Question Time 12th January 2023
Alex Chalk (Conservative)
Bridget Phillipson (Labour)
Tim Stanley (Journalist)
Ash Sarkar (Novara Media)
Anna Sourby (Barrister)
In more recent editions of Question Time, La Bruce has opened the programme by being kind enough to tell us what we’ve been talking about throughout the week. Excellent, Prince Harry’s book. Speaking of which, my own copy has finally arrived and, as I ripped apart the packaging, fell open on page 70.
Purely in the interests of research and as a service to fellow Puffins I felt obliged to purchase and devour Spare. One reaches a point when one can’t resist. Ending up in the dog bowl after a punch-up. Hormones and baby brains. A leopard sent to one’s tent by a medium. I surrender. Here’s a blank cheque, send me the book. Your humble author is a bit of an old woman when it comes to the royal family. This mediocre prose is penned by someone who, when Kitty Kelly’s 1997 The Royals was banned in the UK, sent somebody to Hong Kong to buy one. How else would I know about the Duke of Milford Haven’s academic collection of pornography that includes 10,000 French postcards, 948 of which include moving parts? All families are a bit batty but if yours has been inbred since William the Conqueror and three of your sisters-in-law (or great-aunts) had to escape to Chile in a hurry at the end of the war then I need to buy the book.
The competition have been rather sniffy about Spare. King Charles’ ‘C’ list celebrity biographer and hereditary BBC presenter Jonathon Dimbleby described it as a ‘B’ list celebrity biography. One wonders which regular on Coronation Street has shot 25 Afghans from a helicopter? Has Gyles Brandreth been used as a stallion in a muddy field behind a pub?
Despite Dimbleby’s disapproval, Spare is currently the best-selling book in Britain; a full and impressive 36,180 places above 36,180th placed The 120 Days of Sodom by The Marquis de Sade.
In 101,718th place languishes the 1867 classic The English Constitution in which Walter Bagehot warns that we must never let daylight in upon the magic of the royal family. Au contraire, Bagehot, old chap. We must gather around and stare in amazement as Prince Harry stands under the arc lights and reveals how it’s all done. Next, I will turn into an Apache gunner, miss the rag-clad Kalashnikov-wielding goat bothers and, way, way, way over the horizon, strafe my own family.
Back to page 70.
I suspected he was referring to my recent loss of virginity. Inglorious episode, with an older woman. She liked horses, quite a lot, and treated me like a young stallion. Quick ride, after which she’d smacked my rump and sent me off to graze. Among the many things that were wrong: It happened in a grassy field behind a busy pub.
As conclusive proof that God exists and has a sense of humour, not only was the hostelry in question called the Rattlebone Inn but via the miracle that is Street View, QT Review can reveal to the curious that this is a Ram Pub whose nicely hung sign depicts a swordsman with gleaming helmet wielding a chopper.
As for the field behind, a true countryman might describe it as a bit of grass overlooked by the Sherston Sub Post Office And Stores. Not quite an over-the-wheelie bin introduction to the life of the viveur but not far removed from it.
Gentleman Puffins are well used to making an excuse and leaving after being recognised as stallions. Likewise, one knows the ladies of Going Postal would never be found at half-mast on all fours in a muddy field behind a pub. Since the frisky mare in question cannot possibly have been from our stables, who can have made a man of the snorting and ground-pawing third in line to the throne behind the empty kegs of a rural ‘Spoons?
It can’t have been Meghan as, although an older woman by three years, they had yet to meet. Besides, one always imagines the great actress’ acte d’amour to include gags, chains and fastenings with herself on top brandishing a whip. A position rumoured to be known in royal circles as ‘The Compton’.
Favourite amongst the runners and riders is a certain Miss Suzannah Harvey. Although former model Ms Harvey is at pains to deny such things, in her supporter’s defence it should be pointed out that the current Chief Executive of Cotswolds Airport has already told of such a clinch during a 2002 newspaper interview. Albeit the encounter occurred at the Beaufort Christmas ball and tastefully behind a minibus.
Miss Harvey promotes her heady rise to airport chief executiveship via a gushing Q&A published in The Swindon and Wiltsure Business Exchange. However, she forgets to mention that daddy owns the airport through a series of companies based in the South Pacific island of Vanuatu.
As a company director herself, her address is in the public domain and although the Rattlingbone is by no means the busty blonde’s local, it’s not a million miles away from her abode. Miss Suzannah remains the favourite amongst QT Review’s runners who’ve been royally ridden.
Spare tells the story of a young man making his way in the world following a difficult childhood marked by press intrusion and a far-from-perfect parental relationship. Topped by a tragic start to his formative teenage years when his mother was killed in a car accident in a Paris tunnel while being chased by paparazzi.
Eton and the army followed, as did tours of Afghanistan. Much has been said of Harry’s kills in the war-torn territory, despite being reported upon at the time with little adverse comment. Ghostwriter J.R. Moehringer’s account is concise and makes a good war story, similar to one of the excellent Going Postal Sunday evening thrillers.
On very high readiness alert (VRA), Harry and his colleagues sit around in a tent playing computer games, drinking coffee and eating snack foods while waiting for the alarm to sound. When the antique phone rings, three crew head for two waiting Apache attack helicopters while the fourth answers the phone to receive instructions. Back at the helicopters, an hour-long ‘pre-flight’ has been shaved down to 8 minutes by gunner Harry and his pilot Dave. When complete, they’re hopping over the wall at Camp Bastion and racing at low altitude – so low the Afghan children can throw stones at them – towards a GPS coordinate where bad people are doing, or preparing to do, bad things.
Nimble and clever adversaries, the Taliban know how long it takes an Apache to arrive on the scene. Skilled in smash-and-grab attacks, by the time the helicopters arrive the terrorists are already on the move again trying to blend back into the civilian population. It’s Harry’s job to find and target them, inform his controllers and then engage after permission is granted.
As well as a 30-mm cannon, the aircraft are equipped with Hellfire missiles, with a variety of warheads, and flechette air-to-ground unguided rockets which dispense bundles of flesh-shredding white hot tungsten darts.
Aim for the spokes of a fleeing motorbike, Harry advises. Any higher and you risk an overhead miss. Lower and you rearrange the dirt while a chuckling Afghan makes an easier escape while concealed by a cloud of flying dust.
Besides weaponry, the Apache bristles with cameras. Back in the safety of Bastion, each operation is poured over by a critical squadron commander keen to catch out the gunners. Despite this, all of Harry’s kills were deemed justified.
Did I say the safety of Bastion? Although the size of Reading, being British, aircrew and often confined to the VRA area means the Prince can be assumed to a specific place at specific times. On 14th September 2012, Taliban fighters disguised in American uniforms cut a hole in the perimeter fence and entered the camp. Although stopped in an ensuing firefight, there were some tense moments during the alert with Harry and his bodyguards in body armour, armed with 9-mm handguns but with SA80 machine guns locked up elsewhere. Explosions could be heard. Windows flickered. One bodyguard panicked. The significance of the date? The evening before Captain Wales’s 28th birthday with a subsequent statement from the Taliban confirming Prince Harry had been the target.
Out of the army, back in Blighty and having decided to propose to Meghan, the prince was obliged to ask the Queen for permission to marry. Out on a shoot, Her Majesty is much in demand and the only time Harry can catch the Queen alone is with her hunting dogs in the middle of a stubble field during the remains of the day while collecting stray dead birds and no doubt dispatching the wounded ones with a flick of the royal wrist.
After some awkward small talk,
Granny, you know I love Meg very much, and I’ve decided that I would like to ask her to marry me, and I’ve been told that, er I have to ask your permission before I can propose.
You have to?
Um. Well, yes, that’s what your staff tell me, and my staff as well. That I have to ask your permission.
Well, then, I suppose I have to say yes.
Grandmothers can tell.
As the drunkenness of youth passes, so can the stoutest of friendships, not least through warring wives and girlfriends. Royalty are not exempt. Stone-throwing Afghans are rest and recuperation compared with being immersed in the ensuing cat war between Meghan and Kate. That the two didn’t like each other from the off is an understatement.
Meghan is ripped jeans.
Kate does done up to the nines.
Kate is immaculate make-up.
Meghan is, “Pass the lips gloss, sister!”
Kate asks, “How did you find your first Trooping of the Colour?”
“Trooping of the Color!? COLORFULL! YAY!!”
A friend tells me Meghan introduces herself with, “Hi, my name’s Meghan what’s your name!?” And then tries to hug you.
Can you imagine outstretched arms accompanied by, “Hi, my name’s Katherine, what’s your name!?” from the daughter of an air hostess and a mail-order party supply supremo?
No, neither can anybody else.
The pair hated each other from day one. It’s a girl thing. Or rather a girl-fight thing. There is a parlour game to be made from who said what about who to whom:
- “Baby brain”
- “Don’t you talk about my hormones”
- “It’s rude, Meghan”
- “Have it altered, as the other moms are doing!”
- “She’s rude. She’s abrasive. She’s alienated half the staff.”
- “No, SHE made ME cry!!”
- “You hurt my feelings, Meghan.”
- “Kindly take your finger outta my face.”
You got them all right. It is that easy and that obvious. A brotherly relationship already strained by the separate statuses of heir and spare was pushed beyond the limits by a bad-tempered bun fight of a wedding. Where’s the tiara? Shave your beard off. You’re not my best man. We’re not getting married there. Where’s Mr Markle? The bridesmaid’s dresses don’t fit etc etc etc.
The whole sorry saga is very well written in Moehringer’s punchy award-winning journalistic style. Changes of pace reveal sections more influenced by Meghan. Shorn of the Americanisms, Meghan’s contributions sit well. As numerous short chapters presented as page-long anecdotes, the book is easy to dip into, flick through or tackle as one long read. A 5-star QT Review mega-recommendation with the caveat that it describes only one side of a two-sided story and is at times too self-indulgent.
Certainly, time more entertainingly spent than watching La Bruce and QT.
© Always Worth Saying 2023
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