The Duchess of Sussex switched on a Hollywood beam as she walked into Westminster Abbey alongside Prince Harry and issued the sort of instruction any wife might give her husband before a tense family reunion. ‘Big smiles,’ Meghan urged.
The moment, revealed by a lip-reader who studied the footage for The Mail on Sunday, was telling. This, after all, was the last official engagement that Harry would perform as a working member of the Royal Family. A little warmth might have seemed appropriate.
Yet on Monday, the Duke could barely manage even that. And if there was any lingering confusion over how just Harry and his brother William were getting on, their awkward greeting in front of the television cameras at the Abbey said it all. From Harry, there was just a brief, tight-lipped smile.
Those close to the brothers say things between them are worse than ever. William is said to feel insulted by his brother’s recent comments, including the stream of remarks on Harry and Meghan’s Sussex Royal website, which many have taken as implied criticisms of the Royal Family. William feels his brother has ‘disrespected’ the institution of the monarchy and – most woundingly of all – their grandmother the Queen.
Outspoken, ambitious and apparently determined to have her own way, it might seem easy to blame Meghan for the disintegration of Harry’s bond with William. Yet the truth is both more complicated and much closer to home
Harry, too, is profoundly unhappy, believing he has been cut adrift by his own relatives, convinced that his wife was not made sufficiently welcome, and feeling that his own work has been seen as less important than that of his elder brother. Harry is even said to believe that his infant son Archie has been abandoned by The Firm.
It seems that whatever has gone wrong between the brothers is likely to dog their relationship for some time to come.
Outspoken, ambitious and apparently determined to have her own way, it might seem easy to blame Meghan for the disintegration of Harry’s bond with William. Yet the truth is both more complicated and much closer to home. For the brothers, once as close as it was possible to be, have been drifting apart since Harry’s Army career was brought to a premature close. And, on Harry’s part at least, the anger has been mounting.
Palace aides had hoped that January’s Sandringham summit – the crisis meeting about Harry’s future staged at the Queen’s Norfolk estate – had cleared the air between them. But any hopes of a reconciliation have died.
Those close to the brothers say things between them are worse than ever. William feels his brother has ‘disrespected’ the institution of the monarchy and – most woundingly of all – their grandmother the Queen
Harry, who found his time in the Army fulfilling, has made no secret that he struggled to adapt to civilian life after leaving in 2015. Two years later, in an eerily prescient interview, the Prince admitted to The Mail on Sunday that he had contemplated leaving The Firm. ‘I felt I wanted out but then decided to stay in and work out a role for myself,’ he said then.
Unable to find a new job suitable for a Prince, Harry is even said to have considered working as a firefighter or a rugby coach.
He was growing increasingly irritated, meanwhile, at life on the Royal front line, despite public admiration for the work he undertook with William and Kate. Royal sources say that behind the walls of Kensington Palace, Harry felt he was becoming a third wheel in their shared charitable foundation.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (right) sit with the Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, during the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on March 9
William and Kate leave after attending the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London, Monday, March 9
He played a prominent role when the young Royals launched their mental health initiative, Heads Together, in 2016 and filmed a documentary about its work, for example. But in Harry’s mind, he was not an equal partner.
One source says: ‘It didn’t help that whenever he asked the shared staff at Kensington Palace to do something, they were often busy with ‘more important’ work for the Duke of Cambridge, who, after all, will one day be King.’
The Mail on Sunday understands there were also heated debates between William and Harry about their differing approaches to conservation work, a major strand of their charitable foundation.
‘They are both very passionate about conservation,’ says the source. ‘But they have very different views on how you protect wildlife in Africa. William thinks the focus should be on community-led initiatives. He thinks you have to teach local communities how to value the wildlife and ensure the local population are empowered to protect the land. Harry believes in a more hands-on approach to genuinely protect areas.’
When Meghan first joined the gang, it looked as though she might slot straight into life as part of the ‘Fab Four’.
Three months before their wedding in 2018, Meghan appeared alongside Harry, William and Kate as they outlined their vision for their shared charitable foundation in their first official public appearance as a quartet. Young, beautiful and full of enthusiasm, most saw her as a welcome addition to a stuffy institution and it was hoped this would be the start of a powerful union between the households.
The Royal couples attend the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on March 9. Meghan’s many ideas for projects bamboozled Palace aides, who were not used to this new way of operating, with early-morning emails and a non-stop stream of suggestions and requests
The result was quite different. Far from bringing the brothers together, it seems Meghan’s arrival only exacerbated Harry’s fears that his work, and now that of his fiancee – a self-styled activist and campaigner – was not being taken as seriously as that of his brother. Some suggest that Meghan encouraged Harry to believe his feelings of disquiet were not only legitimate but should be acted upon.
Meghan’s many ideas for projects bamboozled Palace aides, who were not used to this new way of operating, with early-morning emails and a non-stop stream of suggestions and requests.
One aide described it as a ‘different type of work culture that no one was prepared for’.
Then, when it became clear that Harry wanted to marry Meghan, William decided to remind his younger brother of their mother’s advice not to marry in haste.
‘You haven’t known her very long. Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?’ William asked.
It didn’t go down well. No doubt it was the result of brotherly concern but to Harry, William’s apparent doubts – delivered in this way – were overbearing and patronising. How could William, who by then had two children, begrudge him this happiness?
The rapidly cooling relationship became glacial following an incident in which Kate was reportedly left in tears amid wedding preparations concerning the bridesmaids. It was, apparently, more than William could bear.
Next, apparently feeling that they were little more than tenants in a Palace dominated by the Cambridges, the newly married Sussexes established their own office with a separate staff based in Buckingham Palace. Then, in April last year, they moved out altogether, to Frogmore Cottage at Windsor. Until this point, talk of the rift had been little more than speculation, among the public at least. But when Harry and Meghan gave an interview to ITN’s Tom Bradby during their South African tour last October, the truth was out in the open.
Meghan told the world she was ‘not really OK’, while Harry said that the death of his mother was a ‘wound that festers’. Of his relationship with his brother, Harry admitted the pair were ‘certainly on different paths’, adding: ‘We don’t see as much of each other as we used to because we are so busy but I love him dearly and the majority of stuff is created out of nothing.
‘As brothers, you have good days, you have bad days.’
Back in Britain, meanwhile, William had been steadily growing in status, attending meetings with the Queen and Prince Charles to discuss the great transition – when William will become Prince of Wales and assume control of the Duchy of Cornwall estate. Harry’s presence was rarely required at these conferences.
William had studied agriculture and would receive briefings on running the 130,000-acre Duchy that has an annual income of £24 million. No doubt it was also a reminder to Harry that the Duchy estate would make William a very wealthy man, while Harry would be reliant on a less generous income. ‘When Harry gave the interview about being on a different path to his brother, I don’t think anyone in the Palace was surprised,’ an aide says.
‘One [brother] is going to be King and the other is not and therefore has to figure out what that [life] looks like.’
Another Royal source says: ‘It didn’t help that William never let Harry forget which of them was going to be King.’
NOT that this should be taken as a sign that Harry was jealous, or had ever wanted to take on the mantle of monarch. This was a far more domestic slight – the younger brother forced to watch redundantly from the sidelines as his older sibling gets all the attention.
The Royal couples attend the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on March 9. Meghan told the world she was ‘not really OK’, while Harry said that the death of his mother was a ‘wound that festers’
It perhaps didn’t help that the Prince of Wales told documentary makers last autumn that he was ‘touched’ that William had taken such an interest in the Duchy. ‘When I saw it, I couldn’t believe it,’ Charles said in the ITV documentary to mark five decades of work as the Duke of Cornwall.
‘I was deeply touched and moved by what he said. It practically reduced me to tears because I suddenly thought, “Well, just hearing that from him has made the last 50 years worthwhile.” ‘
Harry, always looking for recognition, had no such tearful moment of fatherly affection, and talk of a slimmed-down Royal Family, which would focus on the direct heirs to the throne, would have left him feeling further isolated.
So when there wasn’t a photograph of the Sussexes on the table behind the Queen during her 2019 Christmas message – when there had been during her message the previous year – it must have been galling.
A month later, a photograph was released by the Queen to mark the new decade, showing her posing with her three direct heirs: the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George. Once again, there was no place for Harry. Within days, the Sussexes had released their statement that they were looking to step back from full-time roles within the family.
A source close to the family says: ‘Harry has always been looking for signs that he belongs, but soon all he could see – I think wrongly – were signs that told him he wasn’t needed. He should have taken his father’s advice and stayed in the military. Leaving the Army was the worst thing he could have done.’
Shocked by Meghan and Harry’s desire to break away from the family, William reportedly told a friend: ‘I’ve put my arm around my brother all our lives and I can’t do that any more – we’re separate entities. I’m sad about that. All we can do, and all I can do, is try to support them and hope that the time comes when we’re all singing from the same page. I want everyone to play on the team.’
In the Sussexes’ farewell visit to Britain last week, Harry showed no signs of relief or excitement that he was heading off to start a new life. If anything, the casual observer may well have come to the conclusion that the Windsor rebel is left in turmoil, wondering if he has done the right thing.
And that must have crossed his mind again when he found himself the butt of a rather cruel prank last week.
Harry, believing he was having a telephone conversation with environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg and her father, was tricked into revealing his private turmoil. In fact, he was talking to Russian pranksters, who later released an embarrassing recording of the call online. It made for toe-curling listening, particularly for Harry’s immediate family.
He told the Russians that his decade of military service had made him ‘more normal than my family would like to believe’.
As desperate as Harry is to prove to his family that he can make his own way in the world, the timing could hardly have been worse.
And as for William’s reaction, we can only imagine.
Normally, the Palace would vet any requests for phone calls but in this case – as an aide was quick to point out – officials had played no part at all.
When, at the end of the month, the Sussexes finally cut their official ties, it is understood there will be a handover period of a few months. During that time, according to an aide, ‘a small team’ from the Palace – paid for privately – will keep in touch with the Sussexes. But it will not be a dedicated official role, which only seems to emphasise Harry’s vulnerability.
He doesn’t even have his brother by his side. Indeed, they barely speak. ‘I’m sure they will be reconciled eventually but at the moment it’s raw,’ says a source. ‘It will take a long time to heal. I can’t see a way forward now.’
And with the Atlantic Ocean now between them, they won’t get many opportunities to put that right.