Who is JR Moehringer, Prince Harry’s ‘super ghost writer’?

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He has bared his soul to Oprah, bantered with James Corden and launched a celebrity-packed podcast. Now, Prince Harry is set to reveal all in print, announcing the publication of his “intimate and heartfelt memoir” in 2022 with Random House, which he is writing “not as the Prince I was born, but as the man I have become”.

The Duke has reportedly been given a $20m (£14m) advance – a figure some publishing sources suggest is excessive, but is dwarfed by the reputed $65m (£47m) the same publisher paid the Obamas for their joint memoirs – and said he would give “proceeds” to charity.

If we’re being literal, he isn’t solely writing the book, which has apparently been in development for the past year. Prince Harry has employed the award-winning journalist and author JR Moehringer, who has an impressive track record with ghost-writing candid yet canny autobiographies.

Watch: Prince Harry under fire for $20M book deal

There were certainly softer options available, if the Prince just wanted to put out a toothless tome with some hazy empowerment messages (more in line with his wife’s vapid children’s book, The Bench). But working with Moehringer is a statement of intent: that this book may actually have something to say. Readers should be salivating. The Palace should be very afraid.

Indeed, the Royal family is unlikely to be given advance sight of the memoir, although the publisher will be required to show them any extracts that could be considered defamatory. Buckingham Palace aides have so far refused to comment. Although clearly shocked – staff were blindsided by the announcement and family members are only thought to have been told hours earlier – they insist they do not want to “fan the flames”.

JR Moehringer - www.bridgemanimages.com
JR Moehringer - www.bridgemanimages.com

Can the same be said for the Duke? Moehringer has spoken of the importance of candour when writing a memoir: “Of [those] I’ve read that have failed for me, often the reason they fail is that the writer has decided not to bare his or her soul,” he said in 2005. “You feel the writer is holding back. Part of the pleasure of reading a memoir is feeling that someone is confiding in you, that they are being honest.”

Born John Joseph Moehringer in New York City in 1964, as he recounts in his own memoir, The Tender Bar, he was always known as JR, short for junior – an awkward moniker since his DJ father abandoned him as a child. To fill that void, Moehringer devoted much of his early life to seeking replacement father figures, which led to him spending long hours in a local bar called Publicans with his Uncle Charlie and his drinking buddies.

That might sound morose, but Moehringer – a natural raconteur – spins those experiences into entertaining anecdotes, soon to become a Hollywood movie, produced and directed by George Clooney for Amazon. It stars Ben Affleck as Uncle Charlie and Tye Sheridan as Moehringer, and has now completed filming, so may well appear next year along with Prince Harry’s book.

The tale has an uplifting ending, too. Moehringer, who was subsequently raised by his single mother in Long Island, won a place at Yale University, although he had to take in laundry to earn extra money to support his studies. He then pursued a career in journalism, beginning as a news assistant for The New York Times, and received a Pulitzer for feature writing in 2000.

But the story that brought him popular attention was for the Los Angeles Times Magazine in 1997 about a homeless man claiming to be boxing legend Bob “Bombardier” Satterfield. In 2007, the article was turned into a film, Resurrecting the Champ, starring Samuel L Jackson and with Josh Hartnett playing Moehringer.

Like The Tender Bar, it’s another tale exploring complex father-son relationships – a prevailing theme for the writer, and a likely point of connection with Prince Harry. The latter has already spoken about his difficult relationship with the Prince of Wales, and we can surely expect more of that in this tell-all memoir. It’s clearly still important to Moehringer, who last month retweeted a message on Father’s Day.

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In 2009, he brought his talents to another format: ghost-writing celebrity autobiographies. Tennis great Andre Agassi had read The Tender Bar and asked Moehringer to collaborate with him on his memoir, Open. Rather than the usual inspirational tale of overcoming adversity and acquiring wisdom on the way to the top, the resulting book was a bracingly honest confession from a talented athlete who grew to hate his sport.

Among the startling revelations were Agassi’s admission that he had self-medicated with crystal meth – and lied to officials to avoid suspension. But tennis was brutalising from the very start. In Open, Agassi recounts how his immigrant father kept his four children out of school and subjected them to merciless training sessions in hope of discovering a future champion. It was his youngest who proved to have natural talent.

From one gulag to another, Agassi was then sent to Nick Bollettieri’s famous Florida tennis academy. It turned out ace players, including Jim Courier and Monica Seles, but at what cost? As Agassi writes: “The constant pressure, the cut-throat competition, the total lack of adult supervision – it slowly turns us into animals.” His response was self-destructive rebellion: drinking, setting fires in hotel rooms, throwing matches.

Watch: Buckingham Palace Released a Statement About Prince Harry's Upcoming Memoir

It was two surrogate father figures – yes, that theme again – who were his salvation: coach Brad Gilbert and trainer Gil Reyes. Still, Agassi’s struggles manifested in colourful ways, like his doomed marriage to Brooke Shields. The pair were mismatched in every respect, including height; Agassi wore lifts in his shoes at their wedding.

If Open is astonishingly candid, that is thanks to Moehringer, who read up on Freud and Jung in order to unlock Agassi’s psyche, and spent around 250 hours talking to his subject. The result is a book that grips not just sports fans but readers who couldn’t care less about tennis: it’s simply a great human story.

Moehringer also had success ghost-writing Shoe Dog in 2016, a memoir by Nike co-founder Phil Knight. This one walked a tricky tightrope: staying interesting while steering clear of the brand’s more incendiary controversies. Bill Gates praised it for relaying the messy reality of starting a business, and noted that the usually quiet, introverted Knight was unexpectedly frank in the book, admitting to happy accidents like landing the iconic ‘swoosh’ logo – he paid a graphic design student just $35, but wasn’t convinced about it – and the fact that he wanted Nike to be called Dimension Six. His employees overruled him.

That’s all very endearing. But Knight and Moehringer smoothly bypass accusations about Nike using sweatshops and child labour, or tax avoidance via offshore accounting. Shoe Dog gives us a cuddly version of the business behemoth, with just enough personal disclosure to mask the corporate strategy.

Moehringer will need to employ those PR-savvy tactics to Prince Harry’s memoir. As with all Archewell activities, it’s about creating the illusion of total transparency, but with carefully managed optics. That should be a breeze for the author, who has covered a wide variety of subjects in his career – from the solemn, like 9/11 and the Columbine school shooting, to juicy revelations from much-scrutinised celebrities who are looking to redefine their image.

Under normal circumstances, authors, including Moehringer himself, consult a raft of family and friends when penning their autobiographies. But these are hardly normal circumstances, and with relations between the British and Californian branches of the Royal family at an all-time low, the prospect of Prince Harry doing the same seems unlikely.

The Clooneys are friends of the Sussexes – with George producing and directing the forthcoming movie of Moehringer’s memoir - Getty
The Clooneys are friends of the Sussexes – with George producing and directing the forthcoming movie of Moehringer’s memoir - Getty

Were the book to be published solely in the US, the Royals would have little chance of legal retaliation as their freedom of speech laws are so strong. Experts said that as it was also being published in the UK, the Duke’s team would be foolish not to run anything of legal concern past Buckingham Palace, but it is unlikely they will be inclined to edit the tome to suit them. Similarly, Buckingham Palace might feel that a complaint about any one observation might suggest it was giving tacit approval to everything else.

Since George Clooney is bringing Moehringer’s memoir to the screen, and the A-lister is also a friend of the Sussexes – he and Amal attended their wedding, and gave Meghan a lift back to America on their private jet after Archie’s baby shower – it has been claimed that he connected Moehringer and Prince Harry, although sources denied this was the case.

The recommendation may also have come from someone at Netflix: the Sussexes have a reported £100 million deal with the streaming service, and Netflix has optioned the film rights to Shoe Dog.

However it came about, it’s bad news for anyone hoping that the Royal rift will be repaired any time soon. Nothing is off the table, according to Prince Harry’s description of this “honest and captivating personal portrait” – not his childhood, public duties, military service or family life. That’s exactly the kind of outspokenness, with the Prince trumpeting his side of the story, that should horrify the Royal family.

But it’s great news for the rest of us. With Moehringer at the helm, this memoir should be teeming with headline-making scoops. As Agassi said of the explosive Open: “The truth is always surprising.”

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