STRAINED Prince Andrew “squared up” to the Queen’s top aide during a row at Buckingham Palace.
He stood “eyeball to eyeball” with Master of the Royal Household Tony Johnstone-Burt.
Brother Charles later asked him to apologise — but it wasn’t forthcoming.
Reports of the fracas, the talk of the Palace for weeks, emerged last weekend, without the identity of the staffer.
Pals say Andrew has been under “immense strain” for two months and “something snapped” that day.
It is understood the row erupted when Andrew tried to book a room at Buckingham Palace for his Pitch@Palace initiative, which helps connect entrepreneurs with potential patrons.
He was told the room was not available, which Andrew was said to have no problem with.
But Johnstone-Burt then reportedly began "speaking his mind" about the project, which made the Duke "very cross".
A source told the Daily Mail's Sebastian Shakespeare: "It was like poking a bear. HRH turned on him and accused him of not listening and getting the wrong end of the stick.
"Andrew told him to go and have a word with his private secretary. It was more handbags than hand grenades."
Another insider said of Andrew: “He just lost it. There was some talk a few months ago that Andrew was unhappy about moving out of his apartment during renovation work, but people are just speculating.
“They squared up to each other eyeball to eyeball.”
A friend of the Duke has said of the row: “There were heated words on both sides but it was in no way physical.
The friend added: “There was no apology because there was nothing to apologise for. The Duke maintains a good relationship with the Prince of Wales.”
'NO ONGOING ISSUES'
As the Palace’s chief operating officer Johnstone-Burt is in charge of 250 staff and is overseeing the £369 million refurbishment.
He is a decorated naval veteran and, like Andrew, flew helicopters in the 1982 Falklands War.
A father-of-five with a ready smile, he is said to be a “favourite” of the Queen. A source said: “She loves him and likes his can-do attitude.”
Asked if he was involved in an altercation Johnstone-Burt told The Sun: “Thank you but I’m afraid I can’t help at the moment.”
A Palace spokeswoman said: “Some time ago there was a disagreement between the Duke and a staff member. This was resolved. There are no ongoing issues.”
The Duke has been dogged by adverse publicity and unanswered questions about his friendship with paedophile Epstein, but vehemently denies any wrongdoing.
Epstein hanged himself on August 10 while awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges.
The financier's alleged sex slave Virginia Roberts claims she had sex with the prince aged 17 - which he strongly denies.
Ms Roberts, 36, who now uses the surname Giuffre, had her claims against the royal thrown out by a judge who deemed them “immaterial” to her defamation case against "madam" Ghislaine Maxwell.
Prince Andrew released a statement condemning his former pal, while Buckingham Palace said the Duke of York would help authorities in any investigations into the disgraced millionaire.
The Duke was last pictured with Epstein in New York in 2010 after the hedge fund manager had been released from prison and was a registered sex offender.
He was infamously pictured with his arm around Ms Roberts at Ms Maxwell's home in London in 2001.
She once again spoke out about the Duke last month, saying Andrew should "come clean" about their alleged encounters.
At least five women who say they were abused by Epstein have filed lawsuits against his £458million estate after the paedo killed himself.
All said Epstein used a “vast enterprise” of associates to recruit them, subject them to unwanted sex acts and keep them under his control.
He was arrested on July 6 over claims he was involved in the sex-trafficking of dozens of girls as young as 14 from at least 2002 until 2005.
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