Inside a royal rift: what’s really going on with William and Harry?
When they were boys, Prince William and Prince Harry were travelling to Highgrove with their mother, when they began bickering in the back of the car. An increasingly irritated Diana, Princess of Wales, finally snapped and told the squabbling pair that they would return to Palace if they did not stop misbehaving. It was Harry who piped up first. “I don’t care what you do,” he retorted, in front of nanny Olga Powell and Ken Wharfe, the princess’s bodyguard. “I’m not going to be king so I will be able to do whatever I like!” exclaimed the mischievous youngster. “All the adults in the car looked at each other and thought, where the hell did that come from?” Wharfe has recalled. “There was a sense that from a very young age Harry thought he could do whatever he wanted, while his brother had to shoulder all the responsibility.” Fast forward 30 years and the once inseparable royal brothers are forging separate paths. William, 36, is preparing to realise his fate as the next Prince of Wales and future king, while a newly married Harry, 34, is carving out the latest phase in his role as the ‘spare’.
Much has been written about a supposed rivalry between the siblings, as they set out on the next chapter in their royal lives. Indeed, to onlookers, their appearance alongside the Queen at an Easter service at St George’s Chapel Windsor on Sunday – also the occasion of the monarch’s 93rd birthday – appeared somewhat strained. It coincided with reports that Harry and Meghan, 37, plan to live abroad, in Africa, following the birth of their first child – due any day now. In what should be a momentus week for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, with the pitter patter of tiny feet fast approaching, the headlines are once again rife with reports of rifts and tensions at the heart of the House of Windsor. Eyebrows were raised when the @RoyalSussex Instagram feed released seven previously unseen wildlife photographs, taken by Harry, just hours before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge published new images – taken by Kate – to mark Prince Louis’ first birthday on Tuesday. Just a happy coincidence? Or an ominous sign of the kind of oneupmanship Diana was determined to avoid when she insisted on bringing up her two sons as equals? The late princess made no secret of the fact that she lavished attention on Harry to make sure he didn’t feel overshadowed by William. “I have to,” she once told a friend. “Charles and I worked so hard to ensure both boys receive equal amounts of our time and love; others in the family seem to concentrate on William.”
As a child, Harry reportedly complained to his mother “it’s not fair” that William was “made a fuss over” when visiting their great-grandmother – so much so that Diana was forced to confront the Queen Mother over her alleged favouritism. The friend added that Harry used to love it when he was alone with Diana at Kensington Palace. “Once, when home ill from boarding school, he gleefully told one of Diana’s friends: ‘I have got Mummy to myself… and I don’t have to share her with William!’” No wonder then that a source close to both Princes recently told The Telegraph: “Harry has always complained about being sidelined by William, but now I think they see this split as an opportunity to really spread their wings.”
Explaining the recent separation of powers – which has seen Harry and Meghan move their court from Kensington to Buckingham Palace, following the £3 million renovation of their new Windsor home Frogmore Cottage – the source added: “There is a sense that sometimes the Sussexes think the world is against them.” Hence why they are reportedly planning a long stint abroad? Although reports of them living overseas for several years appear wide of the mark, Buckingham Palace has not denied speculation that they are eyeing up a bespoke international role for the next stage of their work in the Firm.
As president and vice-president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, the royal couple are determined to make a positive impact on the world in a bid to harness their star power. But where would such a lengthy secondment leave the Cambridges, Prince Charles, now aged 70, the 93-year-old monarch and Prince Philip, who turns 98 in June? As one insider put it: “In the old days the Queen would have put her foot down. But at her age, and with the Duke of Edinburgh now retired from public life, they haven’t really got the energy to put up a fight.”
The Telegraph understands that Kensington Palace was left ‘bemused’ by reports that William’s private secretary Simon Case would play a ‘pivotal role’ in negotiating the proposal, along with Sir David Manning, the princes’ former special advisor, and the Queen’s former private secretary Lord Geidt, who is chairman of the Commonwealth Trust. A source close to the Cambridges said: “In the end this is what the Duke and the Duchess of Sussex want – they commissioned the work and something for them to work through with Buckingham Palace and Clarence House [Prince Charles’s office]. “Although William will have views, he is not the decision maker.” Another source was keen to scotch rumours of a serious fall out between the siblings, pointing out that they were both “laughing and joking” outside the church on Easter Sunday and revealing that they sat next to each other in the pews. “It was the Queen’s birthday,” added the insider. “Everyone was in good spirits”.
And what of that unfortunate photo clash? According to insiders, the Sussexes’ new PR guru Sara Latham had not expected the Instagramming of Harry’s amateur photography to have quite such an impact on Earth Day – although having reached one million followers in a record-breaking five hours and 45 minutes, they were always likely to make a splash. Suffice to say feathers were severely ruffled at Kensington Palace. Likewise, the Sussexes ‘freelancing’ on the issue of mental health – which seen Harry join forces with Oprah Winfrey for an Apple TV documentary on the subject – has not gone unnoticed, not least as the original seeds for the Heads Together campaign were sown by the Duchess of Cambridge, 37. News of Harry and Meghan’s planned secondment undoubtedly piles more pressure on the Cambridges’ to ‘step up’ at a time when they are desperately trying to get the balance right between their private lives and public duty. Kate’s private secretary, Catherine Quinn, reportedly wrote to a Lord Lieutenant who had requested a royal visit by the Duchess, saying that she was being increasingly “selective” when planning engagements in a bid to be as hands-on as possible with her three young children. That delicate balancing act was in evidence on Tuesday, when William spent the morning having a family birthday breakfast with little Louis, before flying out to New Zealand in the afternoon to represent the Queen at meetings with those affected by last month’s Christchurch mosque shooting.
As William increasingly finds himself standing in for Her Majesty, will Harry – once his brother in arms – still be around to fill the void?