In his highly anticipated autobiography, Spare, Prince Harry recounts what he says was a physical attack by his brother, William, now Prince of Wales, as their relationship fell apart over the younger prince’s marriage to the actor Meghan Markle.
Describing a confrontation at his London home in 2019, Harry says William called Meghan “difficult”, “rude” and “abrasive”, which Harry calls a “parrot[ing of] the press narrative” about his American wife.
The confrontation escalated, Harry writes, until William “grabbed me by the collar, ripping my necklace, and … knocked me to the floor”.
The extraordinary scene, which Harry says resulted in visible injury to his back, is one of many in Spare, which will be published worldwide next week and is likely to spark a serious furore for the British royal family.
Amid stringent pre-launch security around the book, the Guardian obtained a copy.
The book’s title comes from an old saying in royal and aristocratic circles: that a first son is an heir to titles, power and fortune, and a second is therefore a spare, should anything happen to the first-born.
Spare is a remarkable volume, in which the altercation between the two princes forms a startling passage.
Harry writes that William wanted to talk about “the whole rolling catastrophe” of their relationship and struggles with the press. But when William arrived at Nottingham Cottage – where Harry was then living, in the grounds of Kensington Palace and known as “Nott Cott” – he was, Harry says, already “piping hot”.
After William complained about Meghan, Harry writes, Harry told him he was repeating the press narrative and that he expected better. But William, Harry says, was not being rational, leading to the two men shouting over each other.
Harry then accused his brother of acting like an heir, unable to understand why his younger brother was not content to be a spare.
Insults were exchanged, before William claimed he was trying to help.
Harry said: “Are you serious? Help me? Sorry – is that what you call this? Helping me?”
That comment, Harry says, angered his brother, who swore while stepping towards him. Now scared, Harry writes, he went to the kitchen, his furious brother following.
Harry writes that he gave his brother a glass of water and said: “Willy, I can’t speak to you when you’re like this.”
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. William left, Harry says, then returned “looking regretful, and apologised”.
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 says he didn’t immediately tell his wife – but did call his therapist.
When Meghan later noticed “scrapes and bruises” on his back, and he therefore told her of the attack, Harry says she “wasn’t that surprised, and wasn’t all that angry.
“She was terribly sad.”
Harry’s resentment of being the “spare” is the unifying theme of his book, through chapters on his childhood, his schooling, his career as a royal and in the British army, his relationship with his parents and brother and his life with Meghan through courtship, wedding and marriage to their own experience of parenthood.
Early on, Harry recounts the story of how his father, now King Charles, supposedly said to his wife, Princess Diana, on the day of Harry’s birth: “Wonderful! Now you’ve given me an heir and a spare – my work is done.”
Whether describing his memories and love for Diana, who was killed in a car crash in Paris in August 1997, or his similar love for his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, who died last year, Harry is unsparing in his recounting of intensely private scenes and conversations.
Harry met Meghan in 2016. They married at Windsor Castle in 2018. As Duke and Duchess of Sussex, they began life as working royals but quickly drifted apart from the family and eventually embarked on a largely separate existence, moving to Canada and then California.
Their acrimonious split from the royal family has been the subject of endless press coverage, some of it steered themselves, including via a famous interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021 that caused huge controversy on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world.
Subjects from that interview and a recently released Netflix documentary, including a miscarriage suffered by Meghan and her thoughts of suicide, and suggestions of racism within royal circles, are covered extensively in Harry’s book.
The book has been trailed and two interviews with Harry are due to be broadcast in the UK and US this weekend, with ITV News at Ten and CBS 60 Minutes. Both interviews are eagerly awaited, trailers and teasers reported on as news as speculation about what Harry has chosen to say in his book continues.
In a clip from the ITV interview, Harry said: “I would like to get my father back, I would like to have my brother back.”
Given the details recounted in his book, that might not seem immediately likely. Indeed one of Harry’s most pertinent revelations of private conversations between the senior royals comes from the very front of his book.
Harry recounts an anguished meeting with Charles and William after the Windsor Castle funeral of Prince Phillip, the queen’s husband, in April 2021.
Charles, he says, stood between his warring sons, “looking up at our flushed faces”.
“Please, boys,” Harry quotes his father as saying. “Don’t make my final years a misery.”
Spare by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex (Transworld, £28). To support The Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.