Feuds: Along with killing small birds by the dozen and appreciating a cracking G & T, the royal family is a dab hand at a feud.
The Queen Mother never forgave Wallis Simpson for ensorcelling King Edward VIII, thus forcing her stuttering husband Bertie onto the throne. It was reportedly at her insistence that the couple, later the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, were never allowed back on British soil.
Diana, Princess of Wales feuded with Princess Michael of Kent during her time, calling her the ‘U Boat Commander,’ a snarky reference to the fact the lesser royal’s father had been a member of Hitler’s SS).
Princess Margaret, in turn, never forgave her Kensington Palace neighbour Diana for her bombshell Panorama interview, staunchly refusing to have anything to do with her and going so far as to, three years later, refusing to bow her head as Diana’s coffin passed Buckingham Palace.
But there is no greater example of the Windsors’ propensity for grudge-holding and bad blood-harbouring than Princes William and Harry.
New details have come to light that cast the deeply fractured relationship between the two men in an even more beleaguered light.
Biographer Robert Lacey, who also happens to be The Crown’s historical consultant, has released a new issue of his 2020 book Battle of Brothers and extracts that have run in the Times this week paint a dire picture of relations between Diana’s sons.
On April 17, the royal family gathered at Windsor Castle for the funeral of Prince Philip. Harry flew in from California, the first time he had set foot on British soil in more than a year and the first time he had seen his family since the devastating Oprah Winfrey TV interview in which he and wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex take brutal aim at the monarchy.
The world – and the breathless media — watched as wayward Prince Harry was forced to return to the fold. Bingeable? Compelling? Impossible-to-look-away? You betcha. (Bet Netflix was jealous they didn’t have cameras there too.)
However, according to Lacey, things had reached such a low between William and Harry that they were unable to walk side-by-side as part of the procession as Philip’s coffin was carried from Windsor Castle to St George’s Chapel.
“William and his grandmother worked out together how, in the prevailing circumstances, he could not possibly walk in harmony with Harry behind his grandfather’s coffin in the way that he might have done in the past,” he writes. “The device of recruiting cousin Peter Phillips, Princess Anne’s beefy son, to serve as a diplomatic buffer between the two brothers had been deployed before — two years earlier at the Easter Sunday service at Windsor in April 2019, after William and Harry had gone public with the news that they were splitting their combined households.”
(Poor Peter. Not only has the 43-year-old just gotten divorced but now he’s being described as “beefy.” At least it wasn’t “chunky” I suppose.)
The world already knew by that point how dismal things were between the brothers – after all, we had heard it from the HRH’s mouth when Harry described his relationship with his brother to Oprah as “space at the moment”.
But to not be able to endure the 20-odd minutes it took to silently follow their grandfather’s coffin from the castle into the chapel without some sort of human shield, beefy or otherwise, to keep them apart is truly a new low.
Later, after the service, when they were conveniently caught by the cameras actually uttering words to one another it was greeted with the same level of rapturous applause as the second coming. (By which of course I mean Princess Margaret retuning to assume her rightful place next to the Balmoral drinks cart.)
The reality, as Lacey tells it, was less than peachy.
While Harry met twice with his grandmother before he flew back to California (and the day before her first birthday as a widow) no such warm and cuddly scenes were playing out behind the scenes for the brothers.
William and Kate, Lacey reports, “told friends that they could see no point in talking to Harry, since any discussion of substance would go straight back to Meghan to be leaked out via Oprah or some other tentacle of the Sussex network that had not stopped spreading stories in the weeks since the interview that the couple’s friends had promised would be their final word.”
The lingering enmity between the couples also became apparent after the birth of the Sussexes second child, daughter Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor. The social media posts from the Cambridge’s congratulating the family failed to include their titles.
When days later, Kate was asked during a joint press conference with American First Lady Dr Jill Biden about her new niece she said “I wish her the very best. I can’t wait to meet her. We haven’t met her yet. I hope that will be soon,” deftly failing to mention Harry or Meghan.
There is reportedly more at play than just how the brothers feel about one another with Meghan having pulled her sister in law into the fray with her decision to tell the world in no uncertain terms that the Duchess of Cambridge had made her cry. In the wake of the interview, the Telegraph reported that William “is understood to have been furious that Meghan, 39, had ‘thrown the Duchess of Cambridge under a bus’.”
On Thursday, UK time, Harry is due back in London to join his brother for the unveiling of a statue they have previously commissioned of Diana on what would have been the late princess’ 60th birthday. So, quite how are they going to fare having to endure such highly public proximity to one another?
Some reports have suggested that Kate might join the men, an English rose awkwardly wedged between two thorny princes. But no matter how note-perfect her performance – and make no mistake, performance it would be – will that be enough to distract anyone from whatever tragic drama might play out between William and Harry? Unlikely at best, downright preposterous at worst.
Either way it’s going to be a highwire act for everyone involved.
The Daily Mail’s Richard Kay, who was the last person Diana spoke to her on her mobile on the night she was killed, has reported that: “The pair have privately told friends that they will do their utmost to ensure their differences do not distract from what they hope will be a moving celebration to recognise their mother’s ‘positive impact’.”
A noble sentiment indeed. But if recent events are anything to go by, can William and Harry really overcome the deep seated hostility of the past few years, even for such an important occasion?
Maybe someone needs to find out quick sticks if Peter Phillips – or even their full brace of all six Windsor cousins – might be free on Thursday. The monarchy finally, truly needs them.
Daniela Elder 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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