Like Prince Harry, I have been struggling recently with the question of whether I should reject my birthright. But while Harry’s new memoir, Spare, seems likely to sever his relationship with his family for good, it’s bringing me back to my inherited affinity for royals-watching.
This habit was thrust upon me at a young age. I was born the same year as Harry, and as a small child, I recall hearing my mother’s detailed thoughts on Princess Diana’s wedding dress (“Too poofy”), Prince Charles’s affair with Camilla (“Creepy and sad”), and the royals’ mandatory pantyhose rule (“A fine example for us all”). As I grew older, my mom and I watched Sarah Ferguson tell Oprah that royal life is “not a fairy tale,” closely followed the aftermath of Princess Diana’s tragic death, and went to a theater to watch Peter Morgan’s dramatization of the aftermath in The Queen. I woke up early to watch Kate Middleton’s wedding and stayed up late searching for clips online of Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan Markle (I’m still upset that CBS didn’t stream it immediately).
This past fall, however, Netflix pushed me past my limit when The Crown slowly examined Prince Philip’s love of carriage-driving and the Harry & Meghan docuseries revealed that their courtship involved a doggy-ears Snapchat filter. I get it — the royals are largely a bunch of monsters. “Harry and Meghan are at least partly correct, but they’re also so annoying,” as Gawker aptly put it. Isn’t this all too much, even for devoted Anglophiles?
Apparently not! I had no intention of reading Spare, which was released on January 10, but the leaked details are simply too explosive to ignore. Please join me in the coming days as I rank Harry’s big revelations from most to least bonkers and accept that fully escaping the royal family — even when you’re just an American watching from your couch — is nearly impossible.
1. Prince William physically attacked Harry.
Spare’s biggest allegation (so far) would strain credulity if it appeared in one of the trashy tabloids that have been inventing stories about the princes since before they were born. Harry claims that in 2019, William “grabbed me by the collar, ripping my necklace, and … knocked me to the floor” during an argument about Harry’s wife. According to the Guardian, which obtained an early copy of the book, Harry says William came to his home at Nottingham Cottage to talk about “the whole rolling catastrophe” of their relationship and issues with the press. He showed up “piping hot” and called Meghan “difficult,” “rude,” and “abrasive.” Harry told William that William was just repeating the press narrative about Harry’s wife, and they began shouting insults at each other.
Harry became scared and gave his brother a glass of water in an attempt to calm him down. Then William suddenly attacked him. Per the Guardian:
He writes: “He set down the water, called me another name, then came at me. It all happened so fast. So very fast. He grabbed me by the collar, ripping my necklace, and he knocked me to the floor. I landed on the dog’s bowl, which cracked under my back, the pieces cutting into me. I lay there for a moment, dazed, then got to my feet and told him to get out.”
Harry writes that William urged him to hit back, citing fights they had as children. Harry says he refused to do so.
2. Harry killed 25 Taliban fighters.
Here’s something no one saw coming: Spare leading to calls for Harry to be dragged before the International Criminal Court. The prince, who served two tours in Afghanistan during his time in the British army, managed to anger people on both sides of the conflict with his claim that he killed 25 Taliban fighters. The Guardian reported:
The prince recounts in his memoir his time as a gunner in an Apache attack helicopter while on his second tour in Afghanistan in 2012. It was possible to establish a kill count, the prince said, because he was able to watch gun-cam footage of every mission he flew on.
Harry writes that “in the era of Apaches and laptops” it was possible to establish “with exactness how many enemy combatants I had killed. And it seemed to me essential not to be afraid of that number. So my number is 25. It’s not a number that fills me with satisfaction, but nor does it embarrass me.”
Later in the book, Harry admits he dehumanized the people he killed. “When I found myself plunged in the heat and confusion of combat I didn’t think of those 25 as people,” he wrote. “They were chess pieces removed from the board. Bad people eliminated before they could kill good people.”
Former members of the British military told the press that revealing this wasn’t smart, as it could increase security threats against Harry and his family. They also questioned how he could be sure of the number, and said the claim paints an inaccurate picture of how soldiers approach missions. Tim Collins, a retired British Army colonel, told Forces News, “That’s not how you behave in the Army; it’s not how we think. He has badly let the side down. We don’t do notches on the rifle butt. We never did.”
Anas Haqqani, a senior aide to the Afghan interior minister, accused Harry of confessing to “war crimes,” according to the New York Post, adding, “The ones you killed were not chess pieces, they were humans; they had families who were waiting for their return.” And Khalid Zadran, the Taliban’s police spokesman in Kabul, told The Telegraph, “The perpetrators of such crimes will one day be brought to the international court and criminals like Harry who proudly confess their crimes will be brought to the court table in front of the international community.”
3. Harry had frostbite on his penis at William’s wedding.
In case there is any remaining doubt about Harry’s commitment to oversharing in this book, here is a snippet from a Post report about the sad state of his willy during his brother’s nuptials. The younger prince had just completed a 200-mile Arctic charity walk and was still suffering from the effects during the big event:
“While the ears and cheeks were already healing, the todger wasn’t. It was becoming more of an issue by the day,” he says.
Following the wedding, Harry says that he went to the doctor after using Elizabeth Arden cream.
Harry also confirms he’s circumcised in the explosive tome, despite longstanding reports that he’s not.
On a friend’s advice, Harry treated his frostbitten “todger” with Elizabeth Arden cream, which made him think of his mom. Yes, really.
4. Harry lost his virginity behind a pub.
Alternate title for Harry’s memoir: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Harry’s Penis* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). The royal reveals that he lost his virginity to an unnamed older woman in a field behind a “very busy pub” when he was 17. Then, Harry says, a royal family bodyguard came to the school to investigate. The Independent reports:
The book outlines how one of the Royal Family’s bodyguards Marko paid him a visit when he was still a pupil at Eton College in Windsor and told the Prince he had been sent to “find out the truth”.
Harry writes: “I suspected he was referring to my recent loss of virginity, a humiliating episode with an older woman who liked macho horses and who treated me like a young stallion.
“I mounted her quickly, after which she spanked my ass and sent me away.
“One of my many mistakes was letting it happen in a field, just behind a very busy pub. No doubt someone had seen us.”
The bodyguard was actually investigating reports that a newspaper had evidence of Harry taking drugs. He said this was “all lies,” but discloses that he had started using marijuana and cocaine by that time.
5. William and Kate told Harry to dress like a Nazi.
What if the real culprits behind Harry’s most appalling scandal were actually … the future king and queen of England? That’s what the prince alleges in Spare, according to the New York Post. He says he was deciding between dressing as a pilot or a Nazi for a 2005 “Native and Colonial” party and called up his elder brother and William’s then-girlfriend to ask for their advice.
“I phoned Willy and Kate, asked what they thought. Nazi uniform, they said,” Harry writes. He also modeled the outfit for them and “they both howled. Worse than Willy’s leotard outfit! Way more ridiculous! Which, again, was the point.”
But, of course, the public didn’t appreciate the 20-year-old prince’s look when it appeared on the cover of the Sun soon after.
6. William and Harry ‘begged’ Charles not to marry Camilla.
Harry and William, understandably, have some issues with the woman their mother publicly blamed for her divorce, saying there were “three of us in this marriage.”
Harry wrote, according to the New York Post, that Camilla looked “bored” at their first meeting, which he assumed was because he wasn’t the heir – not that she had a great relationship with his brother. “Willy had been suspicious of the Other Woman for a long time,” Harry added.
Eventually they accepted Camilla, and the fact that their father was going to marry her, though the boys had “begged” him not to. “I remember wondering … if she would be cruel to me; if she would be like all the wicked stepmothers in the stories,” Harry wrote.
In an interview with Good Morning America broadcast Monday, Harry said he and Camilla are on “perfectly pleasant” terms and he doesn’t see her as an “evil stepmother” – but he’s had some pretty unflattering things to say about her.
Harry wrote in the book that he “wanted Camilla to be happy” because “maybe she’d be less dangerous if she was happy.” He elaborated in 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday that she was dangerous because she had been cast as the “villain” and need to “rehabilitate her image.”
“That made her dangerous because of the connections that she was forging within the British press,” he told Anderson Cooper. “And there was open willingness on both sides to trade of information. And with a family built on hierarchy, and with her, on the way to being Queen consort, there was gonna be people or bodies left in the street because of that.”
He says he was one of those bodies at times, writing in the book that his stepmother “sacrificed me on her personal P.R. altar.”
7. The brothers call each other ‘Willy’ and ‘Harold.’
The Netflix docuseries made it clear that Meghan and Harry remain committed to their insufferable habit of calling each other M and H (though “Harry” is already a nickname). It appears William keeps things more formal, as evidenced by the line “I didn’t attack you, Harold.” (His full name is actually Henry Charles Albert David of Wales.)
Harry, meanwhile, refers to his brother by a nickname — and not the well-known moniker Wills. He writes in Spare that when he tried to calm his brother during their 2019 altercation, he said, “Willy, I can’t speak to you when you’re like this.”
8. William tried to gaslight Harry about the attack.
Harry says William returned shortly after the 2019 attack looking “regretful” and he apologized. Then when William departed a second time, he acted like nothing had happened. Per the Guardian:
When William left again, his brother writes, he “turned and called back: ‘You don’t need to tell Meg about this.’”
“‘You mean that you attacked me?’”
“‘I didn’t attack you, Harold.’”
Harry said he didn’t immediately tell Meghan, but he did call his therapist. And he eventually told his wife what had happened when she noticed “scrapes and bruises” on his back. He writes that she “wasn’t that surprised and wasn’t all that angry,” but “she was terribly sad.”
9. William and Kate were massive Suits fans.
Many Americans did not know who Meghan Markle was before the announcement that she was dating Prince Harry, but he says the royals were well acquainted with her from the USA Network drama Suits (which aired on Dave and then Netflix in the U.K.). Here’s how Harry describes William and Kate’s reaction to him revealing that he was dating Markle, per the New York Post:
“Their mouths fell open. They turned to each other. Then Willy turned to me and said: ‘F–k off?’”
“I was baffled until Willy and Kate explained that they were regular — nay, religious — viewers of ‘Suits,’” Harry writes. “‘Great,’ I thought, laughing. I’ve been worrying about the wrong thing. All this time I’d thought Willy and Kate might not welcome Meg into the family, but now I had to worry about them hounding her for an autograph.”
10. The royals are not huggers.
Could we have guessed this? Sure. But it’s still pretty horrifying to learn that Charles (allegedly) didn’t even hug Harry after telling him his mother was in a car crash and “didn’t make it.” Harry wrote, according to the New York Post, “Pa didn’t hug me. He wasn’t great at showing emotions under normal circumstances, how could he be expected to show them in such a crisis?” He added, “His hand did fall once more on my knee and he said, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ That was quite a lot for him. Fatherly, hopeful, kind. And so very untrue.”
Elsewhere in the book Harry says that William “recoiled” and “completely freaked” that Meghan hugged him when they first met. Strangers are supposed to curtsy when meeting William, but Meghan didn’t know and Harry didn’t think she needed to follow protocol. “Willy didn’t hug many strangers,” Harry says. “Whereas Meg hugged most strangers.”
11. Meghan was too familiar with Kate.
Would you happily share your lip gloss with your sister-in-law? Is it appropriate to tease a pregnant woman about having “baby brain”? Spare forces readers to ask these tough social conundrums.
Harry recalls that before a joint appearance at the Sussexes’ and the Waleses’ Royal Foundation Forum in 2018, his wife asked to borrow Kate’s lip gloss because she forgot hers. “Kate, taken aback, went into her handbag and reluctantly pulled out a small tube,” Harry wrote, according to the New York Post. “Meg squeezed some onto her finger and applied it to her lips. Kate grimaced.”
A few months later, Kate, who was pregnant, forgot something minor in conversation and Meghan joked that she had “baby brain.” Later when the couple sat down for tea to hash out their differences, Kate and William said the remark wasn’t appreciated. Per the Today Show:
“You talked about my hormones,” Kate allegedly said of the comment. “We are not close enough for you to talk about my hormones!”
The offense was evidently so great that Kate was allegedly gripping the upholstered side of her chair so intensely that her fingers went white, according to the book. Harry described his wife as looking perplexed about the reaction, as Meghan said the words simply reflected the way she would speak to her own friends.
But Kate wasn’t the only one offended. Harry recalled the Prince of Wales also lashing out about the perceived slight, pointing a finger at Meghan and calling the remark “rude.”
Harry noted the Duchess of Sussex responded by asking William to “take your finger out of my face.”
Harry describes borrowing lip gloss as an “American thing,” but I don’t know. Maybe his wife should have reeled it back a bit around her reserved, pregnant sister-in-law?
12. Harry felt he existed to be William’s organ donor.
In Harry’s interpretation, his “spare” role went beyond being a back up king. He writes:
The Heir and the Spare – there was no judgment about it, but also no ambiguity. I was the shadow the support, the Plan B. I was brought into the world in case something happened to Willy. I was summoned to provide backup, distraction, diversion, and, if necessary, a spare part. Kidney, perhaps. Blood transfusion. Speck of bone marrow. This was all made explicit clear to me from the start of life’s journey and regularly reinforced therafter.
13. William ordered Harry to shave his beard for his wedding.
Harry writes that he had to ask Queen Elizabeth for permission to keep his beard for his wedding, as he was getting married in his Army uniform and beards are forbidden in the British Army. He pointed out that he was no longer in the service, Meghan had never seen him without the beard, and it had become something of a “security blanket” for him. “Granny” gave him the okay.
But his brother hit the roof. They argued for “more than a week,” with William accusing Harry of putting their grandmother in an uncomfortable position. Then, Harry writes, he discovered the real issue:
At one point he actually ordered me, as the Heir speaking to the Spare, to shave.
Are you serious?
I’m telling you, shave it off.
For the love of God, Willy, why does this matter so much to you?
Because I wasn’t allowed to keep my beard.
Harry, unlike William, kept his beard for his wedding. And he eventually got back at his brother with a hair-related jab; in the book’s introduction, Harry references William’s “alarming baldness, more advanced than my own.”
This post has been updated throughout.
14. Family members referred to Harry as ‘the Spare.’
Harry writes that when he was 20 he heard a family story about what his father said to his then-wife, Princess Diana, on the day of his birth: “Wonderful! Now you’ve given me an heir and a spare — my work is done.” Harry says this was presented as a joke, but minutes later Charles ran off to be with Camilla.
Charles certainly isn’t Prince Charming, but he was far from the only family member to call him “the Spare.” He says the nickname was also used by Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and Diana.
15. Prince Charles was jealous of his son’s press coverage.
If decades-old gossip is to be believed, Charles hated that Princess Diana stole the limelight wherever they went. Harry says that by 2015, Charles’s pettiness was causing problems between him and William, too. The BBC reports:
“Willy did everything he [King Charles] wanted, and sometimes he didn’t want him to do much, because dad and Camilla didn’t like Willy and Kate getting too much publicity,” he writes.
He goes on to detail a time where Kate allegedly had a visit planned to a tennis club on the same day King Charles, then Prince of Wales, had a public engagement. According to Harry, one of the monarch’s press officers called William to ensure there were no photos of Kate holding a tennis racquet.
“Undoubtedly that kind of photo would have pushed dad and Camilla off every front page,” he writes. “And that couldn’t be tolerated under any circumstances.”
16. King Charles is never without his teddy bear.
While describing how his father was bullied at the boarding school Gordonstoun (see The Crown: Season 2, Episode 9) Harry mentions, for no apparent reason, that his father still has his teddy bear:
I remember him murmuring ominously: I nearly didn’t survive. How had he? Head down, clutching his teddy bear, which he still owned years later. Teddy went everywhere with Pa. It was a pitiful object, with broken arms and dangly threads, holes patched up here and there. It looked, I imagined, like Pa might have after the bullies had finished with him. Teddy expressed eloquently, better than Pa ever could, the essential loneliness of his childhood.
17. King Charles exercises in his boxers.
In yet another detail that’s seemingly only in the book to embarrass King Charles, Harry revealed his father’s workout routine while describing the layout of Balmoral:
Open the wrong door and you might burst in on Pa while his valet was helping him dress. Worse, you might blunder in as he was doing his headstands. Prescribed by his physio, these exercises were the only effective remedy for the constant pain in Pa’s neck and back. Old polo injuries, mostly. He performed them daily, in just a pair of boxers, propped against a door or hanging from a bar like a skilled acrobat. If you set one little finger on the knob you’d hear him begging from the other side: No! No! Don’t open! Please God, don’t open!
Was Pa the world’s best dad? Clearly not. But at least this neglected and severely bullied single dad, who suffering from constant neck and back pain, was trying.
More on the royals
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