They were so close once.
Princes William and Harry grew up close, supported each other after their mother’s untimely death, and worked together as their royal duties began: two brothers seemingly united for life by blood, tradition and tragedy.
But those ties are now painfully strained as William defends the royal family in London from accusations of racism and callousness made by Harry and his wife, Meghan, from their new home in Southern California.
Royal observers will look for any signs of a truce – or a greater breach – Thursday when William and Harry unveil a statue of their mother, Princess Diana, on what would have been their 60th birthday. The event at London’s Kensington Palace’s Sunken Garden will be their second public meeting since Harry and Meghan stepped down from their royal duties more than a year ago.
People shouldn’t expect a quick resolution to the conflict because they are both fighting over core beliefs, says Robert Lacey, historian and author of “Battle of Brothers: William, Harry and the Inside Story of a Family in Tumult.” William defends the monarchy and Harry defends his wife.
It’s a question of love versus duty, with William representing duty and the concept of monarchy as he sees it, ”Lacey said. And then from Harry’s point of view, love and loyalty to his wife. He is with her. These are deeply ingrained differences, so it would be simplistic to think that they can be resolved with a snap of the fingers.
But some kind of reconciliation between princes is crucial to the monarchy, as the British royal family seeks to attract a younger generation and a more diverse population.
When Harry married Meghan just over three years ago, it seemed like they would be central figures in the next chapter of royal history.
The Fabulous Four – William and his wife Kate, along with Harry and Meghan – were seen as a picture of youth and vigor that would carry the monarchy forward after the tumultuous 1990s and early 2000s, when divorce, the The death of Princess Diana and the controversial second marriage of Prince Charles to Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, cast doubt on the future of the institution.
Meghan, a former biracial TV star from Los Angeles, was expected to be an important part of that effort, and black and Asian commentators said that for the first time there was a member of the royal family who looked just like them.
But the words “Fabulous Four” were quickly replaced in the press by “Royal Rupture.”
First, their joint royal office was dissolved. Later, Harry walked away from royal duties and moved his family to America in search of a more peaceful life. William went ahead with royal duties, including goodwill events like accompanying his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, to Scotland this week to tour a soft drink factory.
The relationship was further strained in March when Harry and Meghan gave an interview to American TV host Oprah Winfrey.
Harry confirmed rumors that he and his brother had grown apart by saying that “the relationship is ‘space’ at the moment”, although he added that “time heals everything, hopefully.” Harry also told Winfrey that her father, Prince Charles, did not answer her calls for a while.
And then came the real surprise. The couple revealed that prior to the birth of their first child, an unidentified member of the royal family had expressed concern about how dark the baby’s skin might be. Days after the broadcast, William responded and told reporters that his is “not a racist family at all.”
But whatever their disagreements, William and Harry will not show their differences during the statue ceremony out of respect for their mother, said historian Ed Owens, author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public 1932-1953. ”, Which examines the public relations strategy of the royal family.
We are not going to see any attitude or animosity between the brothers on Thursday, ”Owens said. “I think reconciliation is a long way off, but nevertheless these are expert artists. William and Harry have been doing this job long enough and now they know that they have to put aside the occasional private complaints … for the sake of the job. “
Lacey believes that William and Harry will eventually reconcile because it is in their best interest to do so.
Harry and Meghan need to repair relationships to protect the aura of royalty that has allowed them to sign lucrative contracts with Netflix and Spotify that finance their life in California, Lacey said. If they don’t, they risk becoming irrelevant like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who were rejected by the royal family after the Duke gave up the throne in the 1930s to marry an American divorcee. His brother, the father of Queen Elizabeth II, became king.
The idea that they rebelled against this stifling old British institution is very attractive, particularly in America, ”Lacey said. “But there is a point where they cannot go too far, and they are getting close to that point. On William’s side, it is impossible to continue to condemn ostracism, boycotting the only members of the royal family who are mixed race in a multiracial world of diversity, “he added.
The critical moment may come next year, when the queen celebrates her platinum jubilee to mark her 70 years on the throne.
Under normal circumstances for these great occasions, the queen would like the whole family to be together on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, where traditionally everyone comes out to greet the public.
“Who will be on the balcony of Buckingham Palace?” Lacey asked. “That family group should surely include Meghan and Harry and their two children, Archie and Lili, along with their cousins, the children of Wiliam and Kate.”