Daniela Elser: Prince William has had a sneaky go at Prince Harry during a high-profile speech at church

OPINION:

Church-related goings on don’t crop up very often in the royal world. Corgi-related news? Roiling global scandals? Emotional TV tell-alls? Yes, yes and yes. But anything with the whiff of the doctrinal? Not so much.

But then, things have not been normal or usual for the House of Windsor for a very long time now, which is why Prince William’s speech to the Church of Scotland over the weekend is particularly eyebrow raising.

See, the future king and lifelong sensible jumper proponent William is north of the border right now, having headed to Scotland on Friday, UK time, to assume his role as Lord High Commissioner of the church’s General Assembly in Edinburgh. His appointment to represent Her Majesty this year, which has formerly been held by Prince Edward and Princess Anne, is a red letter day as he wends his way towards the throne. (He was first appointed last year but COVID got in the way.)

Addressing the general assembly, William delivered a touching speech, saying that the country held both his happiest and saddest memories. He told the audience that the countryside had provided “comfort and solace” for him during the “dark days of grief” after finding out about his mother’s death while at the Queen’s Scottish estate, Balmoral.

There were decidedly joyful memories there for him too, saying the country held memories “of great joy” because “the town where you met your future wife holds a very special place in your heart”.

Awww, be still all of our cold, cynical hearts.

However where things got particularly knotty was his decision to paint a tender and charming vision of childhood, a vision that just happened to contradict part of his brother Prince Harry’s latest attack on the palace.

William said: “As I grew up I saw how my grandmother relishes every minute she spends here and my father is never happier than in walking among the hills.

“My childhood was full of holidays having fun in the fresh air, swimming in lochs, family barbecues with my grandfather in command, and yes the odd midge.”

All of which makes growing up in the royal family sound like some sort of kilt-adjacent version of The Brady Bunch, just a happy gaggle of HRHs enjoying burnt snags amid the heather and goosebump-inducing dips in icy black water.

And, all of which matters a great deal because this image stands in total defiant contrast to his brother Prince Harry’s recent outpourings about his childhood which have painted growing up in the bosom of the crown as a brutal, emotionally scarring experience.

Prince Harry offers up different version of his childhood

Last week, Harry accused the royal family of “total neglect” and of “bullying him into silence” as his first TV series, The Me You Can’t See was finally released after two years in the making. Speaking to co-producer Oprah Winfrey, Harry also said: “My father used to say to me when I was younger, he used to say to both William and I, ‘Well it was like that for me so it’s going to be like that for you.'”

Given all of this, was it purely coincidental that William had decided to use this high-profile speech to offer up stirring, charming reminisces only days after his brother’s latest round of royal invective?

For months now, ever since Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, first opened the royal Pandora’s box for Winfrey, her masked-up crew and a global TV audience of 50 million, the palace has obstinately refused to be drawn into a ‘they said/palace said’ quarrel.

Aside from Buckingham Palace’s impressively brusque 61-word statement and William’s firm public, brief rebuttal of their claim of royal racism back in March, the palace has stayed shtum while they endured the onslaught of Stateside attacks.

Sure, the usual cadre of anonymous sources and palace aides seem to have been hard at work, obliquely fighting back via carefully whispered sweet nothings into the ears of select journalists, but outright press retaliation? Direct, forceful contradictions of the Sussexes’ particular charges point by point? It’s just not the Windsors’ style, like excessive displays of affection.

But, a strategically deployed public jab? What a deliciously effective way to countermand the narrative of royal misery!

House of Windsor deploys covert strategy

While Harry and Meghan have gone straight for the palace jugular this year, again and again the House of Windsor does not wage such overt war. Subtlety is the name of the game.

For one thing, for them to pointedly and vocally contradict Harry’s characterisation of the Windsor life would play into the Sussexes’ hands to some degree; by not engaging directly the palace is essentially refusing to play their game. For the palace to react every time the Duke or Duchess indulge in a spot of their brand of truth telling would only give oxygen to the whole fracas. It would also dial up the temperature and make the situation even more adversarial and combustible.

How much more potent to instead offer up a particularly bucolic, charming and calculated vision of royal life.

William did not have to go down this path to achieve the broader diplomatic aim of this trip. He could have easily talked far more broadly about his ties to Scotland, serving up a nice smattering of platitudes to charm the tartan-loving masses and then be done with it. Instead, he cunningly offered up a competing and heartwarming image of his family’s time in Scotland. (All those cockle-warming memories also handily reinforced their ties to the nation as after pro-independence parties won a majority in Scotland’s parliament in May with the country’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon she will forge ahead for a second referendum on the issue.)

Biblical guidance added for good measure

It is also worth pointing out that the elder Prince’s speech also saw him wheel out Bible verse Proverbs 19:20, which for those of us who dozed through scripture (or had parents willing to get us out of the whole caper), happens to be, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future.”

Hmmm, could there be one particular member of the family who could do well to consider such sage guidance right now?

If there is one thing we have learned about William over the last few months it is that he is not willing to lie back and think of the royal protocol when provoked. He spoke out, denying royal racism in March and then last week after the release of a BBC report which found a journalist had used “deceitful behaviour” to get his mother Diana, Princess of Wales to agree to her infamous Panorama interview, he released an unprecedented forceful and moving video statement criticising the BBC.

As far as works of fiction go, it turns out the Bible has quite a bit to say on the subject of siblings. If William’s Proverbs offering might have fallen on wilfully deaf ears, then let us turn to the Book of James: “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another,” even if Oprah Winfrey and a TV crew are in the vicinity that is, a modern-day apostle might add.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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