Grief, the Taliban and the royal todger: Prince Harry bares all in Stephen Colbert interview | Prince Harry

The studio audience in New York chanted “Harry! Harry!” Monarchists in Britain, however, are likely to regard the bawdy exchange as yet another blow to the dignity of the royal family.

Prince Harry took his book tour to American late-night television on Tuesday and found himself confronted with questions about a trip to the north pole in which his genitalia suffered from frostbite.

He appeared unfazed and amused by the interview with the comedian Stephen Colbert, who wondered aloud: “No one in my life when I was a child could ever explain to me that someday the Duke of Sussex was going to say the words ‘cock cushion’ to me and it would all make sense. This is absolutely surreal.”

Harry’s book, Spare, went on sale on Tuesday. The publisher, Transworld Penguin Random House, said 400,000 hardback, e-book and audio copies were sold in the UK on the first day alone. Harry had promoted it via interviews on Britain’s ITV and America’s current affairs series 60 Minutes, which enjoyed its best audience of the season with a total of 11.2 million viewers.

But an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS represented more of a gamble. Colbert once roasted President George W. Bush at the annual White House correspondents’ dinner and has built a TV career mercilessly lampooning politicians and the news media.

Unsurprisingly, the host could not resist picking up on a passage in which Harry, 38, describes how a visit to the north pole left him with mild frostbite in his penis that lingered during his brother’s wedding to Kate.

“Can you explain how it is that the royal standard got frostnip?” Colbert asked with evident relish. “Walk us through it. Take all the time in the world.”

Harry replied: “Can I have a drink?” How long have you been waiting to ask that question?”

Colbert said: “Since I read the book yesterday.”

In what is safe to assume is a first for a member of the royal family, Harry said: “We’ve taken quite a leap from grief and trauma to my toddler.”

Colbert said: “Todger. That’s a very gentle word. Todger. Sounds like a nice nickname. You know, my friends, here’s Willy, here’s Todder, here’s John Thomas.”

He then asked: “How did it get frost nipped?” Why did you not take care of the royal jewels?”

Harry laughed and said the context was important. Colbert said: “The context of this is that you’re going to the north pole and things got very cold. At what point did you realize there was a crisis at the south pole?”

The audience roared. Harry insisted: “It didn’t turn into an icicle.” He explained that he had joined military veterans on a walk to the North Pole and had brought all the right equipment except a “cock cushion” to keep warm.

The show also started on a lighthearted note as Harry was greeted by two trumpeters in uniform at the CBS Studios in New York. He said: “Stephen, not needed, but thank you, I appreciate it.” Colbert replied: “What are you talking about?” This is not for you. Wait, out of the way. He’s coming!” Hollywood star Tom Hanks then appeared and Harry threw petals over him.

Later Colbert poured Harry a glass of tequila and learned that he watches and “fact-checks” the Netflix drama series The Crown. But he also covered serious territory, asking whether Harry thinks the royal family is actively campaigning to undermine the book.

“Of course,” he said, adding that the British media was doing the same. “But this is the other side of the story, right? After 38 years, they have told their side of the story. This is the other side of the story and there’s a lot in there that, perhaps makes people feel uncomfortable and scared.”

Harry gave the example of his memories of serving in the British army in Afghanistan. He writes that on his second tour, as an Apache helicopter co-pilot and gunner, he killed 25 Taliban militants, feeling neither satisfaction nor shame about his actions. Some veterans and military leaders have said publishing a head count violates an unspoken military code, potentially increasing the security risk for Harry and British forces.

Questioned by Colbert, the duke defended the disclosure and claimed that it had been distorted by the media without context. “Without doubt, the most dangerous lie that they have told is that I somehow boasted about the number of people that I killed in Afghanistan.”

He continued: “I would say that if I heard anybody else or heard anyone boasting about that kind of thing, I would be angry. But it’s a lie and hopefully now that the book is out, people will be able to see the context. It’s really troubling and very disturbing that they can get away with it because they had the context. It wasn’t like here’s just one line. They had the whole section. They ripped it away and just said, here it is, he’s boasting about this… and that’s dangerous. And my words are not dangerous, but the spin of my words are very dangerous.”

Colbert asked: “Dangerous because it makes you an increased target – those around you that you love?”

Harry agreed and said: “That is a choice they’ve made.”

The duke explained that his motive, having spent nearly two decades working with veterans all around the world, was to be honest and share experiences without shame. “My whole goal and my attempt with sharing that detail is to reduce the number of suicides.”

In the book, Harry recounts how his father broke the news of the death of his mother, Diana, but did not offer a hug. He also shares details about his anger at the British media and his strained relationship with William and his wider family, which worsened after he began a relationship with Meghan Markle, the mixed-race American actor whom he married in 2018.

As Colbert delved into this aspect, Harry joked to the studio audience: “A little bit like group therapy.”

Colbert himself was 10 when he lost his father and two teenage brothers in a plane crash. He has discussed grief with interviewees including Joe Biden and the CNN host Anderson Cooper. He asked Harry: “If your mother were still alive, do you ever think about how she might handle this moment?”

Harry answered: “It’s impossible to say where we would be now, where those relationships would be now, but there is no way that the distance between my brother and I would be the same.” He said he had felt Diana’s presence more in the last two years than in the last 30.

He reflected: “She died at 36 and I was 36 when this all kicked off, as in January of 2020 was when my wife and I basically said enough, we can’t cope, we can’t deal with this, we need to carve out something different. So that was an interesting overlap of time.”

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