One single detail between Princes William and Harry confirms that the relationship between the two brothers is worse than ever.
Five metres. By my best estimate the closest that Prince William and Prince Harry came to one another throughout the entirety of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations last week was around about 5m, something I have worked out using the highly accurate combination of a plastic ruler and a 130-year-old floorplan St Paul’s in London. (I’m basically Woodward and Bernstein, I know.)
The moment came at the conclusion of the service of thanksgiving for Her Majesty and as William, his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, their father Prince Charles and stepmother Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall made their way back up the aisle. With their expressions entirely neutral, the royal party passed the second row, completely ignoring Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who returned the frosty favour. There was not a nod or a discreet tilt of the head or any single discernible gesture of acknowledgment from either side.
(If Shakespeare had known that blanking could be such a powerful tool, I reckon the plot of Macbeth would have been a whole lot different.)
With the dust having settled and the Sussexes safely back in the land of matcha lattes and content deals, one thing has become clear: The rift between the brothers has entered a rotten new phase.
What has come into clear focus this week is that this is not temporary iciness that a few conciliatory words and a brusque hug might fix. It is a state of deep permafrost with no end in sight.
It’s nearly a year since we last saw William and Harry together, and in that time the situation seems to have only deteriorated further.
Consider: This St Paul’s moment was the third time that the Wales men have been seen in public together since the nuclear blast that was Megxit and the Sussexes’ Oprah Winfrey interview.
Their first face-to-face reunion came at the funeral for Prince Philip in April 2021, a scant month after Harry and Meghan had painted a god-awful picture for global audiences of the palace as racist and heartless, a TV appearance which was the inside job to end all inside jobs.
After the Philip service concluded at St George’s Chapel at Windsor, the royal family made their way back to the castle on foot. A last-minute change of plan at Charles’ instigation meant that live cameras could catch William and Harry sharing a few words.
Did it seem awkward? Contrived? Deeply, deeply fraught? Yes, yes and yes. But the two princes were talking without raised voices or fists in sight. It was, in short, a start.
Then, less than three months later, Harry was back in London for the unveiling of the statue of Diana, Princess of Wales which he and William had co-commissioned in happier times. The brothers were photographed chatting as they made their way from Kensington Palace out into the nearby Sunken Garden.
Again, the prevailing sense here was that everyone was putting on a jolly good show and once they joined their waiting Spencer aunts and their uncle, they turned away from one another.
Still, the key thing here was, both men were trying – trying to look like they could stand each other; trying to look like they could tolerate sharing a few words.
Which brings us to last week’s events and the one thing that was very clearly lacking – no one was trying.
Unlike those other occasions, neither William nor Harry made a half-hearted, limp-wristed attempt at pretending they tolerated being in the same room as each other. Any lingering pretence was done away with and we were left with the cold reality that these are two men (if not two couples) who cannot bear to look at one another let alone utter a civil syllable or two.
Adios charade, hello permanent cold shoulder.
A further indication of just how bad things now are was that their children did not even get to play together during the Sussexes’ four-day return to the UK. (Hardly seems worth the stress of mucking up a baby’s sleep schedule for such a flying visit, doesn’t it?)
In July 2019, Kate and Meghan were photographed watching their husbands play in the same polo match, along with the three Cambridge children and baby Archie. While the adults might have studiously ignored one another, the former Suits star was seen chatting to her polo mallet-wielding nephew Prince George, while she cradled her son.
However, last Saturday as the Sussexes celebrated their daughter Lilibet’s first birthday (the couple having co-opted the Queen’s childhood nickname in an ostensible gesture of affection) the Cambridges were hundreds of kilometres away in Cardiff for an official engagement.
According to Page Six, Harry and Meghan had invited the Cambridges to Lili’s bash “as an olive branch” but “to no avail” which feels a tad disingenuous. The key information missing here is whether this “olive branch” was extended before or after May 30, when it had been announced that William and Kate would be spending that particular day in Wales on Jubilee business. (Inviting someone to an event you know they can’t make it, if that was the case here, is hardly a real overture now, is it?)
A UK-based royal insider told Page Six: “Things are still fraught. William is still wary of spending any time alone with Harry as you never quite know what may be reported back afterwards.”
Which would seem to be a legitimate concern. Last year, as jaws were being picked up off floors in the days after the Oprah interview, the TV titan’s best friend Gayle King revealed on CBS This Morning that she had spoken to the Sussexes, saying: “Harry has talked to his brother and he has talked to his father, too. The word I was given was those conversations were not productive.”
So, if William doesn’t want details of any big family conversations to end up on American breakfast TV, could you blame him?
Up until the Jubilee, there were still claims circulating that William and Harry were attempting to patch things up, even if it was just for the greater regal good. In late May, the Mirror reported that the brothers had been FaceTiming to “rebond,” a process that sounds like it should involve a shaman, a smattering of crystals and a smudging stick.
Clearly there might have been some magical thinking involved here.
At this point in time, if the death of their adored grandfather, the memory of their mother and their mutual respect for their grandmother can’t get William and Harry back on even shaky speaking terms, then what, if anything, will?
An unknown, possible factor in all of this could be Harry’s forthcoming memoir. Despite having no title or release date, this book, for which Harry was paid a reported $27 million advance, is hanging like a sword of Damocles over the royal house.
Might William be staying away to ensure he does not provide his brother with any new material? (All the gory details of a punch up on the Frogmore Cottage lawn would really help shift some copies.) Or, might he have an inkling of what family dirty laundry Harry could be getting ready to air and consequently has no interest in making nice?
Whatever the reason, it’s damn sad.
One charming, heartstring-tugging theme of the Jubilee weekend was just how genuinely the Windsors seem to like one another. William laughed with Camilla during the Saturday concert, Princess Beatrice appeared in public for the first time with her stepson Wolfie, the Tindall, Phillips and Cambridge cousins all sweetly gadded about the place and the Queen cracked one of her rare smiles at the monkeying around of her great-grandson Prince Louis.
It was an intergenerational, intra-Windsor love-in with the only people missing, out of dozens, being the Sussexes.
Sadly, what seems clear is that we have entered a new royal ice age. Here’s hoping that maybe, somehow things turn out better than they did for the woolly mammoth.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.