When tennis great Andre Agassi sat down with a ghostwriter for his memoirs, he had no idea how exhaustive – and mentally gruelling – the process would be.
The former Wimbledon champion had faced tough opponents in his time, but the ‘ghost’ in question, J. R. Moehringer, was simply formidable. The writer spent more than 250 hours with the star and even moved to Las Vegas to be near him.
He delved so deeply into Agassi and his family background that the player later compared it to being on a psychiatrist’s couch for days at a time.
Now the 57-year-old author is putting the finishing touches to what one acquaintance described as ‘the book of his lifetime’: Prince Harry’s eagerly anticipated, tell-all memoir.
If Agassi’s experience is anything to go by, the Duke of Sussex’s book is set to deliver bombshell after bombshell – and on one subject more than any other: father-son relationships and the troubled forms that they can take.
No wonder Buckingham Palace is in a state of high alarm, with courtiers said to be asking themselves what, if anything, can be done to stop its publication.
The Duke of Sussex’s book is set to deliver bombshell after bombshell – and on one subject more than any other: father-son relationships and the troubled forms that they can take. Pictured: Prince Harry and his father King Charles at the Queen’s funeral
As The Mail on Sunday revealed last month, Harry has requested ’11th-hour rewrites’ in the wake of the Queen’s death, with a source saying: ‘There may be things in the book which might not look so good if they come out so soon after these events. He wants sections changed now. It’s not a total rewrite by any means. He desperately wants to make changes, but it might be too late.’
A source who worked with the author said: ‘J. R. goes deep into family relationships, particularly fathers and father-figures.
‘He delivers massive stories. He even got Agassi to admit taking crystal meth.’
Some have gone so far as to speculate that Harry’s memoir will throw King Charles ‘under a bus’.
The fact Harry chose the Pulitzer Prize-winning author in the first place offers a tantalising glimpse into what the tone and content of his book may be.
The source said: ‘J. R. is meticulous. He is charming and easy-going, but he has a killer nose for a story. He’s spent his life writing about broken men and family relationships, starting with his own broken family.’
Ghostwriter J. R. Moehringer (pictured) is putting the finishing touches to what one acquaintance described as ‘the book of his lifetime’: Prince Harry’s eagerly anticipated, tell-all memoir
When publisher Penguin Random House announced last year that it had clinched Harry’s autobiography as part of a £40 million three-book deal, it was touted as ‘an intimate and heartfelt memoir’ with Harry saying he would be writing it ‘not as the Prince I was born, but as the man I have become’.
There has been speculation Harry will use his book to settle scores and might finally reveal the Royal Family member who – Meghan claims – asked what colour the baby’s skin would be when she was pregnant with Archie.
Certainly Penguin Random House expects the book to be a global bestseller. A publishing source told the MoS: ‘It’s being guarded like Fort Knox. Only a handful of people have read the manuscript. The first draft was very touchy-feely and it was sent back for more revelations to be added.’
Moehringer is believed to have been introduced to 38-year-old Harry by George Clooney, a friend of the Prince who directed last year’s film adaptation of the author’s autobiography, The Tender Bar.
While Moehringer and Harry grew up in vastly different circumstances – the author was raised in grinding poverty – there are parallels which are hard to ignore. It is no surprise to learn that Moehringer specialises in themes of loss and abandonment.
There has been speculation Harry will use his book to settle scores and might finally reveal the Royal Family member who – Meghan claims – asked what colour the baby’s skin would be when she was pregnant with Archie. Pictured: the Duke and Duchess of Sussex introducing their new son to Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of Edinburgh and Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland
The author, who studied Jung and Freud, anchored his own memoir around his troubled relationship with his father, a famous radio DJ who abandoned him as a child leading him to seek companionship among the men who hung out at Publicans bar in Manhasset, a commuter town on Long Island, New York.
Meanwhile, Harry, whose relationship with Charles and step-mother Camilla is likely to come under the microscope, has been linked with surrogate ‘father figures’ over the years including former equerry Mark Dyer and, more recently, Canadian music producer David Foster, who helped arrange the ‘safe house’ on Vancouver Island to where the Sussexes escaped after ‘Megxit’.
Both men have had issues with drinking. Moehringer quit alcohol in his mid-20s after realising he was ‘drinking to oblivion’. Harry apologised when pictures of him drunkenly playing naked billiards ended up getting splashed across front pages around the world, saying: ‘It was probably a classic case of me being too much Army and not enough Prince.’
Moehringer, like Harry, struggled to cope with the loss of a parent. He was raised in Manhasset, the setting for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. Moehringer and his mother lived at his grandparents’ home after she split from his father – a DJ called Johnny Michaels – when he was a toddler.
J. R. Moehringer is known for ghostwriting the deep-dive memoirs of former Wimbledon champion Andre Agassi (pictured left in 1990). The book – called Open (pictured right) – focuses heavily on father-son relationships and might give us a taste of what we can expect from Prince Harry’s much emancipated memoirs
In his 2005 memoir, he calls it ‘the s*** house’ because it had only one bathroom which was shared with 12 other family members.
In echoes of Princess Diana, who struggled with bulimia and a cold-hearted husband, Moehringer’s mother Dorothy, ‘pushed through pain all her life.’
Towards the end of his book Moehringer poignantly describes how, in a moment of ‘clarity’ he came to the realisation his mother embodied the character traits he had been seeking in a father figure. ‘Every virtue I associated with manhood – toughness, persistence, determination, reliability, honesty, integrity, guts – my mother exemplified.
‘I’d always been dimly aware but, at that moment, with my first glimpse of the warrior behind my mother’s blank face, I grasped the idea fully and put it into words for the first time. All this searching and longing for the secret of being a good man, and all I needed to do was follow the example of one very good woman.’
Moehringer calls his own father an ‘unstable mix of charm and rage’ and claims that when he was seven months old he had tried to suffocate his mother with a pillow. Two weeks later his father also cornered his mother in the bathroom with a razor and ‘detailed in gruesome detail how he was going to carve up her face’, before walking out on the family for good.
At one point Moehringer reflects on looking at himself in the mirror and finally coming to terms with the fact his father had gone: ‘Your father is not a good man, but you are not your father. Saying this to the young man in the mirror with the shaving cream beard, I felt independent. Free.’
The Mail on Sunday revealed last month that Harry has requested ’11th-hour rewrites’ in the wake of the Queen’s death. Pictured together in May 2019
While Harry, of course, suffered no physical violence or material hardship, he has talked about the psychological devastation of losing his mother when he was 12 and of trying to bury his emotions.
In one interview, he said: ‘I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well. I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions.
‘My way of dealing with [loss] was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help? [I thought] it’s only going to make you sad, it’s not going to bring her back.
‘So from an emotional side, I was like, right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything.
‘And then [I] started to have a few conversations and actually all of a sudden, all of this grief that I have never processed, started to come to the forefront and I was like, there is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with.’
Some have gone so far as to speculate that Harry’s memoir will throw King Charles ‘under a bus’. Pictured together in 2019
While Harry left school with two A-levels and went into the Army, Moehringer used his ‘whip smart’ brain to earn a scholarship to Ivy League Yale University, where he felt like an outsider because of his poor background.
After graduation he became a journalist, working his way up from the Rocky Mountain News to the Los Angeles Times. He quickly developed a reputation for brilliant, in-depth feature reporting. He received the Pulitzer Prize, American journalism’s highest honour, for a 2000 article in the LA Times called ‘Crossing Over’ – a portrait of a small town in the racially divided Deep South where a river separates black descendants of slaves from the descendants of white slave owners.
That led to a book deal – The Tender Bar – which Agassi read during the 2006 US Open. He loved it so much that he invited Moehringer to ghost write his autobiography, which he called Open.
In what might be a taste of how Moehringer might have worked with Harry, the author described how he got to the core of Agassi.
‘The first thing that we did was we started a long, really wonderful conversation about his life.
‘It worked like therapy. I sat in a straight-back chair and Andre sat on a couch and I had a pad in my lap and he really dug deep, and together we found patterns and themes in his life.
‘I started reading, like, Freud and Jung, and giving myself this crash course in psychology.
Agassi read Moehringer’s autobiography The Tender Bar (pictured) during the 2006 US Open and loved it so much that he invited the author to ghost write his own memoirs
‘Once we’d amassed this enormous – it was like 1,100 or 1,200 pages of transcript – then we dug through it together and we found themes together.
‘There was nothing that I imposed on his life from above. This really was the purest kind of collaboration, but what seemed plain to me was that he’d responded to my book because it all started with a complex, difficult relationship with my father. That was something that he was really able to relate to.’
Moehringer, is married to Shannon Welch, 45, a book editor and has two young children. The family live in a $3.2 million home in Berkeley, California.
Another thing he shares with Harry is his love of ‘therapy speak’, using phrases such as: ‘The first step in learning, I decided, was unlearning,’ and ‘While I fear that we’re drawn to what abandons us, in the end I believe we’re defined by what embraces us.’
Friends of Moehringer tell the MoS they have no doubt that Harry’s memoir will dig deep and contain bombshells.
Buzz Bissinger, the co-author of Caitlyn Jenner’s 2017 memoir, called Moehringer ‘absolutely the f****** best’ at what he does.
He added: ‘There’s no one like him. He is careful about who he picks. He picks subjects who have a lot to say as opposed to most subjects who have nothing to say. He is by far the best out there.’
Moehringer, like Harry, struggled to cope with the loss of a parent. Harry has talked about the psychological devastation of losing his mother when he was 12 and of trying to bury his emotions (pictured at her funeral in 1997)
Mr Bissinger said that in person Moehringer is ‘pretty shy and remote’ but ‘exacting’. He said: ‘He really has elevated ghostwriting because he’s not just a great journalist but a great writer too. He’s the best, he writes beautifully and he’s the one they all want’.
Kevin Anderson, chief executive of the Kevin Anderson Associates editorial and ghostwriting agency, said: ‘J. R. is a legend in the industry. Open [Agassi’s book] was the first time he did any ghostwriting. That book is one of the best memoirs ever penned. It went really deep – that’s what he’s known for.
‘He’s not willing to work with people unless they will go there and get really deep.
‘It’s a lot of work up front, before you start writing, especially with a memoir. It’s a whole story but it’s how you weave it together. You have to figure out what the driving themes are but still make it honest and still capture everything and don’t leave anything out.
‘That can get tricky when you’re working on a celebrity memoir. Readers want to know the dirt and, if you don’t include it, then people see it as disingenuous, not giving up the true story.
‘J. R. has been successful at digging deep and getting the worst of the worst out of people.’
Which is the very thing that Harry’s father, King Charles, now surely fears.
Additional reporting: Dan Bates