and jealousy about being the number 2, I have learned that for many years the phrase ‘the heir and the spare’ has been an informal way of referring to the two children of a monarch who are first and second in line for succession. The first in line for succession to the throne is, of course, the heir. In the expression, the word spare, then, is a bit of an irreverent joke: if something happens to the heir (they die or abdicate, like the late queen’s uncle), there is another one to take their place—a ‘spare’, in her case, her father George V1.  According to Prince Harry, his father, now King Charles III, used the phrase in reference to him and his brother William when speaking to Princess Diana after Harry’s birth. (William is the heir to the throne.) In his memoir, Prince Harry makes it clear that he felt that he was treated as the “spare” by the media and even people within his family and its employ. There are definitive hints of status struggles and even low self-worth in the very word Spare. 

Another similarity in the two stories is the survival aspect. Connolly goes on to marry, have a family and write a few books. There is no doubt the amount of work that Harry has done on himself and he describes himself today as being the happiest he has ever been – and lets face it that is the ultimate measurement of success surely.

What they have both done however is rebuild their self-esteem. There are times when Harry’s is rock bottom and at times Connolly can hardly function...both men are at some stages on the brink of completely crashing but do not. Bit by bit, piece by piece they rebuild their feeling of self-worth which then allows them both to move on and achieve in their life.

There is a relationship between self-esteem and resilience. High self-esteem is regarded as a protective factor for resilience and at the same time, resilience is seen as a promoting factor for self-esteem. It is a book that he could never have written had he not had the self esteem and the resilience he now has. And for this reason, Harry will survive the backlash to the publication of his book. The opposite of SPARE is useful or required and I think for Price Harry this book ticks these two boxes.

There is a torrent of negative criticism on Harry’s memoir especially from the UK – but let’s face it, the UK is a tough crowd when it comes to the monarchy and because they want to protect it, they will have bias and a defensiveness:  So much so that they view SPARE as a sort of treason. The public love William and Charles and as with any dispute people feel compelled to take sides and choose a victor and loser. Don’t forget that Harry was once the most popular Royal so this criticism and backlash will be hard for him.

In interviews given in the past week he seems resolute and determined to tell his truth as only a person with self-esteem can. And it is this which I am most admiring. Should he not have aired his dirty linen in public, maybe, not betrayed confidentiality, maybe, spared us the whole truth (excuse the pun) – perhaps, but overall, this is a worthwhile book if for nothing else learning about someone finding their way. Are they there yet of course not – are we ever?

Overall, I think what I am learning is that without self-esteem we author a poor story for ourselves and carry a lot of pain. With self esteem we are true to ourselves, say what we need to say (not what we think we should say or what others expect). As one observer wrote “If the monarchy is a Game of Thrones, is Harry telling us that he had to create his own ‘throne’ and power base in the US before he could enjoy his life?” I think that’s what I read.

As with Paul Connolly’s book Against All odds it’s a great read, professionally written and if we accept the words of the late Queen “recollections may vary” it feels honest and real!   It’s what you want from a biography isn’t it – a great, read, honest and professionally written. I don’t think there will be many copies SPARE!