Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have aced their Dusseldorf relaunch, but Prince William and Kate Middleton’s emergence as the Crown’s steely enforcers shows the war is far from over.
In recent years, observers have grown accustomed to Harry and Meghan’s expressions being fixed into hurt scowls of anger and outrage as they have vented about their resentments toward, and the perceived indignities foisted on them by, the royal family.
So it has been extraordinary, over the past week, to see the couple in positive and jolly form as the stars of the show at Harry’s paralympic-style event for wounded veterans, the Invictus Games, in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Harry and Meghan holding hands and posing for selfies, Harry and Meghan taking part in a Mexican wave, Harry and Meghan giving impromptu speeches on a crackly microphone, and on Thursday Meghan’s hairdo moment (a side parting!) added to a week of warm and feelgood headlines and narratives; it felt at times like the last three years of grievance-airing were just a COVID-era bad dream.
If things keep going at this rate, Harry and Meghan will be doing karaoke on stage by the time the closing ceremony rocks around on Saturday night.
But it’s not all fun and froth; telegraphing that they still intend to remain politically active, the couple staged a meeting and photocall on the fringes of the Games with NATO joint force commander General Luigi Miglietta and other NATO chiefs and their families. According to some, this was an attempt to blunt the impact of William’s planned meetings at the U.N. next week during his high-profile New York trip.
“This is what he has always wanted to do—help people, make a difference, have an impact. It’s great.”
— Friend of Prince Harry
One friend of Harry, who has known him since school (and although they have not had regular contact with the prince since he left the U.K. in January 2020 remains loyal and supportive) told The Daily Beast: “It has been wonderful to see him getting stuck into Invictus. This is what Harry is all about. All his old friends are just hoping that whatever the situation with the family may be, at least he can move on with his professional life. This is what he has always wanted to do—help people, make a difference, have an impact. It’s great.”
There is also hope among some of the king’s friends that a happy Harry might be a less troublesome Harry.
One friend of the king’s told The Daily Beast: “Of course Charles wants the attacks on him and his family to stop. If Harry has once again got a purpose in his life that makes him think twice about attacking him, even if it is only because that image is not good for Invictus, that can only be a good thing for everyone.”
William, however, is perhaps less optimistic that Harry’s renewed focus on good works is a panacea for all that ails the royals.
Indeed, for the two brothers it has been very much “war as usual” over the past seven days, after Harry overshadowed William’s official act of remembrance for the late Queen Elizabeth (by turning up unexpectedly at St George’s Chapel) and William then overshadowed Harry’s Invictus launch by releasing a film of an unprecedented hour-long conversation between himself, Kate, and aunt Anne for a popular sports podcast fronted by his cousin Zara’s husband, Mike Tindall.
If anyone needed a reminder of the total collapse that is now the defining feature of the brothers’ relationship, it came when William, whom Harry called his “arch-nemesis” in his memoir Spare, waxed lyrical in the podcast about disabled sport without mentioning the Invictus Games, launching that very day.
Speaking about the 2012 Paralympics, William called them a “huge moment for disability sport taking off. And it’s obviously got bigger and bigger since then,” but notably said not a word about Invictus.
The Waleses themselves have been unusually highly visible this week. On Tuesday, Kate made a high profile visit to a men’s jail. If her new “butterfly fringe” haircut wasn’t enough to guarantee acres of coverage, the fact that her aides told reporters that her bandaged finger had been injured in a trampoline accident with her kids at their Windsor home made it hard to shirk the feeling that the Waleses were unwilling to roll over and cede the limelight to Harry this week. Don’t forget: Kate is the one who apparently insisted “recollections may vary” was included in the late queen’s reaction to the Oprah interview.
On Thursday, just before Harry and Meghan’s big NATO photocall came out, William and Kate cooked food around a campfire at a forest school focused on teaching kids about conservation. Lovely pictures, and if you were a picture editor, which royal would you put on the front page: William and Kate toasting marshmallows with some cute kids, or Harry and Meghan with a stuffed shirt military general?
“The reality is William can click his fingers and organize a fireside chat at Windsor Castle to bring impact to his causes. Harry can’t do that stuff anymore…”
— Friend of Prince William
One friend of William’s told The Daily Beast that William was above “petty moves” such as putting out a video to deliberately scotch his brother’s big moment. They said it was just an accident of timing that the Rugby World Cup, in support of which the video podcast was recorded, began on the same day as the Invictus Games.
However they added, “The reality is William can click his fingers and organize a fireside chat at Windsor Castle to bring impact to his causes. Harry can’t do that stuff anymore, but that’s the inevitable consequence of his choice to leave the royal family. William is the heir to the throne and Harry is a just a private individual without that access. That’s what he wanted.”
The unmistakeable impression is of a hardening of tone from William and Kate’s court when it comes to the tussle with Harry. In part this is a natural consequence of the changes to the hierarchy occasioned by the queen’s death bedding in. The role of the Prince of Wales has often been that of enforcer, and William seems quite happy to own the role of bad cop when it comes to his brother.
There is collateral damage of course. A report in the Telegraph Thursday suggested that some of the competitors are fretting that Harry’s support of the Games may be behind an eerie lack of encouragement or congratulation for the athletes from the establishment, including senior royals. One source described as a “team insider” said: “The athletes find it bizarre but don’t want to get caught up in the royal crossfire.”
Ben McBean, a double amputee whose courage first inspired Harry to launch the event, told the Telegraph’s royal correspondent Victoria Ward that he understood “both sides” of the argument between the brothers, but added: “Saying that, [the royals] should have just given the lads a shout-out. It’s like when we went to Afghanistan, no one supported the war, but they supported the troops. It’s the same thing.”
However friends of William’s and the king’s dismissed this argument as naïve. A friend of William’s said: “It would be a huge distraction if William were to start sending messages of support to Invictus. Of course he supports wounded veterans, but I don’t think anyone seriously thinks it would be a good idea for him to start sending telegrams to the competitors.”
The friend of the king’s made a similar point, saying that Charles wouldn’t want to “distract attention” and was “incredibly proud” of Harry’s work with Invictus and that Harry knew that.
Neither Kensington Palace or Buckingham Palace responded to requests for comment on if their principals supported the Invictus Games.
The simple fact remains, however, that, to the casual observer, William and Kate have seemed unusually keen on putting Harry in his place this week. If another high-profile engagement for William and Kate pops up on Saturday just in time for the Invictus closing ceremony, it will be very hard to credit coincidence.
After that, the next round of the fight is likely to be fought in New York, where William is due next week to drum up support for this year’s Earthshot prize.
It will be fascinating to see how a reinvigorated Harry and Meghan react to the incursion of a newly emboldened William on their turf.