As a sober reminder of just how far and fast the relationship between Prince Harry and Prince William has deteriorated, consider this: It was less than four years ago, in December 2017, after years of discussions, that they jointly settled on sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley as the artist who would create a statue of in honor of their mother, which is due to be unveiled in less than two weeks’ time.
At that time, relations between Meghan, Harry, William and Kate were still exceptionally warm. Harry and Meghan had announced their engagement in November 2017 and the couple would, days after the brothers appeared on a rainy afternoon to make that announcement, spend a happy Christmas staying with William and Kate at their Sandringham home.
It is hard to imagine Harry and William, who even issued separate statements on the death of their grandfather in April, agreeing on anything at all today. They may once have seemed joined at the hip, but can one picture them now cooperating on something of this scale and with such personal and political import? It seems improbable.
Indeed, were the commissioning process beginning today, the notion of the socially aware Harry of 2021 happily agreeing with his brother that a distinguished white male artist—whose establishment credentials are so impeccable that they include creating the image of Queen Elizabeth used on all British coinage—should be the person to carry out this job would be deeply unlikely, no matter how cutting edge and brilliant Rank-Broadley’s work may be.
It would not be surprising, therefore, if today’s Harry were to feel considerably less invested in the project than the Harry of four years ago did, especially given that his subsequent self-imposed exile to California has of course removed him from physical proximity to the project. Harry’s spokesperson declined to comment to The Daily Beast on this question.
William, on the other hand, is likely to have seen much of this project developing firsthand. Rank-Broadley’s Gloucestershire studio is less than 15 minutes from Prince Charles’ Highgrove home, although Rank-Broadley is a deeply private, serious man who doesn’t hang out with the rich, elite, local set, sources told The Daily Beast.
His discretion may well be part of what has attracted the royals to him over the years: He made a centennial image of the queen mother in 2000 and designed a 2007 medal marking the 60th anniversary of the queen’s marriage.
But there is no doubt that the unveiling a week on Thursday will be a high-profile affair, although the absence of Meghan—who will not be at her husband’s side in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace, as The Daily Beast reported this week—means there might not be quite the media frenzy that was once forecast.
Given that her baby Lilibet will be less than a month old, and Meghan is on maternity leave (although she was hard at work Wednesday, posting a celebratory message on her website after her book was named a New York Times bestseller) this is no surprise—and yet it is of course equally hard to avoid the suspicion that if this was something that Meghan actually wanted to attend, or thought she would feel welcome at, she would have found a way to be there.
But, as has been well documented, relations between Meghan and the Cambridges have been on life support ever since one of the women made the other cry in the run-up to Meghan’s wedding (the details of who did the crying and who induced the tears are a matter of dispute). Meghan’s accusations of racist behavior by the royals in her interview with Oprah infuriated William, who told reporters that the Windsors are “very much not a racist family.” However, the royals have also not responded to Meghan’s allegations—about an allegedly racist family member, and being left to fend for herself when she felt suicidal—in full.
There had of course been great hopes that the birth of Meghan and Harry’s second child would precipitate a thawing of relations, however any such predictions have proved to be wide of the mark. Relations between the California and Windsor branches of the royal family have in fact plummeted to new depths amidst a row about whether or not Harry and Meghan sought the queen’s permission to name their child after her. They say they did; her advisers have briefed the media that they did not.
It seems unlikely that the unveiling of a statue of Diana, who, like her youngest son, went to war with the royal establishment, will catalyze reconciliation if the birth of their baby couldn’t. Nevertheless, just as there was at the time of the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, there will be an enormous amount of pressure on Harry, Charles, William and the queen to meet and thrash out their differences.
This time around, with many COVID restrictions now relaxed, if those meetings don’t happen, everybody concerned will have far less convincing alibis. Although restrictions have not been eased to the same extent as they have in the United States, there is certainly less excuse not to see your family on a flying visit home than there was two months ago.
All of this leaves the family and Harry with a delicate tightrope to walk as they face into their most public tête-à-tête in several years, and certainly the most emotionally charged public event since Harry and Meghan took their to step back from the royal family.
Get it right, find space for Harry and William to give each other a smile and maybe a hug in remembrance of their mother, and there is a realistic possibility that the Windsors and the Sussexes manage to tamp down the feud narrative for the summer, perhaps creating space in which a new accommodation can be reached.
But if the ice still can’t be melted, then the statue of Diana, a global icon of compassion and understanding, may well end up being associated with the onset of a brutal fraternal permafrost.