In tales of princes and princesses, the trope of the wicked stepmother is timeless. At best, these unwelcome new family members are depicted as cold and neglectful—at worst, they pose a treacherous threat. The latter is precisely the image Prince Harry has painted of his stepmother Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Queen Consort, in his memoir Spare.
In his book—which was published on Tuesday after a week of leaked excerpts—the 38-year-old royal revealed that, in 2005, he and Prince William pleaded with their father not to marry Camilla. Charles, who is now King, had been engaged in a long-standing affair with Camilla during his 15-year marriage to Princess Diana.
“Despite Willy and me urging him not to, Pa was going ahead. We pumped his hand, wished him well. No hard feelings,” Harry writes in Spare. “We recognized that he was finally going to be with the woman he loved, the woman he’d always loved.”
In passages that many stepchildren will relate to, Harry reflects on difficult moments adjusting to his father’s new marriage. In one story, likely from the late nineties, Harry remembers wondering if Camilla would be cruel to him “like all the wicked stepmothers in storybooks,” noting that William “long harbored suspicions about the Other Woman.” Harry also claims that Camilla converted his bedroom into her own personal dressing room as soon as he moved out of their former residence, Clarence House, when he was 28.
Beyond these anecdotes, in the book and in promotional interviews, Harry has taken his criticism of Camilla much further with statements on her character. He has alleged that Camilla had a calculated agenda to remedy her public image as the “other woman,” one that paved the way for her marriage and eventual Queen Consort title.
This accusation is one of the more surprising aspects of Spare and Harry’s surrounding press tour, and—alongside William—it paints Camilla as one of the central villains in Harry’s story.
Throughout her relationship with Charles before his ascension to the throne, Camilla was known for carrying out charity work and royal duties to rehabilitate her image—efforts recognized by the late Queen Elizabeth, who endorsed her daughter-in-law with a consort title on the eve of her Platinum Jubilee last February. But Harry believes Camilla’s efforts to improve her standing with the public went further.
In his first promotional interview with ITV Correspondent Tom Bradby on Sunday, Harry elaborated on the relationship between the royal family and the British press, which he said involves a lot of “briefings, leakings, and plantings.” He accused members of the royal family of getting “into bed with the devil,” citing an instance when Camilla allegedly leaked one of her early conversations with William. (The Telegraph recently reported that it was in fact Camilla’s former assistant who leaked the conversation and that she was subsequently let go.)
In Spare, Harry writes that his father and Camilla’s “spin doctor” decided they should throw Harry “right under the bus.” He writes that they leaked news of his drug use in 2002, saying that Prince Charles sent Harry to a drug rehabilitation center in order to garner sympathy for Charles as a father and for their relationship. Harry also writes that in 2019 William was “seething” because “Pa and Camilla’s people had planted a story or stories about him, and Kate, and the kids, and he wasn’t going to take it any more. Give Pa and Camilla an inch, he said, they take a mile.”
Harry further escalated his allegations against Camilla in a second interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday by calling her “dangerous” because of the connections she has with members of the media. “There was open willingness on both sides to trade information. And with a family built on hierarchy, and with her on the way to being Queen Consort, there was going to be people or bodies left in the street,” he told host Anderson Cooper. He then described his stepmother as “the villain” and the “third person in the marriage,” echoing his mother’s controversial interview with Martin Bashir in 1995, when Diana said there were “three of us in the marriage.”
“I had complex feelings about gaining a step parent who, I believed, had recently sacrificed me on her personal PR altar,” Harry writes in Spare. “In a funny way I even wanted Camilla to be happy. Maybe she’d be less dangerous if she was happy?”
The royal family has remained silent in response to the book, but many British publications are reporting that Camilla did not leak the stories Harry describes. The BBC’s former royal correspondent Jennie Bond wrote an essay for the i newspaper, describing how she tried to forge a relationship with the Queen Consort to no success. Bond claimed that she had coffee with Camila a number of times, but the royal reportedly snubbed her with a polite, handwritten letter expressing that she had “no interest in cultivating a special relationship with any journalist.”
In an interview with Good Morning America on Monday, Harry seemed to soften his stance on Camilla, saying that he has a “huge amount of compassion for her.” He added that they haven’t spoken in a while, but he loves every member of his family, so they remain cordial. But, while he pulled back from the wicked stepmother comparison, he also appeared to double down: “She’s my stepmother. I don’t look at her as an evil stepmother,” he said, then continued, “I see someone who married into this institution and has done everything that she can to improve her own reputation and her own image for her own sake.”
More Must-Reads From TIME