It was spring 2006, and I was standing in the Beckhams’ garden in Madrid, surrounded by footballers I didn’t recognize. “I think I just met three men called Ronaldo?” I texted my more football-savvy friend Jess. I attempted conversational French with a man whose name I didn’t know but whom two months later I would watch headbutting a rival in the World Cup: it was Zinedine Zidane. The one party guest I did recognize, Gordon Ramsay, approached me: “Why are you here?” he asked. Apparently, my efforts to look as though I fitted in hadn’t worked.

Why was I there? David Beckham had very sweetly invited me to his party because I was ghostwriting Victoria’s guide to fashion, That Extra Half an Inch, a title that was supposed to be simultaneously, for reasons I never entirely understood, a reference to high heels and a sexual innuendo. But the interviewing part of the job was done, and I should have been in my flat in London pounding out the book now. So why had I flown to Spain for a party attended mainly by footballers? The answer was I’d succumbed to ghostitis, that common illness of ghostwriters when you cross the line between observing your subject and liking them.

JR Moehringer is a far more experienced ghost than me, given that my ghosting career began and ended in the Beckhams’ house. But while reading his article in The New Yorker last week about his experiences as Prince Harry’s ghost, I detected strong signs of ghostitis.

“Harry couldn’t escape the wish that Spare might be a rebuttal to every lie ever published about him,” he writes a touch regretfully. And yet it’s striking that Moehringer does the same in his article, making sure to mention everyone who has ever committed an injustice against him, from the “influential critic” who wrote an unfavorable review of one of his novels, to the British newspapers that reduced the “complex emotions” in Spare to “cartoonish idiocy”.

The most unexpected score-settling comes early on: “The ghostwriter for Julian Assange [Andrew O’Hagan] wrote 25,000 words about his methodology, and it sounded to me like Elon Musk on mushrooms — on Mars,” he writes. If you’re wondering why Moehringer is making this drive-by swipe at O’Hagan over an article that appeared in the London Review of Books nine years ago, then his next sentence should answer that for you: “That same ghost, however, published a review of Spare describing Harry as ‘off his royal tits’ and me as going ‘all Sartre or Faulkner’, so what do I know?” Truly, no one can bear a grudge like a writer who gets a bad review.

I’d succumbed to ghostitis, that common illness of ghostwriters when you cross the line between observing your subject and liking them.

At the risk of causing Moehringer to foment yet another resentment against another ghost, some of the claims in his article sounded decidedly psychedelic to me. First there was his suggestion that Prince Harry and the American basketball player LeBron James spark a similar kind of mob hatred for the same reason: “Racism, surely.” Surely. Then there’s his theory for why the discount clothing chain TK Maxx disputed one of Harry’s claims in the book: “Surely TK Maxx’s effort to discredit Harry’s memoir was unrelated to the company’s long-standing partnership with Prince Charles and his charitable trust.” He’s cracked it, folks: it’s the big TK Maxx King Charles III conspiracy.

Watching Moehringer adopt Harry’s mode of umbrage and petty retaliation made me smile a little nostalgically. Maybe the two men always had similar natures, but it’s at least as likely he was influenced by the permanently aggrieved prince. It’s hard not to imitate your subject when you’re a ghost: you spend a lot of time with them and they are extremely famous, which is, on a sad and superficial level, unavoidably impressive. Moehringer mimics Harry’s grievances; I briefly considered buying a pair of denim hot pants like Victoria’s. Tomayto, tomahto.

Sometimes a ghost becomes disillusioned with their subject: in Robert Harris’s 2007 novel The Ghost, the writer suspects that the Tony Blair-esque prime minister was recruited by the CIA. O’Hagan realized that Assange “thought I was his creature, and he forgot what a writer is, someone with a tendency to write things down and perhaps seek the truth”. Jennie Erdal fell out spectacularly with the late publisher Naim Attallah when she revealed she had ghosted everything he wrote — from letters to novels — in her 2004 memoir Ghosting.

But I never stopped liking Victoria: after the book was finished, she came to London and we went vintage shopping together — I still wear the dresses she picked out for me — and she took me as her plus-one to the Met Gala in New York. We walked through it with Jennifer Lopez and her then husband, Marc Anthony, and when photographers approached us, Anthony and I would hold the handbags and stand to the side, the less photogenic spouses who knew our place. It was fun — she was fun. A little isolated, it seemed to me, but that meant we had more time to go shopping on the Portobello Road. But one day I was told that “Victoria’s management” was concerned I might sell stories about her, and I never heard from any of them again. Why would I sell stories about my friend, I thought at the time, bewildered and, at 28, still so naïve.

When I see photos of the Beckhams now, 17 years later, it’s like spotting school friends on Facebook you haven’t seen since you left. I understand Moehringer’s desire to defend the prince he came to like so much, but this feeling of fondness is ultimately an illusion. You were only ever their creature, and only for a moment.

Hadley Freeman is a writer for The Sunday Times