Prince Harry’s former Army instructor has claimed a story in his explosive new memoir about a ‘suicide’ training flight is ‘complete fantasy’ as the fallout over its publication continues.
In Spare the Duke of Sussex recalls a flight in which Sergeant Major Michael Booley deliberately stalled the Slingsby T67 Firefly propeller plane he was piloting with ‘no warning’, leaving him questioning whether it was an ‘aborted suicide attempt’.
But the former Sergeant Major has blasted this as a ‘fantasy’, telling the Mirror students are always walked through all elements of flight training beforehand.
It comes after weeks of chaos for the royal family following the release of the book in which the prince made a series of damaging allegations about his family, most notably his brother Prince William.
Sergeant Major Michael Booley (left) taught Prince Harry to fly and says he was one of his top five students
In Spare the Duke of Sussex recalls a flight in which Sergeant Major Michael Booley deliberately stalled the Slingsby T67 Firefly propeller plane he was piloting with ‘no warning’
In Spare, Prince Harry recalls: ‘I felt the left wing dip, a sickening feeling of disorder, of entropy, and then, after several seconds that felt like decades, he recovered the aircraft and levelled the wings.
‘I stared at him. What in the absolute—? Was this an aborted suicide attempt? No, he said gently. This was the next stage in my training.’
But on Saturday Mr Booley said that ‘every single aspect’ of all sorties is thoroughly briefed beforehand.
He told the Mirror: ‘Whilst the book compliments me, the recollection of the sorties and lessons is inaccurate, I’m afraid. It’s important to highlight that nothing in the cockpit comes as a surprise.’
He added: ‘The only time there are surprises is later in the syllabus, not as stated in the book, when emergencies are introduced.
‘Engine failures are practised before the first solo obviously, in case the student suffers one.’
Former Sergeant-Major Booley, 57, served in the military for 33 years and ranks prince Harry as one of his top five students.
He blames ghostwriter John Joseph Moehringer for the inaccuracies, saying the tales have been ‘dramatised’.
He also said he did not ever call the prince ‘Lt Wales’, as is suggested in Spare.
Despite the ‘fantasy’ in the book, Mr Booley told the paper he still sees the prince as a ‘friend’, adding he is a ‘man I respect immensely who would always have my ear’.
Prince Harry went on to fly helicopters during his tours in Afghanistan.
Today’s claims are only the latest in a string of questions raised by the accuracy of many of the details revealed in the memoir, formerly revealed in the Daily Mail.
Blunders over a gift and a governor
If any fact-checkers were employed by Penguin, they failed to pick up on a host of frivolous errors. He claims, for example, that Princess Diana bought him an Xbox for his 13th birthday shortly before her death in 1997. But that can’t be true, since the Microsoft games console was first released in 2001.
The truth? Diana got him a Sony PlayStation from Harrods. Later, the prince tells how he used to buy clothes in discount store TK Maxx, saying: ‘I was particularly fond of their once-a-year sale.’ A cute anecdote. But not one the retailer finds convincing. It said this week: ‘We don’t actually do sales.’
Elsewhere, Harry claims his stepmother once tried to convince him to move abroad: ‘Camilla suggested to Meg that I become governor general of Bermuda.’ Sadly, Bermuda doesn’t have a governor general. The Queen’s representative there is called its governor.
Charles’s reaction to his birth
Harry tells readers what his father ‘allegedly said’ to Princess Diana on the day of his birth in 1984: ‘Wonderful! Now you’ve given me an heir and a spare — my work is done.’ A joke, he presumes, before adding: ‘On the other hand, minutes after delivering this bit of high comedy, Pa was said to have gone off to meet his girlfriend.’
A pity he didn’t rely on his mother’s version of events. According to Diana: Her True Story, the book she secretly collaborated on with Andrew Morton, what Prince Charles actually said was: ‘Oh, it’s a boy and he’s even got rusty hair.’ (A common Spencer family colouring.) Morton writes: ‘With these dismissive remarks he left to play polo.’
Prince William with his father the King (then Prince Charles) and Prince Harry as they leave Northolt RAF airbase, west London, March 31, 2002
There was no mention of meeting a ‘girlfriend’. Perhaps that was because it was another two years before Charles reignited his affair with the then Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles. Indeed, Diana herself recalled the period around Harry’s birth was the happiest time of her entire marriage.
Diana’s Paris car crash
Memories of his mother are among the most moving portions the book, and the rawness of his anger at her death is palpable as he accuses the paparazzi of playing an active part.
But do all his claims stack up? He writes that ‘the last thing Mummy saw on this Earth was a flashbulb’ and her last sound ‘would be a click’.
There is no excusing the despicable behaviour of men who continued to photograph Diana in the aftermath of the crash in the Alma tunnel in Paris, seven of whom were arrested (the rest fled after police arrived).
So could they have provided her last sights and sounds?
Paramedics who gave evidence at the princess’s inquest in 2007 revealed that they spoke to a conscious Diana for some time at the scene before she was transferred by ambulance to the city’s Pitie-Salpetriere hospital, where she died.
Sergeant Xavier Gourmelon, who was in charge of a medical team, told the coroner: ‘She was conscious; she could speak to me.’
Picture of a mourning prince
He admits he has little memory of the sad Sunday when he was with the royals at Balmoral. ‘I’ve seen photographs of us going to church . . . but they bring back no memories.’
He continues: ‘On the way back to Balmoral, a two-minute drive, it was suggested that we stop. People had been gathering all morning outside the front gates, some had begun leaving things.
‘Stuffed animals, flowers, cards. Acknowledgement should be made. We pulled over, stepped out . . . I could hear nothing but a rhythmic clicking from across the road. The Press. I reached out for my father’s hand, for comfort, then cursed myself, because that gesture set off an explosion of clicks.’
Prince William and Prince Harry with the King (then Prince Charles) holding a funeral programme at Westminster Abbey for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, September, 1997
A moving scene — but it did not happen. After the church service on August 31, 1997, the royal cars proceeded without stopping at the gates. It wasn’t until four days later that Charles and his sons emerged to inspect the tributes.
Descriptions of Camilla veer from ‘wicked stepmother’ to the ‘Other Woman’.
Harry writes of being ‘sacrificed’ on her ‘personal PR altar’, while in TV interviews this week he dubbed the Queen Consort as the ‘villain’ and ‘dangerous’.
But, once again, his memory seems to be playing tricks. Especially regarding his first meetings with the maitresse-en-titre.
William, he writes, went first. ‘He’d bumped into the Other Woman, once, at the Palace, but now he was formally summoned from Eton for a high-stakes private meeting.
‘At Highgrove, I think. Over tea, I believe.’
But in real life, the meeting and tea took place at St James’s Palace and it was followed by a lunch at York House, a wing of the royal residence, where Charles and his two sons were then living — not Highgrove.
Who leaked the details?
Harry was in no doubt. ‘Shortly after our private summits with her, she began to play the long game, a campaign aimed at marriage and eventually the crown. (With Pa’s blessing, we presumed.) Stories began to appear everywhere, in all the papers, about her private conversations with Willy, stories that contained pinpoint accurate details . . . They could only have been leaked by the one other person present.’
Inconveniently, the details of the meeting on June 12, 1998, were actually leaked, inadvertently, by Camilla’s own private secretary, Amanda MacManus.
She’d mentioned it to her media executive husband, who in turn told a former colleague who passed it on to the Sun newspaper.
When this fact became public, MacManus resigned.
Death of the Queen Mother
Harry poignantly describes learning of the death of the 101-year-old Queen Mother in a telephone call while studying at Eton. ‘I wish I could remember whose voice was at the other end; a courtier’s, I believe. I recall that it was just before Easter, the weather bright and warm, light slanting through my window, filled with vivid colours.’
He quotes the courtier saying: ‘Your Royal Highness, the Queen Mother has died.’
All very evocative but in portraying his family as aloof and uncaring — allowing a servant to give him the news — Harry is getting things wrong. He was not at school (it was the Easter holidays) nor was he even in Britain when his great-grandmother died on March 30, 2002.
A year after leaving Eton, Harry was accused by an art teacher of cheating in A-level coursework. Pictured: Prince Harry in the drawing school with two of the works of art he has done while at Eton College, June 8, 2003
Instead, he was skiing in the Swiss resort of Klosters with his father and brother. He had flown there two days earlier, despite suffering from glandular fever, and smilingly posed for a photocall with Charles and William.
It was actually his father who passed on the sad news, cutting short their holiday. The Queen gave permission for all three princes to break protocol and fly home on the same plane.
Art A-level ‘cheat’ scandal
A year after leaving Eton, Harry was accused by an art teacher of cheating in A-level coursework. ‘Broken-hearted, I wanted to release a statement, hold a press conference, tell the world: I did the work! I didn’t cheat,’ he writes. The cold-hearted Palace wouldn’t let him, he alleges. ‘In this, as in most things, the Palace stuck fast to the family motto: never complain, never explain. Especially if the complainer was an 18-year-old boy.’
All very scandalous. But also untrue: the Royal Family did release a statement, which strenuously denied the claims.
It was circulated by Clarence House on the day the story broke in October 2004 and begins: ‘It is not true that Harry cheated in his exam.’ It roundly dismissed what it called ‘unfounded allegations by a teacher in the context of a dispute with the school.’
Eton also described the claims as ‘untrue’ and ‘absurd’.
Army ‘bunking off’ claim
Fast-forward to December 2004, and a knee injury saw Harry’s entry into the Army postponed. In Spare, he claims newspapers quickly ‘began pushing a story that I was afraid to go into the Army, that I was bunking off, using a fake knee injury as a way of stalling. I was, they said, a coward’.
Quite the claim. But is it true? The Mail is unable to find a single newspaper article covering the affair which contained the words ‘fake’, or ‘bunking off’ or ‘coward’. Neither can we find any piece which claimed he was afraid to enlist.
Harry later claims a hostile media reaction to the Army’s decision, in May 2007, to cancel plans to send him to Iraq. ‘The following week,’ Spare claims, newspapers ‘reported that the abrupt about-face in my deployment had been my own doing. The coward story again’.
In fact, newspapers universally described the prince as being ‘angry’ and ‘devastated’ to be missing out, with the Mail calling him a ‘courageous young man badly let down by his superiors’.
Wedding snub that never was
Writing about his father’s disrupted 2005 marriage ceremony he says: ‘When the wedding did finally take place — without granny, who chose not to attend — it was almost cathartic for everyone, even me. Standing near the altar I mostly kept my head bowed.’
Once again his memory must be deceiving Harry. The Queen most certainly was at the wedding: she gave a speech at the reception and attended the service of blessing in St George’s chapel (though not the civil ceremony in Windsor Guildhall).
Romantic fact — or fiction?
Harry is rarely more virulent than when blaming the Press for scaring off a string of girlfriends. The breakdown in his relationship with Cressida Bonas, for example, follows his decision to invite her to a royal event at Wembley Arena in March 2014.
‘After nearly two years of secretly dating, we were revealed to be a couple,’ he alleges, suggesting that they suddenly began to be ‘papped’ by photographers.
In fact, Harry and Cressida’s relationship had been making headlines since July 2012, when they were seen together at a West End nightclub. Their supposedly ‘secret’ dates, which took in Glastonbury, Necker Island, and a host of society weddings, had since been the subject of hundreds of reports.
While the intrusion was doubtless a nuisance, it didn’t suddenly commence in 2014, so cannot have precipitated their split.
Prince Harry’s memoir Spare has become the most talked about and controversial book in publishing history, smashing sales records and shattering the Royal Family
Ex-girlfriend Caroline Flack
Another ex-girlfriend, TV presenter Caroline Flack, was, he writes, driven to suicide by ‘the relentless abuse at the hands of the Press, year after year’. Again quite a claim, especially as the coroner took a different view.
An inquest in 2020 concluded that Flack, struggled with depression for several years, killed herself after learning she was to be prosecuted for assaulting a boyfriend. The coroner didn’t criticise the Press, but did state that having a trial play out in open court, and reported by the media, would be ‘incredibly difficult for her’.
Speaking this week, Flack’s former agent Alex Mullen described Harry’s depiction of Flack as a ‘gross’ and ‘disgusting’ intrusion.
‘Worst of all, he writes as if he has any idea why Carrie took her own life,’ Mullen added. ‘Blaming the Press because that’s what he read about it. He knows nothing.’
First date for H&M
Recounting his first date with Meghan, at Soho House, the Prince confidently recalls: ‘She was wearing a black sweater, jeans, heels.’ Funnily enough, his future bride remembers things differently. Back in 2018, she told a BBC documentary that the ‘something blue’ on their wedding day had actually been ‘fabric from the dress I wore on our first date’, stitched inside her gown.
Shop’s newspapers that weren’t on sale
During a visit to London in November 2016, weeks after she was revealed to be dating Harry, Meghan walked from Kensington Palace to the nearby branch of Whole Foods, an organic supermarket.
The prince says she queued at the check-outs. ‘Before her were rows and rows of magazines and newspapers, and on all of them, under the most shocking and disgusting headlines . . . was her. The other customers noticed as well. They looked at the magazines, looked at her, and now they too pulled out their phones, like zombies. Meg caught two cashiers sharing a horrible smile.’
During a visit to London in November 2016, weeks after she was revealed to be dating Harry, Meghan walked from Kensington Palace to the nearby branch of Whole Foods, an organic supermarket, pictured November 10, 2016
All very dramatic and, if true, frightening. In fact, only one shopper recognised her — a journalist. As for the headlines, on the day in question, November 10, Meghan did not feature on a single front page. Even if she had she wouldn’t have seen them at Whole Foods, because they don’t sell newspapers. And the only magazines it stocks are specialist lifestyle publications.
Confusion over corgi family tree
Harry shows a questionable grasp of one of his late grandmother’s most fulfilling pastimes — her dogs. He used to know the corgis, ‘living and dead, as if they were my cousins’, adding: ‘They were all said to descend from the corgis that belonged to Queen Victoria.’
A nice anecdote, but totally untrue. Victoria is said to have had more than 100 dogs in her lifetime and 28 different breeds — but no corgis. As the Royal Collection Trust confirms, ‘the first corgis joined the Royal Family in 1933 when the Duke of York, later King George VI, acquired two for his daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret’.
For her 18th birthday the then Princess Elizabeth was given Susan and every corgi she had subsequently was related to Susan through 14 generations.
Royal burial ground ‘exile’
Setting the scene for a confrontation with Charles and William at Frogmore Cottage after Prince Philip’s funeral, Harry describes how the Queen had consigned the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor to a remote corner of the burial ground. ‘One last finger wag, perhaps,’ he says. ‘One final exile maybe.’
This wilfully misrepresents the Queen. On the day of Duchess of Windsor’s funeral, April 29, 1986, for example, she ordered flags to fly at half-mast on public buildings as a mark of respect to the former Wallis Simpson for whom her husband had abandoned the throne.
Regarding where he himself might one day be buried, he also talks nonsense. Before embarking on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan he says an aide asked him to choose a spot where his remains could be interred should the worst happen. ‘The Royal Vault at Windsor where grandpa was being settled at this moment,’ he muses. Impossible: the vault is full.
Harry describes how the Queen had consigned the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor to a remote corner of the burial ground. ‘One last finger wag, perhaps,’ he says. ‘One final exile maybe.’ Pictured: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Harry attend the Chelsea Flower show, May 18, 2015
Staged snaps of Meghan’s dad
Harry repeats the canard — first aired by Meghan, in her Oprah interview — that newspapers cynically delayed publication of pictures that showed Thomas Markle collaborating with paparazzi until days before the wedding.
The reason, he alleges, was to inflict maximum damage. ‘Though the photos had been taken weeks before, they’d been held in reserve until the most devastating moment possible.’
Once again, not true. In reality, what Harry calls a ‘farcically staged’ picture showing Thomas Markle studying a book about Britain was first published in late March 2018, around seven weeks before the big day.
The following month, two further sets of photos were published. One showed Meghan’s dad lifting weights, the other being measured by a tailor. By this point, The Mail on Sunday had begun to suspect that the images were being cynically set up. A reporter sent to Mexico obtained CCTV footage from an internet cafe proving this to be true on May 12. It was then published within 24 hours. Far from being ‘held in reserve’, the story was splashed immediately.
Ceremony … or a rehearsal?
The book doubles down on a widely debunked claim that the Archbishop of Canterbury carried out an impromptu wedding ceremony for Harry and Meghan in the run-up to the event. It was ‘a small ceremony, just the two of us, Guy and Pula [their dogs] the only witnesses. Unofficial, non-binding, except in our souls’.
While Harry’s description is perhaps more accurate than Meghan’s (she told Oprah Winfrey ‘three days before our wedding, we got married’), it’s also at odds with Lambeth Palace’s view: the archbishop was merely conducting a ‘rehearsal’ during which — as is normal — the couple recited their vows.
Snipers on their wedding day
Harry complains that, on the real wedding day, ‘the first thing we saw’ after leaving church ‘other than a stream of smiling faces were snipers.
‘On the rooftops, amid the bunting, behind the waterfalls of streamers. Police told me it was unusual, but necessary. Due to the unprecedented number of threats they were picking up.’
Harry complains that, on the real wedding day, ‘the first thing we saw’ after leaving church ‘other than a stream of smiling faces were snipers. Pictured: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex walk down the west steps of St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, May 19, 2018
While the anecdote may support the prince’s oft-repeated claims that hostile media coverage has emboldened (presumably racist) extremists, it happens to be highly misleading.
Police snipers are on duty at almost every major royal event, from Trooping the Colour to the State Opening of Parliament and their presence on rooftops was widely reported at Prince William’s wedding seven years earlier.
Meghan lawsuit ‘barely covered’
Later in Spare he claims Meghan’s decision to sue The Mail on Sunday for printing excerpts from a letter she sent her father was the subject of a media blackout. ‘The lawsuit wasn’t covered as widely as, say, Meg’s daring to shut her own car door,’ he moans. ‘In fact, it was barely covered at all.’
In fact, the lawsuit was one of the biggest news stories of the week, with lengthy reports carried on the front page of the Times, Guardian, and Sun, along with both the news and comment sections of the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail. It also featured prominently in TV and radio news bulletins.
U-turn over racism claim
One notorious episode is inexplicably absent from Spare. And it revolves around the incendiary topic of racism.
On the Oprah interview, Meghan complained that ‘several conversations’ about the possible colour of Archie’s skin had taken place while she was pregnant.
The TV host responded: ‘Because they were concerned that if he were too brown, that would be a problem? Are you saying that?’
Meghan responded: ‘If that’s the assumption you are making, I think that feels like a pretty safe one.’
It’s unclear why Harry has not shed further light on this alleged incident in the book.
On the Oprah interview, Meghan complained that ‘several conversations’ about the possible colour of Archie’s skin had taken place while she was pregnant. Pictured: Harry and Meghan in conversation with Oprah Winfrey
He could at the very least have explained why (in apparent contradiction of his wife’s version of events) he told Oprah there was just one conversation about their future children’s skin colour ‘before we were even married’.
Instead, the prince appears to now inhabit a parallel universe where he and Meghan have never, ever accused his relatives of racism: when Tom Bradby broached the subject during ITV’s interview, Harry insisted, ‘No, I didn’t’, adding ‘the British Press said that’.
Quite how he squares that claim with his recent decision to attend a glamorous charity event in New York where he and Meghan were presented with a gong for, among other things, their ‘heroic’ efforts standing up to ‘structural racism’ is — like so much about this gripping but flawed book — anyone’s guess.