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From a close bond to "different paths": The complicated relationship of William and Harry.

On Saturday, people around the world tuned in to watch the Royal family farewell Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Eyes were on Queen Elizabeth II, a famously stoic monarch at one of the most vulnerable moments in her life: the burial of her husband of 73 years. But eyes were also on two other guests, her grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry.

The ceremony, which was held at St George's Chapel, Windsor, marked the first time Prince Harry has returned to England since moving to the US in early 2020. It also came just six weeks after he and his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, heavily criticised the institution in a controversial television interview with Oprah Winfrey.

These events — and some prior — are known to have splintered the Prince's relationship with his family, particularly his brother Prince William, with whom he conceded to have lost contact in recent months.

Little wonder then, that the moment after Saturday's ceremony in which the two men walked side-by-side, chatting with apparent civility, sent the press into a frenzy.

Was it a show for the cameras, commentators pondered, or a sign of a fractured family brought together in grief?

They are familiar questions.

Watch: Prince William and Prince Harry walk together after their grandfather's funeral.


Video via BBC

Two decades ago, the press was asking just that as the family gathered for the funeral of Princess Diana. Then, the brothers were just children grieving their mother, a step removed from the politics playing out between the adults.

Now, they are at the heart of it. 

Brothers and friends.

Prior to Prince Harry's marriage, he and Prince William appeared incredibly close. The elder spoke jokingly about his little brother lurking around his and the Duchess of Cambridge's home, rifling around in their fridge.

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The three were often photographed together at public events and their joint charity ventures, earning Prince Harry the title of the world's most famous 'third wheel'.

In fact, such was their bond that Prince Harry reportedly gave his brother Princess Diana's sapphire engagement ring for his proposal to Catherine. 

Princes Harry and William with their parents, Princess Diana and Prince Charles, in 1985. Image: Getty.

Diana's former butler, Paul Burrell, revealed the gesture on the documentary The Diana Story: "Harry said to him: 'Wouldn’t it be fitting if she had mummy’s ring?' Then one day that ring will be sat on the throne of England. 

"Harry gave up his precious treasure. His one thing he kept from his mother, he gave to his brother. That’s selfless, kind, and exactly who Diana was."

In 2018, Prince William acknowledged that their mother's death played a big role in the strength of their relationship.

"My brother and I's relationship is closer than it's been because of the situations we've been through," he said, speaking at Campaign Against Living Miserably charity event. 

"Losing our mother at a young age has helped us to travel through that difficult patch together. You're like-minded. You go through similar things, it's a bond, and it's something you know you've tackled together and come out better for it."

Prince Harry with his big brother on his first day of school. Image: Getty.

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Harry and William’s public separation.

With the 2018 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the face of the Royal family changed. 

Alongside Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, the young couples represented a new generation of royalty, a modern quartet set to reinvigorate public enthusiasm for the monarchy.

A first appearance together for their joint charity The Royal Foundation in early 2018, even saw them dubbed ‘the fab four’ by the British press. 

The refreshingly relaxed Q&A forum was due to be an annual event.

But in a matter of months, divisions emerged.

On March 14, Kensington Palace announced that the Queen had granted permission for a new royal household to be formed for Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, separate to that of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The 'fab four' presented a united front at the 2018 Royal Foundation Forum. Image: Getty.

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The splitting of the households (which refers to where their staff are based and where their working offices are run from) came with different communications staff and separate diaries, and was the first major sign that the couples were intending to take different paths in their public life.

The second came with the announcement of an end to Prince Harry's involvement with The Royal Foundation – a joint initiative on which the brothers had worked for close to a decade.

In between it all, the four's previously united front appeared to wane. At Easter, they made a by-then rare appearance together for the traditional church service at St George's Chapel in Windsor. But media present reported that the brothers arrived separately and didn't speak a word to each other.

Then came the documentary, Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, and the moment the rumours became the reality.

"There’s been a lot of talk in the press about rifts with your brother," ITV journalist Tom Bradby asked Prince Harry. "How much of that is true?"


A beat.

“Erm… Part of this role and part of this job, and this family being under the pressure it’s under, inevitably stuff happens,” the prince said. “But, look, we’re brothers, we’ll always be brothers. We’re certainly on different paths at the moment. But I will always be there for him, as I know he’ll always be there for me.”

No denial, no official Palace-spun statement. “Stuff happens” “On different paths”. It was as close to a straight ‘yes’ as you could expect from a media-savvy public figure.

Meghan and Harry step back.

In January 2020, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their plans to "step back as 'senior' members of the Royal family".

In an unprecedented move, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex shared their plans to become financially independent and split their time between the UK and North America.

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"We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen," the statement read.

 




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“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment. We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages. This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity. We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.” - The Duke and Duchess of Sussex For more information, please visit sussexroyal.com (link in bio) Image © PA

A post shared by  The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (@sussexroyal) on


After releasing the statement, the BBC reported that Prince Charles and Prince William weren't notified about Meghan and Harry's decision until 10 minutes before the announcement went live.

The Oprah interview.

The couple's heavily hyped interview with Oprah Winfrey was our first glimpse into Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex's new life in the United States; strolling with their son on a Californian beach, crouching in a backyard coop with their flock of rescued chickens.

The special, which aired on March 7, 2021, was also their most comprehensive statement on their decision to walk away, one they attributed to a "lack of support".

The couple detailed allegations that a member of the family expressed "concerns" about their son Archie's skin colour. They claimed that the Duchess' appeals for treatment for suicidal ideation were denied by the Palace because it "wouldn’t be good for the institution". And they said that members of the family and their staff "perpetuated falsehoods" about them via the media.

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Listen: Mamamia Out Loud dissects the revelations from Meghan and Harry's stunning Oprah interview.


Asked how his relationship with Prince William had been affected by it all, Prince Harry said: "I love William to bits. He’s my brother. We’ve been through hell together. I mean, we have a shared experience. But we’re on different paths."

His path is one chosen freely, though at great cost. And his brother's? Laid out for him, simply by virtue of being the eldest and heir.

"My father and my brother, they are trapped. They don’t get to leave," Prince Harry said. "And I have huge compassion for that."

Back in London, Prince William was the only one to publicly address the fallout from the interview.

Dressed in a stiff navy suit and flanked by aides while visiting a London school the following day, the second-in-line to the throne was peppered with quick-fire questions from reporters.

"Sir, have you spoken to your brother since the interview?

"No, I haven't spoken yet," Prince William replied, over his shoulder, "but I will do."

"Is the Royal family a racist family, Sir?"

"No, we're very much not a racist family."

Prince William says he hasn’t spoken to his brother yet but will do and they are “very much not a racist family”. pic.twitter.com/3j0AulDDOB

— Richard Palmer (@RoyalReporter) March 11, 2021

Whatever next?

It's believed Prince Harry did not spend long with his family after Prince Philip's funeral. 

While he was granted permission to attend on compassionate grounds, England's public health regulations require him to otherwise remain in isolation for a minimum of 10 days.

Though no plans have been made public, British media has widely reported that the Prince will return to California in the coming days. 

What the visit has meant for his relationship with his relatives and Prince William, in particular, remains unclear.

But, as with any familial tension, a sudden resolution seems unlikely. Particularly for two men who are the first generation of an ancient monarchy to be thrown into the wash of a 24-hour news cycle, the faces of a notoriously closed-door institution in a culture that demands openness like never before.

Feature Image: Getty.

This post was originally published on October 26, 2019, and has been updated.