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Royal rift: Inside the tumultuous relationship between Prince William and Prince Harry.

“There’s been a lot of talk in the press about rifts with your brother. How much of that is true?”

When ITV journalist Tom Bradby posed the question to Prince Harry in the recent documentary,Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, it was clear the response – no matter the content – was going to generate headlines.

But few could have expected what followed.

“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.”

Video by ITV

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.

The fracturing of the brothers’ relationship is, it seems, more than just ‘press reports’.

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.

A united front at The Royal Foundation forum in 2018. Image: Getty.
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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 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.

Brothers and friends.

Prior to Prince Harry's marriage, he and Prince William appeared incredibly close. The elder spoke jokingly about his brother often being at his and Catherine's home, rifling around in their fridge.

And 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. 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.”

princess diana interview
Image: Getty.
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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."

The source of the rift.

While it will likely never be known exactly what's lead Prince William and Prince Harry down their "different paths" over the last 18 months, many have speculated.

But buried in the tabloid tattle of 'wives not getting along' and 'Harry and Meghan stealing the spotlight', is one particularly persistent (and seemingly more credible) narrative: their different approach to media.

According to ITV reporter Tom Bradby, they men have "entirely different parallel narratives" about the role the press should play in their lives.

"Harry feels quite simply that the press killed his mother and is now in danger of trying to damage his wife," he told Good Morning America. "William has a more nuanced view of that. He thinks that yes, their mother did have a very hard time, but also she made a mistake in allowing the press in and he just is absolutely adamant that that shouldn’t happen and he thinks that sometimes his brother is too open and then tries to close up, and that doesn’t work."

Prince Harry certainly has had a fickle relationship with the media. Both he and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, spoke candidly in the ITV documentary about the impact of tabloid scrutiny on their mental health.

But their efforts to highlight that reportedly didn't go down well with Prince William. The BBC - ie. far from a glossy gossip rag - was told by "a well-placed source" that the Duke of Cambridge was "furious" with his brother for taking part in the program.

Should it be true that that's the source of the Princes' tension, you could hardly blame either of them. They are, after all, in uncharted territory. William and Harry are the first generation of the monarchy thrown into the wash of a 24-hour news cycle, of digital and social media; the face of a notoriously closed-door institution in a culture that demands openness like never before.

As Prince Harry said, theirs is a family under intense "pressure". We can hardly be surprised that something has cracked.

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