AS JOHN JOSEPH MOEHRINGER put it himself, “the midwife doesn’t go home with the baby”. Such is the lot of ghostwriters. Mr Moehringer might have been expected to observe his own rule with rigour after he delivered Prince Harry’s todger-and-all memoir, “Spare”. But the furore surrounding the book has prompted Mr Moehringer to obliquely defend its factual inaccuracies. On Twitter he has quoted the prince, who says in “Spare” that his own truth is just as valid as “so-called objective facts”. That sounds like a royal endorsement of “alternative facts”. Mr Moehringer’s eagerness to intervene on behalf of “Spare” may reflect the fact that the work is as much his as Prince Harry’s. From chimps to champs to chairmen, it seems that he can find a written voice for anyone, and especially for men with daddy issues (and a very large advance). Who is Prince Harry’s ghostwriter?
Mr Moehringer, born in 1964 in New York City, started working as a journalist at the New York Times. In 2000 he won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing at the Los Angeles Times, for a portrait of an isolated river community in Alabama populated by the descendants of slaves. His work was not all so serious: he once inhabited by the voice of Cheeta, the chimp star of the 1930s Tarzan films, to write a piece marking the character’s 75th birthday.
Mr Moehringer’s memoir, “The Tender Bar”, published in 2005, established his true authorial theme: how to survive dysfunctional families. He wrote of his absent, “brutally insensitive” and “self-destructive” father, a rock DJ. Raised by his mother with little money in a small apartment, his male role models were Uncle Charlie and his friends, who offered him an alcohol-soaked camaraderie at a local bar. George Clooney made the book into a movie in 2021.
The narrative of a lost boy searching for his true self caught the eye of Andre Agassi, a tennis star of the 1990s known for his outrageous mullet. He asked Mr Moehringer to help him write his own memoir. Confronted, at first, by a completely “stilted, resistant” Mr Agassi, Mr Moehringer unlocked his subject with some 250 hours of interviews. He even moved to Las Vegas to be near the tennis player. His process seems to bear a close resemblance to psychoanalysis. Prince Harry calls Mr Moehringer his “confessor” in the acknowledgments of his memoir. Like “Spare” Mr Agassi’s book, “Open”, was surprisingly revealing. It turned out that the Wimbledon-winner hated tennis. Even the mullet was fake (to hide baldness). And, of course, there was the emotionally distant father.
Mr Moehringer later helped the co-founder of Nike, Phil Knight, now a billionaire, write his memoir “Shoe Dog”. He enlivens the rather pedestrian rags-to-swoosh tale with his trademark staccato sentences. There is plenty of that in Spare, too. Prince Harry’s publishers, Penguin Random House, must have realized that the Moehringer template was a perfect fit for the prince; Mr Clooney, a friend of Prince Harry, is reported to have made the introductions. What suits publishers may not have best served Prince Harry, who emerged with little dignity. But in an age of selfies and social-media exposure dignity is not going to sell books. ■