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Once the closest of brothers, Princes William and Harry are now struggling to see eye to eye. Harry has grown in confidence and stature since he met Meghan Markle, and is chafing so hard at the restrictions imposed on him that he has already moved to Windsor and is now contemplating decamping to his beloved Africa for a period of several years.
Whether or not this foreign deployment is Harry or William’s idea, and if it is an exile or a working holiday, is not entirely clear; what is evident, however, is that having Harry and Meghan out of the picture as he transitions into the Prince of Wales could suit William down to the ground.
The sexist presumption was that the bad blood in the royal feud was between Meghan and Kate; the real beef appears to be between the brothers.
“Meghan’s actually a really nice girl,” says a friend of the royals who knows them well. “She’s definitely got a slightly demanding American/Californian attitude when it comes to getting things done properly, but she is doing her best. She is definitely not the type of person who would start a fight for no reason. Most of us really get on with her and like her.”
William’s penchant for jealousy when it comes to coveting attention lavished on others (a trait inherited from his father), is an open secret at court. Personally, it is said, he makes it clear he doesn’t particularly enjoy being center of attention, but he does believe it ill behooves the dignity of the Crown for its direct heir to be upstaged by younger brothers (or their wives).
The fallout is said to have begun after William suggested Harry take more time to consider if Meghan was really right for the role of his wife; another old pal, Tom Inskip, also got the boot for making a similar suggestion.
Harry has reacted to his brother’s disapproval by becoming more unbuttoned, more opinionated, and more outspoken. He’s even making a TV documentary with Oprah, which is about as heart-on-the-sleeve as a royal can get.
Sometimes his outbursts are not thought through, as, for example, when he recently tore into the video game Fortnite. Was this the same man who once boasted he was good at flying Apache helicopters because of his prowess at PlayStation? It was.
The sadness that the public feel at the thought of William and Harry being at each other’s throats goes back to the image of the two young brothers, bereaved at a tragically early age, walking stoically behind their mother’s coffin through the flower-strewn streets of London, their perfectly cut mini-suits no defense against the ravages of sorrow.
For William and Harry, the loss of their mother in such horrendously public circumstances became a powerful bond. Over the next two decades, as they sought to chart a course through the bewildering circumstances of their lives, it was their love for each other that was the one steady rock among the swirling chaos that their father proved unable to control and sometimes worsened.
William was already at the exclusive British boarding school Eton when Diana died, and the year after his mother’s death, Harry joined him.
Harry was an academic failure. He only got two A-levels as opposed to the more usual three and had to endure a former teacher alleging that Harry was a “weak student” and that staff at the school conspired to help him cheat on the coursework for his art exam. The allegations were never proved.
However, he was triumphant on the sports field and loved his time at Eton, not least because of the support his brother was able to give him.
After Eton, Harry joined the army, once again following in his brother’s footsteps.
One of the things that friends say has always defined the depth of the brothers’ relationship is the good-natured teasing they have always reserved for each other.
Ironically it was the British phone hacking inquiry (the royals were among the most assiduously targeted individuals by the British tabloids) that produced some of the most authentic examples of how the brothers, at their fondest, really related to each other.
One transcript showed Prince William, talking falsetto, pretending to be Harry’s girlfriend of the time, Chelsy Davy: “It’s Chelsy here, saying you are the best looking ginger I have ever seen,” William squeaked in the call. “Although you really are quite ugly for a ginger, I hope you’re having a lovely time, I really miss you. It’s lovely out here in Africa and hopefully I’ll see you very soon, you big hairy fat ginger, anyway, speak to you later.”
William may have teased Harry about his red hair, but Harry delighted in ribbing William about his growing bald spot. Ahead of William’s wedding, he joked on camera that his speech would cause William to lose his hair, and his speech included impressions of the newlyweds: a high-pitched version of Kate calling his brother “Billy” and of William calling Kate “baby.”
It was not all fun and games, however; it was William who urged Harry to get professional help in his late twenties as his life threatened to spin out of control.
“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” he told a mental wellbeing podcast. “My brother was a huge support to me, he kept saying: ‘Look, you really need to deal with this. It is not normal to think that nothing has affected you.’”
It was notable on Thursday that when Harry made a last minute decision to attend an Anzac Day church service with Kate (firmly scotching a fresh round of rumors that Meghan was in labor) that the two of them looked totally relaxed and happy in each other’s company.
It was like old days as they made their way into Westminster Abbey, and very different to the morose and surly, shoe-staring way Harry encountered his brother at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor for an Easter Sunday service.
It suits the ingrained sexism of the media for the royal feud to be a cat fight between two ambitious women seeking to establish their superiority.
The truth, however, is that it more likely it’s the men of the house who are behaving like babies.