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Chapter no 44

Spare

LESOTHO WAS BEAUTIFUL. But also one of the grimmest places on earth. It was the epicenter of the global AIDS pandemic, and in 2004 the government had

just declared a medical disaster. Tens of thousands had fallen to the disease, and the nation was turning into one vast orphanage. Here and there, you’d glimpse young children running about, lost looks on their faces.

Where’s Daddy? Where’s Mummy?

George and I signed up to help at several charities and schools. We were both bowled over by the lovely people we met, their resilience, their grace, their courage and good cheer in the face of so much suffering. We worked as hard as we’d worked on his farm, gladly and eagerly. We built schools. We repaired schools. We mixed gravel, poured cement, whatever was needed.

In this same spirit of service, I agreed one day to perform a task that might otherwise have been unthinkable—an interview. If I truly wanted to shine a light on conditions here, I had no choice: I’d have to cooperate with the dreaded press.

But this was more than cooperating. This would be my first-ever solo session with a reporter.

We met on a grassy hillside, early one morning. He started by asking: Why this place? Of all places?

I said that children in Lesotho were in trouble, and I loved children, understood children, so naturally I wanted to help.

He pressed. Why did I love children?

I gave my best guess: My incredible immaturity?

I was being glib, but the reporter chuckled and moved on to his next question. The subject of children had opened the door to the subject of my childhood, and that was the gateway to the only subject he, or anyone, really wanted to ask me about.

Do you think about…her…a lot through something like this?

I looked off, down the hillside, responded with a series of disjointed words: Unfortunately it’s been a long time now, um, not for me but for most people, it’s been a long time since she’s died, but the stuff that’s come out has been bad, all the stuff that’s come out, all these tapes…

I was referring to recordings my mother had made before her death, a kind of quasi-confessional, which had just been leaked to the press, to coincide with release of the butler’s memoir. Seven years after being hounded into hiding my mother was still being hounded, and libeled—it didn’t make sense. In 1997 there’d been a nationwide reckoning, a period of collective remorse and reflection among all Britons. Everyone had agreed that the press was a pack of monsters, but consumers accepted blame as well. We all needed to do better, most people said. Now, many years later, all was forgotten. History was repeating itself daily, and I told the reporter it was “a shame.”

Not a momentous declaration. But it represented the first time that either Willy or I had ever spoken publicly about Mummy. I was amazed to be the one going first. Willy always went first, in all things, and I wondered how this would go over

—with him, with the world, but especially with Pa. (Not well, Marko told me later. Pa was dead-set against me addressing that topic; he didn’t want either of his sons speaking about Mummy, for fear it would cause a stir, distract from his work, and perhaps shine an unflattering light on Camilla.)

Finally, with a completely false air of bravado, I shrugged and said to the reporter: Bad news sells. Simple as that.

Speaking of bad news…the reporter now referenced my most recent scandal. The page-three girl, of course.

He mentioned that some were wondering if I’d really learned anything from my visit to the rehab clinic. Had I truly “converted”? I don’t remember if he used that word, converted, but at least one paper had.

Did Harry need to be converted? Harry the Heretic?

I could barely make out the reporter through the sudden red mist. How are we even talking about this? I blurted something about not being normal, which caused the reporter’s mouth to fall open. Here we go. He was getting his headline, his news fix. Were his eyes rolling up into his head?

And was supposed to be the addict?

I explained what I meant by normal. I didn’t lead a normal life, because I couldn’t lead one. Even my father reminds me that unfortunately Willy and I can’t be normal. I told the reporter that no one but Willy understood what it was like to live in this surreal fishbowl, in which normal events were treated as abnormal, and the abnormal was routinely normalized.

That was what I was trying to say, starting to say, but then I took another look down the hillside. Poverty, disease, orphans—death. It rendered everything else rubbish. In Lesotho, no matter what you were going through, you were well-off compared to others. I suddenly felt ashamed, and wondered if the journalist had sense enough to be ashamed too. Sitting here above all this misery and talking about page-three girls? Come on.

After the interview I went and found George and we drank beer. A lot of beer.

Gallons of beer.

I believe that was also the night I smoked an entire shopping bag of weed. I don’t recommend it.

Then again, it might have been another night. Hard to be precise when it comes to a shopping bag full of weed.

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