Prince William’s Royal Reboot Has a Harry-Shaped Hole

·5 min read
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty

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Prince William used his 40th birthday to let it be known that he intended to become the country’s most prominent campaigner on homelessness.

Wearing the outfit of a vendor of The Big Issue, the British magazine sold by the homeless, he posed not just for selfies with members of the public, but also for an official birthday photo. William in a red hat and hi-viz vendor’s vest was a long way away from the traditional reverential images more usually disseminated by the palace on such occasions.

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Less than three weeks previously, William used his only platinum jubilee speech to call for action on the environment, saying, “The pressing need to protect and restore our planet has never been more urgent.”

And a few weeks before that, on 28 March, another public statement was issued, this time in response to criticism of colonial overtones during their tour of the Caribbean: “I know that this tour has brought into even sharper focus questions about the past and the future. In Belize, Jamaica and The Bahamas, that future is for the people to decide upon…Who the Commonwealth chooses to lead its family in the future isn’t what is on my mind.”

Taken together, these three moments represent an instructive roadmap of what William intends to be as he ascends to the role of Prince of Wales and, ultimately, king: ally of the downtrodden, friend of the earth and modernizing rejector of at least the more archaic anachronisms of monarchy.

Hanging over all these splendid intentions and noble goals, however, like the Sword of Damocles, is his unreconciled dispute with his aggrieved brother and sister-in-law.

On this matter, William has uttered not a word.

And, sitting in their Montecito mansion, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have the ability to lob a rocket into the best laid of William’s plans at any time.

They may be about to do just that with the forthcoming release of a “wholly truthful” memoir from Harry, which it is expected will lift the lid on Windsor dysfunction in general and the breakdown of his parents’ marriage in particular. Also in the works is a reality-style Netflix show, for which the streaming giant’s cameras have been following them for over a year now.

It’s hard to think of anything more likely to make the royals break out in a sweat than a senior insider defecting to the media. But that is effectively what has happened, and so far William has demonstrated that he has no idea how to handle the entire Meghan and Harry debacle, other than to try and pretend it’s not happening.

In the very short run after the bombshell Oprah Winfrey interview, in which Meghan and Harry made very serious accusations of racism in the royal family, cleaving to the family line, the diplomatic denial of “some recollections may vary,” was perhaps understandable on William’s part. After the bombshell, he told reporters, “We are very much not a racist family,” and about speaking to Harry about what Harry had told Oprah, added, “I haven’t spoken to him yet but I plan to.”

In the longer run, however, the ongoing failure of William, in particular, to extend an olive branch to Harry, in particular, looks both petty and potentially dangerous.

Duncan Larcombe, the former royal editor for the Sun told the Daily Beast: “If William wants to be a future king, a great leader giving inspiring addresses about the environment to two billion people, then the public are within their rights to expect him to be able to sort out a frankly pretty minor dispute with his brother. He has to start showing some leadership here.

“Eventually, William will have to pick up the phone. Harry doesn’t have to; he can just be a polo player with a gorgeous wife. The onus is on William. If he really does believe he is the chap chosen by god to be king, then he should be capable of sorting out this row with his brother.

“William has got a lot more to lose than Harry. The monarchy could be lost on his watch. That’s Harry’s ace in the hole.”

The failure of William to smooth things over with his brother speaks deeply to one of the defining character traits of the Windsor clan: obstinacy.

To be fair, the obstinacy is on both sides.

Harry is waiting for his apology, but William’s view, put simply, is that he is not the one who needs to apologize. He is not the one who committed the ultimate crime of snitching on the family to the media. In a recent in-depth profile by the Daily Mail, a friend of William’s was quoted as saying: “[William feels] really, really angry about what his brother has done.”

The striking disregard in which William now holds Harry and Meghan was of course amply demonstrated by William’s unwillingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with Harry during the Jubilee.

The decision to airbrush Meghan and Harry out of the celebrations by banning them from the official key events was of course not necessarily in William’s control (although his success in getting Andrew kicked out of the Garter Day procession shows he does have huge influence), but his failure to offer to meet privately with his brother can only be blamed on him.

The notion that any such reconciliation would have belittled the jubilee somehow feels increasingly like a convenient excuse for the failure of the palace to broker a peace deal between the brothers; one would have rather thought a photo of Harry and William dancing together to Ed Sheeran would have added immeasurably to the general gaiety of the nation and telegraphed a happy message of royal unity.

In the very old days, irritating little brothers of the king were carted off to the tower. George, Duke of Clarence, is (apocryphally) said to have been drowned in a barrel of wine on the orders of his brother King Edward IV in 1478.

William does not have the option of silencing the troublesome sibling who has chosen to speak out against him.

If he cannot make peace with Harry, the rancorous fall out from a vicious family argument gone global will dog him, and his reign, until the end of his days.

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