Royal rift: why are William and Harry on 'different paths'?
During Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, there was one moment that stood out to viewers watching at home: the shot of the little heartbroken princes William and Harry walking behind their mother’s coffin, accompanied by their father Prince Charles, uncle Earl Spencer and grandfather Prince Philip.
The brothers, then aged just 15 and 12, were growing up together in the public eye, and here they mourned their mother under the full glare of the spotlight. That shared tragedy strengthened their bond, and in the years since, the two have had to navigate that grief and the rest of their lives in front of a global audience.
No one else can understand that experience, something both William and Harry have acknowledged.
In 2017, William said: “We have been brought closer together because of the circumstances… we are uniquely bonded because of what we’ve been through.”
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So it was with sadness that fans of the royal family read reports of a rift between the brothers last year. And on Sunday night, Harry addressed the rumours for the first time during his candid ITV documentary, Harry and Meghan: An African Journey.
“There’s been a lot of talk in the press about rifts with your brother. How much of that is true?” asked journalist Tom Bradby.
Harry laughed before responding: “Part of this role, part of this job and being part of this family, being under the pressure which it’s under, inevitably stuff happens. But we’re brothers, we’ll always be brothers.
“We’re certainly on different paths at the moment, but I will always be there for him and I know he’ll always be there for me.”
He added: “We don’t see each other as much as we used to because we’re so busy, but I love him dearly and, well, the majority of the stuff is created out of nothing. As brothers, you have good days and you have bad days.”
Tales of a rift stretch back to before Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle in 2018. The media pointed to friction between his bride-to-be and his sister-in-law Kate Middleton at a bridesmaid’s dress fitting for Princess Charlotte, a story that was soon inflated into a full-blown royal catfight.
But later reports revealed that the tension was between the brothers, not their wives — a conflict which allegedly began in 2016 after William was first introduced to Meghan while she was staying at Kensington Palace, where Harry was living next door to the Cambridges.
Following Meghan’s visit, William reportedly sat Harry down and warned him that they didn’t know about his new love’s “background” and her “intentions”, according to the Sun. Harry, apparently hurt that he didn’t have William’s full support, is said to have “accused his brother of trying to finish his romance before it had begun”.
Some accounts suggest William has felt threatened by Harry and Meghan’s soaring profile, with commentators speculating he got his drastic buzzcut to ensure more coverage ahead of a solo engagement that coincided with the Sussexes’ trip to Cardiff.
If true, it wouldn’t even be the pettiest example of sibling rivalry between the two — this summer, William and his family were conveniently photographed lugging their bags across the tarmac to catch a budget flight to Scotland the very same week that his brother faced a storm of criticism over his use of private jets.
The rumours of a divide were intensified by the news last year that the Cambridges and the Sussexes were to separate their “courts” (that’s “offices” to the rest of us). Harry and Meghan would establish their own communications team and get a dedicated staff based in Buckingham Palace, not Kensington Palace.
They made it official by setting up the @SussexRoyal Instagram account, after previously sharing an account with the Cambridges under the handle @KensingtonRoyal.
Royal fans were surprised, too, by the announcement that Harry and Meghan were to leave the Royal Foundation that Harry had set up with William, and which Kate later joined, in order to set up their own charitable vehicle, now called the Sussex Foundation.
When both couples first appeared together at the Royal Foundation’s forum in 2018, they were heralded as the ‘Fab Four’, as commentators trilled that William and Harry had successfully expanded their double act to a cosy foursome working in tandem.
Yet, to continue with the Beatles analogy, Meghan was soon cast as the Yoko Ono tearing apart Harry’s John Lennon and Will’s Paul McCartney.
It was in many ways inevitable that the Sussexes would want to branch out to pursue their own causes and initiatives — unlike the Cambridges, they are not as restricted by the limitations of their future roles — but it was curious that the split was so accelerated, taking place during Meghan’s maternity leave, weeks after Archie’s birth.
According to reports, it was the Cambridges who had pushed for the separation to be finalised quickly.
At the same time, Harry and Meghan decided to relocate to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, instead of taking up an apartment next to the Cambridges in Kensington Palace. Making a home outside London would afford the Sussexes greater privacy and space, and allow them to give their son Archie a relatively “normal” life, yet critics saw the move as a sign of increasing hostility between the brothers.
To some, it’s only natural that Harry would grow out of playing third wheel to William and Kate, and that a newly married couple with a baby would want their own place rather than to live in their in-laws’ pockets.
Perhaps Harry, once the wild younger brother and now a 35-year-old father and husband, recognised that it was time to get out of William’s shadow, become his own person and carve out a space for himself and his family.
William and Harry haven’t been seen interacting publicly in the last year, and when they do attend engagements together, they tend to keep their distance, instead relying on their wives to do the heavy lifting, as Kate and Meghan did at a summer polo match and at last year’s Christmas service, when they acted as a buffer between the brothers.
Of course, William and Harry are not the first royal brothers to experience such rivalries — the alleged feud between their father Prince Charles and Prince Andrew is infamous.
Charles is said to be jealous of the attention the Queen lavished on his younger brother, while Andrew reportedly resents Charles’s position as heir.
Charles’ determination to streamline the monarchy — including the exclusion of Andrew and his daughters from the Buckingham Palace balcony at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012 — is believed to have driven them further apart.
Andrew’s absence from a party celebrating Charles’s life and work this summer suggested their relationship may be beyond repair, but William and Harry aren’t so far gone yet.
Judging by Harry’s comments on Sunday, it seems he has realised that the best way to deal with this rocky patch is to wait it out. He knows that as brothers, he and William are together for the long haul.
Now, if only they can both learn to weather the storm with grace, rather than pettiness and sniping.