Harry and William: 7 of the pettiest moments between ‘the Heir and the Spare’

Harry’s memoir ‘Spare’ documents the long-running rivalry with his older brother, the Prince of Wales, and their sniping over everything from Meghan to William and Kate’s wedding

Roisin O'Connor
Wednesday 11 January 2023 10:27 GMT
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Prince Harry’s memoir became the fastest-selling non-fiction book ever on its first day of publication, thanks in part to the excruciating details about the long-running feud with his older brother, William.

Early reports suggesting the Duke of Sussex would come down particularly hard on the heir to the throne have now been confirmed, as the book documents how sibling rivalry was sharpened into all-out war.

Harry frequently documents the disparities in how he and his brother were treated from a young age, right down to the decor of their childhood bedroom at Balmoral. Here are the most glaring instances of the rivalry, from squabbles to alleged physical fights.

Bedroom at Balmoral

Harry writes of how Balmoral had 50 bedrooms, one of which had been divided for him and “Willy”, with adults referring to it as the nursery. “Willy had the larger half, with a double bed, a good-sized basin, a cupboard with mirrored doors, a beautiful window looking down on the courtyard, the fountain, the bronze statue of a roe deer buck,” he recalls. “My half of the room was far smaller, less luxurious. I never asked why. I didn’t care. But I also didn’t need to ask. Two years older than me, Willy was the Heir, whereas I was the Spare.”

Strangers at school

Harry claims that when he began attending Eton, William – already a student there – instructed him to pretend they didn’t know each other. “For the last two years, he explained, Eton had been his sanctuary. No kid brother tagging along, pestering him with questions, pushing up on his social circle. He was forging his own life, and he wasn’t willing to give it up.” Harry writes that this came as no surprise, given William apparently “loathed it” when Diana dressed them in the same outfits or when “anyone made the mistake of thinking us a package deal”.

“For one brief moment…”

The Duke of Sussex in an Apache helicopter
The Duke of Sussex in an Apache helicopter (PA Archive)

Writing about the moment he was “no longer Prince Harry” and instead Second Lieutenant Wales of the Blues and Royals, the duke seems to relish a rare instance of one-upmanship on William. At the “passing out” ceremony on 12 April 2006, he remembers William saluting him as he marched past. “He couldn’t resort to his typical attitude when we were sharing an institution, couldn’t pretend not to know me – or he’d be insubordinate,” Harry writes. “For one brief moment, Spare outranked Heir.”

Pilot training

The phone-hacking scandal that took place in 2005 was one news event that seemed to unite Harry with his elder brother. He writes that they were both “overjoyed” at the investigations into the now-defunct News of the World and relieved at the thought that friends they’d once suspected had now been vindicated. At the time, the brothers were living in a cottage in Shropshire, both training to become pilots. “We had a load of laughs in that cottage,” Harry says, but there were tensions, too, that he might not have comprehended at the time. They agreed to a rare joint interview, during which William apparently joked about Harry being a slob and his snoring. “I turned and gave him a look. Was he joking?” He claims to have laughed because “we often bantered like that”, but in hindsight wonders “if there wasn’t something else at play. I was training to get to the front line, the same place Willy had been training to get, but the Palace had scuttled his plans.” He suggests William was “quietly frustrated” by this and expresses his astonishment at the idea: “I was proud of him, and full of respect for the way he was dedicating himself wholeheartedly to his preparation.”

Not a best man

Prince Harry in military uniform at the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Kate Middleton in 2011
Prince Harry in military uniform at the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Kate Middleton in 2011 (AFP via Getty)

Harry writes that he was forced to go along with the “bare-faced lie” that he was William’s best man at his wedding to Kate Middleton in 2011. In Spare, he writes that he was made to “act out” the role at the royal wedding to spare scrutiny into the lives of his brother’s two closest friends, James Meade and Thomas Van Straubenzee, and also because “the public expected it”. He travelled to Westminster Abbey with his brother and then Prince Charles in a Bentley. “Willy didn’t want me giving a best man’s speech,” he writes, adding that it was actually Meade and Straubenzee who gave the traditional speech at William’s wedding reception. “He didn’t think it safe to hand me a live mic and put me in a position to go off-script. I might say something wildly inappropriate. He wasn’t wrong.”

William laughing at him after a panic attack

While documenting his struggles with mental health, Harry recalls a particularly uncomfortable encounter with his brother after delivering a speech. He says he had always struggled with public speaking, but in 2015 was going through a phase of “avoidance” that was incompatible with his public role. “After one speech, which couldn’t be avoided or cancelled, and during which I’d nearly fainted, Willy came up to me backstage. Laughing,” Harry claims. “‘Harold! Look at you! You’re drenched!’ I couldn’t fathom his reaction. Him of all people. He’d been present for my very first panic attack. With Kate... And now he was teasing me? I couldn’t imagine how he could be so insensitive.”

Africa was “William’s thing”

Prince William and Prince Harry ahead of the Enduro Africa charity ride in Port Edward, South Africa
Prince William and Prince Harry ahead of the Enduro Africa charity ride in Port Edward, South Africa (PA Wire)

At the end of 2015, Harry says he felt as though he was moving in the right direction. Along with psychedelics, work was a remedy that “proved most effective” in combatting his mental health issues. He decided to “sign up” to the fight against the climate crisis. But a problem apparently arose once again in the shape of his older brother. Africa was “his thing”, William allegedly told Harry. “And he had the right to say this, or felt he did, because he was the Heir. It was ever in his power to veto my thing, and he had every intention of exercising, even flexing, that veto power.” Harry claims that he and William had serious rows about the issue and “almost came to blows” over it in front of their childhood friends. “It was all so obvious,” he writes. “He cared less about finding his purpose or passion than about winning his lifelong competition with me.”

Doom and gloom about Meghan

William, Harry, Meghan and Kate at a remembrance service in 2018
William, Harry, Meghan and Kate at a remembrance service in 2018 (Getty)

Harry claims that while William and Kate were initially excited at the news he was dating the star of Suits (they loved the show), his brother allegedly issued a warning at the end of his visit. “He [said] to slow down,” Harry writes of the moment he told his brother about his feelings for Meghan. “She’s an American actress, after all, Harold. Anything might happen.” Harry says he nodded, “a bit hurt. Then hugged him and Kate and left.” Later, Harry observes how William apparently always managed to make the term “American actress” sound like “convicted felon”.

The Independent has contacted representatives of Prince William for comment.

Follow the latest news and updates about Harry’s memoir here. You can also read The Independent’s four-star review.

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