Prince William takes after his father more than is generally acknowledged. On the plus side he is, like Charles, intensely aware of his destiny and a stickler for duty.
But also, like his father, he is thin-skinned, hot-tempered and given to speaking his mind.
Kate Middleton is well aware of how jealous Charles was of the attention lavished on his wife, while he was figuratively (and literally at times) pushed to one side, and this goes a long way to explaining her frequently sphinx-like demeanor.
Kate is determined not to unleash in her husband the cataclysmic forces of envy that helped destroy the relationship of Diana and Charles. So she is very careful never to overshadow William, or suck up what William might see as his attention.
It helps, of course, that Kate quite clearly hates all forms of publicity, and is deeply uncomfortable being center stage. This is not a new thing; she was shy as a girl at school and at university, people who knew her then have told The Daily Beast.
Although she is now an adept performer at the endless round of royal engagements, on the very few occasions when she has had to make big set-piece public speeches she seems to visibly wilt under the spotlight.
What a contrast to Meghan Markle, who, as the world saw this week in her appearance at the British Fashion Awards, thrives in high-profile public appearances.
Although many critics, at the time of his marriage to Meghan, were dismayed at a member of the royal family marrying an actress with a blog and a very active social media presence, there is another, equally valid opinion: that marrying someone whose career took her into the public eye might be the smartest thing any member of the royal family has ever done (and this is not to dispute or undermine the fact that Harry is clearly head over heels in love with Meghan).
But whereas in William and Kate’s relationship the lesson of Diana seems to be that the wife should not be a star, Harry appears to have gone the other way, and consciously chosen a partner whose whole demeanor and bearing, let alone her clear humanitarian passion and emotional intelligence, reminds most people of the star power and glamor of Diana’s later years.
The problem, as Meghan’s turn at the BFAs showed this week, is that it is quite evident that it is going to be completely impossible for the charismatic and contemporary Harry and Meghan to avoid massively outshining the dowdy and reserved William and Kate (even if they were to try, which, currently, they appear not to be doing; for the latest proof of this, see the incredibly cool Sussex Christmas card released on Friday and compare it to the Cambridges' deliberately Sloaney, middle-of-the-road choice).
On a personal level, a low profile might suit Kate fine, but William, with his father’s capacity for jealousy, is likely to be less amused by his little brother’s scene-stealing, and offended on behalf of the Crown.
Jealousy could be a dangerous fuel with which to feed the rift between the brothers—which some sources say is more pronounced than any animosity between the wives.
Indeed, according to some reports the two brothers have not seen eye to eye since William questioned Harry’s choice of Meghan, advising his brother not to rush into marriage, advice which was spectacularly ignored.
It all puts Kate in a terribly difficult position.
It’s hard to see how William can compete with Harry, so the only realistic way for the Cambridges to re-establish their position as top dog is through Kate.
If Kate were to be more engaged, active, visible, approachable, glamorous and touchy-feely, if she were to get some media training and generally act more like a celebrity with something to promote (more like Meghan in other words,) she could certainly steal at least some of the spotlight back.
There are some signs a move in this direction is happening. One thing that Kate has definitely done since her return from maternity leave is to up the glamor level of her fashion choices somewhat. She has earned praise for her high street looks and thrifty re-wearing over the years, but now Meghan’s multi-thousand dollar outfits have quietly raised the bar on pricey clothing.
While Kate has always worn top-of-the-range designer gear to formal receptions (lots of McQueen, Jenny Packham and Erdem) she has toyed with a sharper look at more casual daytime events in recent weeks, such as the outfit by Canadian label Smythe, who created the blazer she wore over unusually eye-catching flares in Cyprus last week.
Earlier this week, on a children’s hospital visit, Kate wore a green, polka-dotted day-dress. The Evening Standard decreed it “the perfect Christmas Day dress.”
And this is not just a battle of fashion choices, but also a set of wider choices in personal presentation, visibility, and volubility. The question Kate has to reckon with is, would an increased profile be worth it? How would it affect William if she once again became the star and he was just an add-on?
It’s an immensely tricky dilemma. But it is also a problem that urgently needs to be resolved if the Christmas truce that has been declared between the two camps—with Harry and Meghan staying in Kate and William’s house—is to develop into a long-lasting peace accord.
And here once again, Diana’s spirit could provide a torch to light the way.
Diana was confident that, amidst the emotional carnage of the royal family, her boys would be there for one another.
And, by and large, they have been.
As Harry himself has said, it was William who encouraged him to seek psychiatric help when his world fell into chaos in his late twenties.
“My brother was a huge blessing,” Harry has said of that time. “He kept saying, ‘This is not right, this is not normal—you need to talk about stuff. It’s not normal to think that nothing’s affected you.’”
Most powerfully of all, the brothers’ strength is that they are united by a determination that Diana’s fate will not befall their wives.
Of the two, William has been more open about this.
When Kate was photographed sunbathing topless in what she thought was a private garden in France, at a chateau owned by Lord Linley, the queen's nephew, William issued a ferocious letter, which demanded journalists pull back from invading her privacy, saying the paparazzi harassment was ”reminiscent of the worst excesses of the press and paparazzi during the life of Diana, Princess of Wales.”
Although Harry did not mention Diana in his statement appealing for the press to lay off Meghan, it was clear she was in his mind when his spokesman said: “Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her. It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms. Markle should be subjected to such a storm. He knows commentators will say this is ‘the price she has to pay’ and that ‘this is all part of the game’. He strongly disagrees. This is not a game. It is her life and his.”
The Sun reported this week that part of Harry’s irritation with William is born of a desire to protect Meghan from criticism, with a source saying, “Harry feels he couldn’t protect his mother, so he’s going all out to protect his wife. This is his way of atoning.”
Of course priorities change when wives and children enter the picture, even for brothers in arms.
Disagreements will arise; ideas as to the best way forward will conflict; but if they are to see their respective missions through, Harry and William must concentrate on what unites rather than divides them. They must rediscover the mutual love and support that saw them through the unimaginable challenges they faced as teenagers, and encourage their wives to follow suit.