Prince Harry's book drives royals Spare, but will it backfire?

Coronation invitation in jeopardy as palace considers how to respond to alienated California-dwelling prince

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Not since Princess Diana’s explosive 1990s expose about her husband’s affair and supposedly fairytale but troubled marriage in her secret biography has the royal family faced a more challenging time.

Three decades on from that release, the royals are facing one of their biggest challenges yet with the release of Prince Harry’s 416-page memoir, Spare ― a nod to his father, King Charles III, who allegedly comment at his birth that his mother had given him “an heir and a spare”.

In contrast to Andrew Morton’s highly-awaited 1992 biography on Prince Harry’s mother, Diana, which was initially decried as a piece of fiction until the princess later confessed that it was all true, the silence from the palace in refuting Prince Harry’s accusations is deafening.

“War has been declared,” royal expert Richard Fitzwilliam told The National.

“This is part and parcel of a campaign against the royal family and it is really intended to harm them.”

Book reveals attacks, insults and drug-taking as royal ‘circus’ comes to town

Explosive allegations against his "arch-nemesis" Prince William come first, swiftly followed by claims against his father and the queen consort and, lastly self-confessions of drug taking and loss.

Despite attempts to surround the book in super-tight security ahead of its global release on Tuesday, a US-based reporter, Martin Pengelly, who scooped Donald Trump's White House memoirs in recent years, obtained the first leaked copy.

Publishers were left reeling when copies appeared for sale on Spanish shelves within hours of the first story landing.

The Spanish version of Prince Harry's memoir Spare was released early in Spain.  AP Photo

Claims that Prince William had attacked and injured his brother hit the headlines first, then accusations that he criticised Prince Harry’s wife, Meghan, closely followed by allegations his team had briefed negative stories to the media about the couple.

Next, the king faced backlash, as Prince Harry revealed that he and his brother had asked their father not to marry Queen Consort Camilla.

Then came his own admissions of taking cocaine as a teenager and boasts about killing 25 Taliban fighters during his time in Afghanistan, calling them "chess pieces".

Leading British military personnel were left stunned by the bold claims ― which could put him and his family at risk of retaliation.

The book has much about his mother's death in a car crash in Paris in 1997, including that he used a physic to contact her and has repeatedly driven through the tunnel where she was killed.

Harry’s rift with ‘arch-nemesis’ Prince William likely to be permanent

“We now know this is a ferocious attack on the royal family. It is a formal declaration of war,” Mr Fitzwilliam said.

“There has been no denial about the accusations from the palace. In the Netflix interviews Prince Harry claimed the palace was briefing against him and he, Harry, a war veteran, was terrified during the summit with William.

“The claims now make it very likely that the rift between the brothers will be permanent. There is no doubt, I cannot see any future between the royal family and the Sussexes.

“This is very serious and it is only the beginning. There will undoubtedly be many more allegations and William and his wife can expect to be in the firing line.

“It is very, very clear Harry and Meghan want to harm the royal family, they believe they are the victims and have been badly treated and not defended. It has become a circus.”

Prince Harry’s attendance at King Charles’s coronation in doubt

The princes were once seen as being very close after the death of Princess Diana, but later became distant and fell out following Prince Harry’s marriage to former actress Meghan Markle in 2018.

Two years later the couple stepped down from royal duties and moved to California.

Since their departure, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, as they are officially known, have delivered stinging criticisms of the British monarchy, including accusations of racism, something Prince William has dismissed.

Last month, the couple's six-part Netflix documentary, which attracted record audiences, was broadcast with renewed accusations, including that Prince William had screamed at Prince Harry during a crisis summit to discuss his future.

Prince Harry has given two broadcast interviews ahead of the book's publication, which are due to be shown on Sunday, with clips indicating that he would return to complaints that Buckingham Palace had failed to protect him and his wife.

"They feel as though it's better to keep us, somehow, as the villains," Prince Harry said in a trailer released by ITV.

In it, he also says that he cannot not commit to attending his father's coronation in May and accuses royal aides of not only refusing to hit back at hostile, inaccurate press coverage, but that they were complicit in leaking negative stories to protect other royals, most notably Prince William.

"I don't know how staying silent is ever going to make things better," Prince Harry says.

The revelations

- Prince William attacked and injured him

- He took cocaine when he was 17

- During his service in Afghanistan, he killed 25 Taliban soldiers

- He believes his brother is his 'arch nemesis'

- Prince William called his wife Meghan 'rude'

- The princes begged King Charles not to marry Queen Consort Camilla

King Charles’s coronation is expected to take place in May but experts have fears about Prince Harry’s attendance.

One of the revelations in the new book reveals the king’s anguish at his feuding sons, as he stood between them at Windsor Castle in 2021 after the funeral of their grandfather, Prince Philip.

"Please, boys," Prince Harry quoted his father as saying.

"Don’t make my final years a misery."

Mr Fitzwilliam believes worse accusations are to come and said the couple will have to prepare for how the palace could react.

“The invitation to the coronation now seems very dubious,” he said.

Many may now be questioning Prince Harry’s decision to make his family’s private affairs public, with the BBC’s royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell, who has courted the family for decades, suggesting a threshold has been crossed.

“This is a full-scale unloading by Harry of all the incidents that have caused this deep resentment. He feels his family have treated him and his wife unfairly and without specific respect and they have decided to go into print and on the airways to go into everything,” he told the BBC.

“As we all know, family disagreements occur and they are best settled in private.”

Princess Diana wanted Prince Harry to be his brother's 'wingman not hitman'

Prince Harry’s mother was the first to break with tradition to air her grievances, initially through Morton’s biography.

Decried as a work of fiction, Morton’s Diana: Her True Story was not met with the same fanfare as Prince Harry’s memoirs ― few believed it could be true. One politician suggested Morton should be imprisoned in the Tower of London and it took five years for the princess to admit she was responsible for the details and had smuggled him secret tapes detailing her troubled life.

“Like a prisoner condemned for a crime she did not commit, Diana had a crying need to tell the world the truth about her life, the distress she felt, and the ambitions she nurtured. Her sense of injustice was profound,” Morton wrote years later.

“Quite simply, she wanted the liberty to speak her mind, the opportunity to tell people the whole story of her life and to let them judge accordingly.”

His words may resonate with Prince Harry.

Once it was thought Diana’s “ground-breaking” revelations would tear the royals apart, now Prince Harry’s are expected to cause real damage.

The Princess of Wales with Prince William, right, and Prince Harry, at a service at St Paul's Cathedral in London. PA

On Friday, Morton told the BBC that Diana had wanted Prince Harry to be Prince William's "wingman not hitman" and the book would most definitely cause the royal family damage.

“Morton’s book was sensational, but the circumstances and the way it was handled are completely different until she confirmed she was behind it,” Mr Fitzwilliam said.

“He was not believed. People were stunned, it was unprecedented. Many journalists rubbished it and did not believe it was true.

Prince William and Prince Harry in 2008 before the Enduro Africa charity ride in Port Edward, South Africa. PA

"Even the head of the Press Complaints Commission said it was “dabbling in other people’s souls”. It was only discovered later that Diana had co-operated with it," he added. "Yet it was ground-breaking at the time."

History shows brotherly feuds, generally, do not end well. Richard III ― a 15th-century aspirant to the throne ― was a British royal brother who strikingly stitched up a sibling.

After the death of his elder brother King Edward, Richard declared his sibling’s marriage invalid, imprisoned his nephews, known as the Princes in the Tower, in the Tower of London and took the throne. Richard’s actions are now but chapters of a colourful, but brutal, history of Britain.

For the Windsor brothers, only time will tell if the hatchet can be buried, but some believe it has now gone too far.

“There is an enormous rift and it is not likely to ever be resolved,” Mr Fitzwilliam said. “The gloves are off.”

Updated: January 07, 2023, 11:26 AM