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Chapter no 42

Spare

THE REMEDY TO ALL problems, as always, was work. Hard, sweaty, nonstop labor, that was what the Hills had to offer, and plenty of it, and I couldn’t get

enough. The harder I worked, the less I felt the heat, and the easier it was to talk— or not talk—around the supper table.

But this wasn’t merely work. Being a jackaroo required stamina, to be sure, but it also demanded a certain artistry. You had to be a whisperer with the animals. You had to be a reader of the skies, and the land.

You also had to possess a superior level of horsemanship. I’d come to Australia thinking I knew my way around horses, but the Hills were Huns, each born in a saddle. Noel was the son of a professional polo player. (He’d been Pa’s former polo coach.) Annie could stroke a horse’s nose and tell you what that beast was thinking. And George climbed into a saddle more easily than most people get into their beds.

A typical working day began in the middle of the night. Hours before dawn George and I would stumble outside, tackle the first chores, trying to get as much done as possible before the sun ascended. At first light we’d saddle up, gallop to the edges of the Hills’ forty thousand acres (double the size of Balmoral) and begin to muster. That is, move the herd of cattle from here to there. We’d also search for individual cows that had strayed overnight, and drive them back into the herd. Or load some onto a trailer and take them to another section. I rarely knew exactly why we were moving these cows or those, but I got the bottom line:

Cows need their space. I felt them.

Whenever George and I found a group of strays, a rebellious little cattle cabal, that was especially challenging. It was vital to keep them together. If they scattered, we’d be proper fucked. It would take hours to round them up and then the day would be wrecked. If one darted off, into a stand of trees, say, George or I would have to ride full speed after it. Every now and then, mid-chase, you’d get whipped out of the saddle by a low-hanging branch, maybe knocked cold. When you came to, you’d do a check for broken bones, internal bleeding, while your horse stood morosely over you.

The trick was never letting a chase last too long. Long chases wore out the cow, reduced its body fat, slashed its market value. Fat was money, and there was no margin for error with Aussie cattle, which had so little fat to begin with. Water was scarce, grass was scarce, and what little there was often got grubbed by kangaroos, which George and his family viewed as other people view rats.

I always flinched, and chuckled, at the way George spoke to errant cattle. He harangued them, abused them, cursed them, favoring one curse word in particular,

a word many people go a lifetime without using. George couldn’t go five minutes. Most people dive under a table when they hear this word, but for George it was the Swiss Army knife of language—endless applications and uses. (He also made it sound almost charming, with his Aussie accent.)

It was merely one of dozens of words in the complete George lexicon. For instance, a fat was a plump cow ready for slaughter. A steer was a young bull that should’ve been castrated but hadn’t been yet. A weaner was a calf newly split from its mother. A smoko was a cigarette break. Tucker was food. I spent a lot of late 2003 sitting high in the saddle, watching a weaner while sucking a smoko and dreaming of my next tucker.

Sometimes hard, sometimes tedious, mustering could be unexpectedly emotional. Young females were easier, they went where you nudged them, but young males didn’t care for being bossed around, and what they really didn’t like was being split from their mums. They cried, moaned, sometimes charged you. A wildly swung horn could ruin a limb or sever an artery. But I wasn’t afraid. Instead…I was empathetic. And the young males seemed to know.

The one job I wouldn’t do, the one piece of hard work I shied from, was snipping balls. Every time George brought out that long shiny blade I’d raise my hands. No, mate, can’t do it.

Suit yourself.

At day’s end I’d take a scalding shower, eat a gargantuan supper, then sit with George on the porch, rolling cigarettes, sipping cold beers. Sometimes we’d listen to his small CD player, which made me think of Pa’s wireless. Or Henners. He and the other boy went to borrow another CD player…Often we’d just sit gazing into the distance. The land was so tabletop flat you could see thunderstorms brewing hours ahead of when they arrived, the first spidery bolts flicking the far-off land. As the bolts got thicker, and closer, wind would race through the house, ruffling the curtains. Then the rooms would flutter with white light. The first thunderclaps would shake the furniture. Finally, the deluge. George would sigh. His parents would sigh. Rain was grass, rain was fat. Rain was money.

If it didn’t rain, that also felt like a blessing, because after a windstorm the clear sky would be peppered with stars. I’d point out to George what the gang in Botswana had pointed out to me. See that bright one next to the moon? That’s Venus. And over there, that’s Scorpius—best place to see it is the southern hemisphere. And there’s Pleiades. And that’s Sirius—brightest star in the sky. And

there’s Orion: the Hunter. All comes down to hunting, doesn’t it? Hunters, hunted…

What’s that, Harry? Nothing, mate.

The thing I found endlessly mesmerizing about the stars was how far away they all were. The light you saw was born hundreds of centuries ago. In other words, looking at a star, you were looking at the past, at a time long before anyone you knew or loved had lived.

Or died.

Or disappeared.

George and I usually hit the sack about eight thirty. Often we were too tired to take off our clothes. I was no longer afraid of the dark, I craved it. I slept as if dead, woke as if reborn. Sore, but ready for more.

There were no days off. Between the relentless work, the relentless heat, the relentless cows, I could feel myself being whittled down, lighter each morning by a kilo, quieter by a few dozen words. Even my British accent was being pared away. After six weeks I sounded nothing like Willy and Pa. I sounded more like George.

And dressed a bit like him as well. I took to wearing a slouchy felt cowboy hat like his. I carried one of his old leather whips.

Finally, to go with this new Harry, I acquired a new name. Spike.

It happened like this. My hair had never fully recovered after I’d let my Eton schoolmates shave it. Some strands shot up like summer grass, some lay flat, like lacquered hay. George often pointed at my head and said: You look a right mess! But on a trip to Sydney, to see the Rugby World Cup, I’d made an official appearance at the Taronga Zoo, and I’d been asked to pose for a photo with something called an echidna. A cross between a hedgehog and an anteater, it had hard spiky hair, which was why the zookeepers named it Spike. It looked, as George would say, a right mess.

More to the point, it looked like me. A lot like me. And when George happened to see a photo of me posing with Spike, he yelped.

Haz—that thing’s got your hair!

Thereafter, he never called me anything but Spike. And then my bodyguards took up the chorus. Indeed, they made Spike my code name on the radio. Some even printed up T-shirts, which they wore while guarding me: Spike 2003.

Soon enough my mates at home got wind of this new nickname, and adopted it. I became Spike, when I wasn’t Haz, or Baz, or Prince Jackaroo, or Harold, or Darling Boy, or Scrawny, a nickname given me by some Palace staff. Identity had always been problematic, but with a half dozen formal names and a full dozen nicknames it was turning into a hall of mirrors.

Most days I didn’t care what people called me. Most days I thought: Don’t care who I am, so long as it’s someone new, someone other than Prince Harry. But then an official package would arrive from London, from the Palace, and the old me, the old life, the royal life, would come racing back.

The packet usually arrived in the everyday mail, though sometimes it was under the arm of a new bodyguard. (There was a constant changing of the guard, every couple of weeks, to keep them fresh and let them see their families.) Inside the packet would be letters from Pa, office paperwork, plus some briefs about charities in which I was involved. All stamped: ATT HRH PRINCE HENRY OF WALES.

One day the package contained a series of memos from the Palace comms team about a delicate matter. Mummy’s former butler had penned a tell-all, which actually told nothing. It was merely one man’s self-justifying, self-centering version of events. My mother once called this butler a dear friend, trusted him implicitly. We did too. Now this. He was milking her disappearance for money. It made my blood boil. I wanted to fly home, confront him. I phoned Pa, announced that I was getting on a plane. I’m sure it was the one and only conversation I had with him while I was in Australia. He—and then, in a separate phone call, Willy— talked me out of it.

All we could do, they both said, was issue a united condemnation.

So we did. Or they did. I had nothing to do with the drafting. (Personally, I’d have gone much further.) In measured tones it called out the butler for his treachery, and publicly requested a meeting with him, to uncover his motives and explore his so-called revelations.

The butler answered us publicly, saying he welcomed such a meeting. But not for any constructive purpose. To one newspaper he vowed: “I’d love to give them a piece of my mind.”

He wanted to give us a piece of his mind?

I waited anxiously for the meeting. I counted the days. Of course it didn’t happen.

I didn’t know why; I assumed the Palace quashed it. I told myself: Shame.

I thought of that man as the one errant steer that got away that summer.

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