It’s often said that England and America are two countries divided by a common language.
If you’re one of the many readers on this side of the pond to pick up a copy of “Spare,” you are likely engrossed by Prince Harry’s poignant yet frequently salacious account of life inside the royal bubble. As you read with fascination about the grief he struggled with after his mother, Princess Diana, died in 1997, or the racist media coverage of his wife, Meghan Markle, you may also find yourself wondering about more mundane things.
Like: What on earth is a biro?
To help American readers navigate the Duke of Sussex’s tell-all — which is dense with British cultural references even as its gushing, confessional quality defies the national belief in maintaining a “stiff upper lip” — we’ve compiled some of the more peculiarly British people, places and things and attempted to explain them in a manner accessible to Yanks (and other commoners).
The royal family’s estate in Scotland and the site of some of the most dramatic moments in “Spare.” It is where Queen Elizabeth II died last year (shortly before Harry arrived — he wasn’t invited on the family plane). It’s also where Harry and his brother, Prince William, learned their mother, Princess Diana, had been killed in a car accident in 1997. Harry describes the castle in vivid detail, including the brownish tap water — “filtered and sweetened by the Scottish peat” — and the identical doors, which made it all too easy to barge in accidentally on his father doing headstands in his boxers.
- Club H
A bomb shelter turned windowless party lair at Highgrove, Charles’ country estate, where teenage Harry and Will consumed vodka and Red Bull with friends named Badger, Casper, Chimp and Skippy. Club H was located deep in the bowels of the estate, beyond a wine cellar “wherein Camilla kept her fanciest bottles,” and a storage room containing “absurd gifts from foreign governments” that couldn’t be regifted or donated. “When I wanted peace, Club H provided.”
- Eton College
The uber-posh boarding school Harry and William attended was founded by King Henry VI in 1440 and has a complicated lexicon of its own (teachers are known as “beaks,” classes as “divs”). Students dress in funereal black tailcoats and pinstriped trousers because “we were supposed to be in perpetual mourning for old Henry VI,” writes Harry, who felt out of place at such an elite place of learning despite his royal lineage: “Heaven for brilliant boys, it could thus only be purgatory for one very unbrilliant boy.”
A term for a common ballpoint pen, similar to a Bic. Harry recalls receiving a Biro — wrapped, for some reason, in a tiny rubber fish — as a present one Christmas from Princess Margaret, aka Aunt Margo, a woman he didn’t know well but who, he writes, “could kill a houseplant with one scowl.”
At the time, the gift struck Harry as “cold-blooded,” and he doesn’t offer much insight into what she may have intended with the bizarre present. But his opinion of the queen’s long-suffering younger sister — the spare to an earlier heir — seems to have softened over the years: “Now and then, as I grew older, it struck me that Aunt Margo and I should be friends.”
- Darling boy
Charles’ preferred term of endearment for Harry, used to relay difficult news in a sensitive manner (e.g., “Darling boy, mummy’s been in a car crash”) but also to dismiss his younger son’s concerns patronizingly (e.g., “Don’t read it, darling boy,” referring to erroneous tabloid coverage of the family).
- Fancy dress
What British people call costumes, for some reason. As in, “Harry claims that William and Kate encouraged him to wear a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party in 2005.” It should not be confused with fancy dresses, like those Harry says Kate liked to wear, in contrast with Meghan, a barefoot-in-ripped-jeans kinda girl.
- Ginger Spice
Nom de guerre of Geri Halliwell, a member of the 1990s pop group the Spice Girls. As recounted in “Spare,” Harry met the Spice Girls at a concert in South Africa shortly after his mother’s death. Ginger was “the only Spice with whom I felt any connection,” he writes, because of her red hair, obviously, but also her fondness for the Union Jack, the flag draped over Diana’s coffin. Who knew the Spice Girls could be so poignant? (Harry also quotes a surprisingly profound verse from their hit single “Wannabe”: “If you want my future, forget my past.”)
What Prince William calls Harry, whose name is actually Henry.
- Ludgrove matrons
Ludgrove is a boarding school for boys between the ages of 8 and 13, located in Berkshire. Harry was enrolled at Ludgrove when his mother, Princess Diana, died. In one of the book’s most charged Freudian moments, Harry recalls the women who worked as “matrons” at the school and, like surrogate mothers, bathed prepubescent students in an elaborate and rather creepy ritual.
“I can still see the long row of white baths, each with a boy reclining like a pharaoh, awaiting his personalized hair-washing,” he writes. “The matrons came down the row of tubs with stiff brushes, bars of floral soap. Every boy had his own towel, embossed with his school number. Mine was 116. After shampooing a boy the matron would ease back his head, give him a slow and luxurious rinse. Confusing as hell.”
The name for the single bedroom shared by William and Harry at Balmoral, where the royal pecking order was obvious. “My half of the room was smaller, far less luxurious,” Harry writes. “I never asked why. I didn’t care. But I also didn’t need to ask. Two years older than me, Willy was the heir, whereas I was the spare.”
- Opal Fruits
Chewy fruit-flavored candies Harry liked to eat in vast quantities during the Ludgrove ritual known as “Grub Day,” when students would line up after lunch and gorge themselves on candy piled high on a table. The brand later changed its name to Starburst — a move Harry deems “pure heresy.”
- Rehabber Kooks
The derisive anagram Harry uses throughout “Spare” to refer to his nemesis, Rebekah Brooks, the notorious media executive and newspaper editor who was behind some of the most egregious tabloid stories about Harry (including a 2002 report that he was going to rehab for drug abuse). Brooks was publicly disgraced nearly a decade later for her role in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, yet she continues to be one of Rupert Murdoch’s most powerful allies.
- Roundheads versus Cavaliers
Terms used by students at Ludgrove to distinguish students who were circumcised (like Harry) from those who were not. It’s also a nod to the English Civil War: The royalist cavaliers, who supported King Charles I and were known for their flowing hair and elaborate garb, were pitted against the pro-Parliament roundheads, who sported closely cropped hair and simpler clothing.
The royal family’s 20,000-acre country estate in Norfolk, where Queen Elizabeth II enjoyed spending Christmas and shooting partridges. Not to be confused with Balmoral, the royal family’s 50,000-acre county estate in Scotland, where Elizabeth enjoyed spending summers and shooting deer. Harry, who gets overheated easily, like his father, compares the stifling dining room at Sandringham to Dante’s “Inferno,” adding that his grandmother’s corgis would often betray him when he’d secretly crack open a window at dinner. Sandringham is also where Charles, William and the queen met in January 2020 to broker the terms of the Sussexes’ departure from royal life — an event that was dubbed the “Sandringham Summit” and was fixed in advance by the queen’s advisors, according to Harry.
A nickname Harry acquired during his gap year in Australia, after posing with an echidna (like a cross between an anteater and a hedgehog) named Spike. A family friend decided that Harry, whose hair had grown back in messily after his Eton classmates shaved it off as a prank, bore an uncanny resemblance to the egg-laying mammal. The moniker soon caught on with his friends back home, and joined an already long list of formal titles and informal nicknames (Haz, Baz, Prince Jackaroo, Scrawny).
Though Harry frequently discusses stalking in negative terms — as in the paparazzi who stalked his mother — it’s also one of the favorite pastimes of the royal family when staying at Balmoral. Harry writes about a stalking initiation. When he was about 15, a guide named Sandy shoved his face inside the still-warm carcass of a freshly killed stag and held it there until Harry went limp. “After a minute, I couldn’t smell anything, because I couldn’t breathe. My nose and mouth were full of blood, guts and a deep, upsetting warmth.”
It is one of several menacing, symbolically potent anecdotes in “Spare” involving dead animals and members of the royal family that Peter Morgan is no doubt filing away in a folder marked “Heavy-handed Metaphors To Use In ‘The Crown.” (See also: the moment Harry nervously asks Queen Elizabeth for permission to marry Meghan while gathering dead birds at Sandringham.)
Harry and William’s beloved nanny, who was actually named Alexandra Shân Legge-Bourke but, in the curious tradition of the British upper classes, went by a goofy nickname seemingly more suitable for a Yorkshire terrier than a grown woman. Despised by Diana, who perceived her as a maternal rival, Tiggy was either fun-loving or reckless, depending on your perspective: In “Spare,” the prince recalls Tiggy offering him swigs of sloe gin during hunting trips in his adolescence. He also describes a “blooding” ceremony, in which Tiggy “tenderly” smeared his cheeks, nose and forehead in rabbit blood after he made his first kill. As you do.
- T.K. Maxx
A discount store where Harry, when he was a bachelor with little interest in fashion, preferred to shop for casual wear. (It is part of the same company as T.J. Maxx, but goes by a different name in Europe to avoid confusion with the retailer T.J. Hughes.) He was especially fond of hitting up their annual sale, grabbing a red bucket and making his way from the top floor downward, never fussing over color or bothering to try things on properly. “With two hundred quid you could look like a fashion plate,” he says.
British slang for penis. In 2011, Harry returned from an expedition to the North Pole to attend his brother’s wedding and was alarmed to discover that his todger was frostbitten — an unfortunate medical mishap that provides “Spare” with one of its most potent metaphors: “What was the universe out to prove by taking my penis at the same moment it took my brother?” Harry writes. In an even more fraught twist — yet another in a litany of Freudian moments — a friend advised him to treat the damaged organ with Elizabeth Arden cream, the same stuff his late mother once used on her lips. Eventually, Harry sought the assistance of a discrete dermatologist, who told him time would heal the damage. Presumably, he was correct.
A famously bougie grocery chain in the United Kingdom which offers an array of upscale foods, from strawberry-and-pink-champagne preserves to celeriac remoulade. Like so many facets of British life, where you shop for meat n’ veg is laden with class connotations. And in this complex supermarket hierarchy, Waitrose is decidedly posh. (Prince William’s sister-in-law, Pippa Middleton, once wrote a lifestyle column for their in-house magazine.)
It’s also where Harry and Meghan went grocery shopping early in their romance after spontaneously deciding to have a few friends over for dinner. Since their relationship wasn’t known publicly, the couple divvied up the list and prowled the Waitrose aisles separately, communicating via text. (“What the F is parchment paper?” a befuddled Harry asked Meghan, who was preparing salmon from a recipe she found in Food & Wine.)
You may think this is another word for “todger,” but it’s actually what Harry calls his older brother. (Hey, at least it’s better than Badger.)