The symbolism couldn’t have been more pronounced: One brother, shot by an acclaimed documentarian sitting underneath an oak tree thought to date back to William the Conqueror in the grounds of Windsor Castle; the other ensconced in a Californian living room that resembled some sort of McMansion set surrounded by a group of teenagers.
Over the weekend both Prince William and Prince Harry appeared in separate, new videos, the former taking part in a historic TED Talk discussing the need to act on climate change, the later joined by wife Meghan Duchess of Sussex for podcast Teenager Therapy to mark World Mental Health Day.
Here was one man unveiling a global project that will define his legacy as a future king while the other spoke candidly about meditation and mental health. One project global in scale and hugely impressive in scope; the other deeply personal.
These videos – shot on different continents and showcasing starkly different approaches – could not better illustrate the divergent paths of the duo, a divide that some believe could come to threaten the very future of the royal family.
This week sees the release of veteran royal biographer Robert Lacey’s Battle of Brothers: William, Harry and the Inside Story of a Family in Tumult, a book that charts the fracturing of William and Harry’s relationship. The UK and American press have featured a number of serialisations from the book and the picture they have painted is of a family struggling with not only more plebeian family hurts and scuffles but of navigating the demands of royal identity in the 21st century.
Look back at the tumultuous events of the last few years and what becomes clear is that we are not so much talking about a drama here as a veritable modern tragedy. As Lacey writes, William and Harry are “two charming, talented but ultimately damaged young men”.
While a number of reports have pointed to the arrival of Meghan in the inner royal sanctum in 2016 as lying at the heart of bad blood between the Princes, Lacey traces the genesis of William and Harry’s breach back to their teenage years.
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In 1998, only a year after their mother Diana, Princess of Wales’ death, the younger Prince joined his brother at Eton. There, William, per Brothers, introduced his sibling to his glamorous group of friends (nicknamed the ‘Glossy Posse’) and some more grown up habits.
It is well known that Charles converted the basement of his country home Highgrove House into a getaway for his sons. Dubbed Club H, it boasted a “well-stocked bar” and an impressive sound system, meaning the boys could blow off steam in private. Lacey writes, and it has been written before, that William and Harry also used to enjoy lock-ins at the nearest pub, The Rattlebone Inn.
While it would be Harry who would come to be cast as the “party Prince” in later years, a habitué of London’s most exclusive nightclubs and bars, Lacey reports that the older boy was far from choirboy during those early days and by age 16, William was “already a steady drinker”.
“It was William who was the blue-eyed glamour boy … pouring out the drinks and inspiring all the revels that would coax his younger brother – a full two years and three months younger and still a child – into errant and self-destructive ways.
“In short, it was William who’d been the Lord of Misrule and the driving spirit behind the entire seductive fantasy of Club H.”
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In 2002, the News of the World broke the story that Harry had been caught smoking pot. The story claimed that Charles had organised for his errant son to spend a day at a drug rehab centre to get him on the straight and narrow.
The paper lauded the Princes in an editorial that bore the headline “Courage of a Wise and Loving Dad”, praising his “decisive intervention”.
However, Lacey claims that it was Charles’ former equerry Mark Dyer who had arranged the visit. In the aftermath of the scandal, “William – and also his father – moved seamlessly on from ‘Harry’s Drugs Shame’ towards the grand and glittering roles that the royal dynasty and public opinion required of them.
“Nothing seriously discreditable was ever written about the future William V – the ‘King of the Castle’. It was Harry who was cast as the ‘dirty rascal’.”
Harry, in short, was lumped with the naughty boy tag while William’s image remained unblemished.
While the elder Wales might have largely escaped being publicly tarred and feathered at the time, Lacey pulls no punches in reporting on the 38-year-old’s alleged volatility and temper. He writes that when Camilla Parker Bowles (now the Duchess of Cornwall) married Charles, she was left “horrified by the ranting and raving that William could unleash on occasions against her husband” and that “the rows had been earth-shattering” and “distressing”.
“William would hold nothing back. He could summon up a wrath to match the importance that he attaches to his challenging role as the future king.”
In retrospect, there is a certain tragic inevitability to the alienation of William and Harry. From birth, one was destined to ascend to the throne while the other would be left to exist in a strange sort of royal wilderness, both a breath away from the crown and yet also constitutionally irrelevant.
Essentially, Harry has been forced to live with a certain institutionalised favouritism his entire life, an inequity that seemingly became harder and harder to swallow.
“They always treat the second-born badly, not to say cruelly. It happened with Princess Margaret. It happened with Prince Andrew,” Lacey has told the Daily Mail. “It’s the classic heir and the spare thing. They just don’t know what to do with the spare. And they certainly didn’t know what to do with the spare’s wife.”
According to Lacey, despite the underlying familial issues, things really went further off the rails when Harry met Suits star Meghan Markle in 2016. As Brothers, along with various other biographies and news stories have previously reported, the arrival of the American behind palace gates set off a chain of events that would ultimately see Harry and Meghan sensationally quit.
Lacey reports that while the Queen and Prince Charles “thoroughly approved” of Harry’s new girlfriend and that “Meghan and Kate actually got on rather well from the start”, there was one person who was less-than-impressed by the romance: William.
He had waited nine long years to pop the question to Kate and the speed with which things were moving between Harry and Meghan is alleged to have worried him.
According to Lacey, based on accounts from more than one person, William told Harry,
“This all seems to be moving rather quickly. Are you sure?”
William then turned to their uncle, Diana’s brother Charles, Earl Spencer, to help, leading to “an even more bitter explosion. Once again Harry refused to slow down … He was furious with his elder brother for dragging other family members into the row.”
Once Meghan became a fully-fledged member of the royal family in 2018, things did not improve. While Kate had nearly a decade of an ‘apprenticeship,’ in the space of a year, Meghan had gone from working and living in Toronto to being shunted off to conduct an official engagement with the Queen.
While the palace have just gotten a superstar new member who in one fell swoop brought the monarchy a whole new global fan base and a much needed injection of 21st century relevance, Lacey argues that the pinstriped suits and powers-that-be failed both the new Duchess and to capitalise on her potential.
“If they had sat down with her at the start and said, “Let’s talk about the things you are interested in”, things might have been different,” Lacey told the Daily Mail. “They just sent her off to watch the Queen opening the Mersey Bridge … They made the mistake of dealing with the spare’s wife thinking she was just a routine royal. She was never going to be a routine royal.”
That misstep would ultimately have devastating consequences for the house of Windsor, with the Sussexes exiting the palace earlier this year to establish a glamorous new life in Santa Barbara, far far away from the Men in Grey (as Diana had called them).
According to this biography, in 2019 Her Majesty had come up with a plan to try and address the Sussexes’ discontent by having them move to South Africa: “The big idea was to get Harry and Meghan out of the country for a decent spell. It would give everyone a breather.
“The Queen wanted to offer both honour and responsibility to the couple by handing them some role in her beloved British Commonwealth of Nations – a highly personal token of trust.”
It has not been made clear why this plan did not ultimately come to pass.
When Brothers is released later this week (October 16) it will join the long list of royal biographies that have hit shelves in recent months such Finding Freedom: Harry And Meghan And The Making Of A Modern Royal Family, Royals at War: The Untold Story of Harry and Meghan’s Shocking Split with the House of Windsor and Meghan and Harry: The Real Story. And there are still more to come, with Meghan Misunderstood hitting shelves next month.
What sets Brothers apart, from what has been made available at least, is that it seems to take a wholly unvarnished look at the key players, free from the sort of favouritism that has marred other recent offerings.
To Lacey, “Meghan … has an incredible and dangerous level of self-belief”.
He writes that Harry’s serious girlfriend before Meghan, Cressida Bonas, is said to have come “to feel he was a damaged and self-obsessed young man” and that “she complained to friends that Harry had a neurosis about the media. He’d rant and complain about paparazzi lurking where clearly there were none.”
William’s temper, which hitherto has barely gotten a mention in the press, is highlighted.
It would be easy to write the William and Harry saga off as just another chapter in the soap opera that is the British royal family but to do that would be to miss the bigger picture and the implications their feud could have for the future wellbeing of the crown.
“If this breach between the brothers is not healed in some way, it will come to stand with the Abdication crisis and the death of Diana as one of the traumas that changed the monarchy,” Lacey has said.
“The idea of our modern royalty was built on the idea of these two brothers.
“What you’ve got to realise is that the whole strategy of the monarchy was based on them sticking together.”
What seems fairly indisputable is that no matter what Brothers ultimately reveals about the HRHs, the biggest loser will be the royal family, both as a brand and as an organisation. The inept way that Harry and later Meghan were reportedly managed by the royal machine reinforces the image of the palace as a bastion of tweedy rigidity and courtiers come across as either unwilling or simply indifferent to adapt the status quo for the Sussexes.
(Lacey writes that Charles and brother Prince Andrew’s ousting of the Queen’s longtime private secretary Lord Christopher Geidt in 2017 and his replacement with Sir Edward Fox who, Lacey writes “did not do the vision thing” and “ failed particularly when it came to Meghan”.)
Brothers will likely cause waves when it is finally unveiled and will hit the bestseller lists around the world. Millions will read it, talk about it and argue over it with a fervour bordering on the religious.
The question that this book, in fact pretty much no one, can answer though is, will William and Harry ever truly heal this rift? When it comes to these two brothers, the final chapter in this royal tale has definitely not been written yet.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.