When Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, stepped back as working Royals and moved to America, William didn’t just lose a brother, he lost his best friend.
To this day, he cannot forgive Harry, not least because of the consequences for his wife, Kate, and for their children.
Harry’s move abroad means that the Waleses – however willingly – must carry a significantly greater Royal burden than they’d expected while trying to raise a young family who, thanks to their parents’ ever-greater profile, have found themselves very much in the spotlight.
‘We’ve seen the children performing in front of the cameras in a way that cannot have been part of the original plan,’ observes Royal historian Robert Lacey.
‘We know that William and Kate want to bring up their children in relative seclusion and privacy, but the children have had to become a prominent part of the show.’
‘I don’t think the Queen ever truly understood Harry’s decision to leave,’ reflected the late Lady Elizabeth Anson, who spoke with the Queen frequently during this period according to the book
Meghan felt she had not been adequately supported by the Royal Family in the run-up to her May 2018 wedding
If the departure of the Sussexes has been hurtful and upsetting to William on a personal level, the rift between the brothers has raised fundamental questions about the responsibilities of Royalty, about its purpose and value in the modern age. And it will be down to the future King William and Queen Catherine to provide the answers.
‘Megxit’ was a source of particular pain to the Queen in the last years of her life.
‘I don’t think the Queen ever truly understood Harry’s decision to leave,’ reflected the late Lady Elizabeth Anson, who spoke with the Queen frequently during this period.
‘Turning one’s back on duty is completely alien to the Queen and she has been very hurt by it all,’ said Lady Elizabeth, who was a cousin of Her Majesty and known for organising Royal parties and events. William was angry. Charles was distraught. But Harry wasn’t prepared to back down over Meghan.’
Lady Elizabeth suggests that some of Harry’s behaviour had already left the Queen bewildered even before he set eyes on Meghan.
In 2017, when Harry spoke in public about the ‘total chaos’ caused by ‘shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years’, the Queen feared her grandson risked shattering the mystique vital to the survival of the monarchy.
According to Lady Elizabeth, the Queen was concerned that in revealing so much of himself, Harry was feeding an insatiable beast.
‘When I said to the Queen ‘I think it’s no bad thing he’s opened up’, she replied, ‘I’m afraid I can’t agree with you. [The media] will want to know more and more.’ ‘
When Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, stepped back as working Royals and moved to America, William didn’t just lose a brother, he lost his best friend according to the book (Pictured: The brothers at the late Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral)
There had been persistent rumours about tension between the Sussexes and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as Kate and William were then styled, from the earliest days of Harry’s relationship with Meghan. Harry had hoped that his sister- in-law, Kate, would show Meghan the way, that the two women would become friends.
It seems, however, there was a coolness between them from the off – a ‘personality clash’ was how it was put to me by someone close to the Princess of Wales.
Meghan felt she had not been adequately supported by the Royal Family in the run-up to her May 2018 wedding.
Harry’s complaint was still more personal: that he didn’t truly have the endorsement he really craved from his brother and Kate, the ‘sister [he’d] always wanted’, as a source put it.
William did have concerns, in fact – not least that his brother’s relationship with Meghan had progressed too quickly.
‘It’s probably a bit strong to say he didn’t like Meghan from the start, but William had reservations,’ confides one of the Prince’s oldest friends. ‘He was obviously happy for Harry but he was also cautious, as he always is about people getting close very quickly to his family.’
Then, in the weeks before the wedding, came the notorious disagreement between Kate and Meghan over whether Kate’s daughter Charlotte should wear tights with her dress for the ceremony. It was alleged, too, there had been a row over which Royal tiara Meghan would be permitted to borrow from the Queen.
The wedding day was a great success, although the Queen had reservations about the pure white of Meghan’s Givenchy dress, designed by Clare Waight Keller
‘What Meghan wants, Meghan gets!’ Harry is supposed to have shouted at the Queen’s dresser Angela Kelly, earning him a stern telling-off from his grandmother.
Lady Elizabeth said: ‘The run-up to the wedding was really very difficult for the Queen.
‘She was very upset by how Harry had behaved and some of his demands and the way he went about things his own way.
‘I remember her being rather upset by how beastly Harry was being. Their relationship was quite badly damaged by it all.’
The wedding day was a great success, although the Queen had reservations about the pure white of Meghan’s Givenchy dress, designed by Clare Waight Keller.
According to a source: ‘The Queen was surprised that Meghan wore pure white on her wedding day. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but she believes if you’ve been married before, you wear off-white on your wedding day, which is what the Duchess of Cornwall did.’
Keen to support anyone marrying into her family, however, the Queen did her best to get to know the new Duchess. She was aware that Meghan’s father, Thomas Markle, had posed difficulties, in particular by selling staged photographs of himself to the media.
The fact that Harry had not yet met Thomas and that Meghan was still not speaking to her father concerned the Queen, and while she rarely intervened, she made a point of speaking to Harry and Meghan about the situation. ‘It was the Queen’s feeling that Meghan should sort things out with her father and that Harry should have met Thomas before the wedding,’ says a close family friend. ‘She thought the whole thing could have been better handled.’
In June 2018, a trip to Chester was organised specifically so that the Queen and Meghan could appear together on an official Royal visit
On a separate trip to Dublin, Meghan was criticised for an extravagant wardrobe including Givenchy, Roland Mouret and Emilia Wickstead
Efforts to involve and include Meghan continued. In June 2018, a trip to Chester was organised specifically so that the Queen and Meghan could appear together on an official Royal visit. They would open a major new bridge and visit a theatre.
The new Duchess of Sussex was invited to travel on the Royal Train with the Queen, an honour that had not then been afforded to William, Harry or Kate.
The tour was a success, but on a separate trip to Dublin, Meghan was criticised for an extravagant wardrobe including Givenchy, Roland Mouret and Emilia Wickstead.
Back at the Palace, she had been advised to take a leaf out of Kate’s book and mix designer labels with clothes from the high street, and to recycle her wardrobe like the Queen.
I am told there was a fraught exchange between Meghan and Palace staff when she was told that she could no longer accept freebies and generous discounts on new clothes.
Such behaviour would be contrary to Royal guidelines and judged too close to advertisement.
But so anxious was the Queen to include her new daughter-in-law, in fact, that she put Meghan on a Royal ‘fast track’, granting her the patronages of the National Theatre and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which she had held herself for 45 years and 33 years respectively. It amounted to a very public endorsement.
In March 2019, she elevated the Duchess still further, appointing her vice president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust to work alongside Harry, who was already serving as its president.
In March 2019, the Queen elevated the Duchess of Sussex further, appointing her vice president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust to work alongside Harry, who was already serving as its president.
These were plum roles for the Sussexes, so significant they made William ‘slightly jealous’, according to one source. ‘[The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust job] was a role William had rather fancied for himself,’ said the insider.
When Harry and Meghan announced their wish to move out of Kensington Palace, the Queen offered them Frogmore Cottage in Windsor Great Park as their new home. This was not the suite of apartments at Windsor Castle they had hoped for.
It was a generous gesture nonetheless, recalled Lady Elizabeth Anson, who died in 2020.
‘The cottage was a big deal,’ she said. ‘The Queen’s entrance into the gardens is right next to their cottage. It is essentially her back yard, her solitude, and her privacy. She was giving that up in gifting Harry and Meghan Frogmore Cottage. We all thought it was very big of her. She said, ‘I hope they’ll respect it.’ ‘
In April 2019, the couple finally moved in. Then, the following month, Buckingham Palace announced a still more significant departure: Harry and Meghan were moving their Royal Household – effectively their office – from Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace.
The brothers’ Royal double act was officially over.
This was deeply disappointing for the Queen. She had expected that the ‘Fab Four’ would work closely together, bringing both modernity and stability.
There had been persistent rumours about tension between the Sussexes and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as Kate and William were then styled, from the earliest days of Harry’s relationship with Meghan
The Queen had expected that the ‘Fab Four’ would work closely together, bringing both modernity and stability according to the book (Pictured: The Prince and Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex pictured together in Windsor seeing flowers laid in memory of the Queen)
Now, though, the Sussexes had created a new, rival court. There were other clashes, too, between Meghan and her staff.
Her personal assistant Melissa Toubati quit after just six months in late 2018.
Meghan’s direct approach had even come to the notice of the Queen. On one occasion in the run-up to the wedding, Meghan went to Windsor Castle for a menu-tasting and ended up having a tense exchange with a member of staff, according to one source.
‘Meghan was at the castle to taste some of the dishes, and told one of the caterers she could taste egg,’ said the source. ‘She got quite upset, saying that the dish was meant to be vegan and macrobiotic, when suddenly the Queen walked in and said. ‘Meghan, in this family we don’t speak to people like that.’ ‘
Then, when Megxit eventually came with Harry and Meghan’s decision to stand down as working Royals in January 2020, it created turmoil between father and son and brother and brother. It destabilised the whole House of Windsor.
According to Robert Lacey: ‘The indignation of Prince Charles, Prince William and the Palace with Meghan and Harry was over two things. Firstly, the way that they revealed their entire ‘Sussex Royal’ plan as a done deal on their new website when it wasn’t a done deal at all, and secondly the fact that the Sussexes were daring to pronounce on Royal matters that were far above their pay grade.
‘There was a very strong feeling that went right to the top that the only person who can talk about the Royal Family doing things in a different style was the Queen herself, or possibly Charles.
There were other clashes, too, between Meghan and her staff. Her personal assistant Melissa Toubati quit after just six months in late 2018 and Meghan’s direct approach had even come to the notice of the Queen
‘On top of that, the Sussex Royal website was the work of Meghan’s American team of staff. Yet it had been paid for by Charles’s subsidies to Harry. That was a big source of grievance.’
The brothers had once been a double act and then a formidable trio with Kate. William had leaned on his brother for support, and Harry had shouldered a great deal of the burden. He had been an honest sounding board, and loyal. Yet now, in the aftermath of Megxit, William and Kate felt a sense of relief that ‘the drama was gone’, as a source told me.
The Queen confided to a close friend that she was exhausted by the turmoil of it all. ‘The Queen was very hurt and told me, ‘I don’t know, I don’t care, and I don’t want to think about it any more,’ ‘ I was told.
Sadness was not the only response to the split. When it comes to his estrangement from Harry, we know William can be ruthless.
He backed the banishment of his uncle Andrew, for example, and has never wavered in his belief that second-tier Royals such as his cousins Beatrice and Eugenie, to whom he is close, can have no official role to play in a modern monarchy.
There is perhaps a silver lining. William and his father, the King, are closer now than they have been for many years, speaking on the phone almost daily.
William and his father, the King, are closer now than they have been for many years, speaking on the phone almost daily
Charles is often at Sandringham in Norfolk, which means he can see the Waleses at Anmer Hall nearby, while William, Kate and the children take an annual holiday at Birkhall, the King’s private home in Scotland. The King can also depend on his wife. He often runs ideas and speeches by the Queen Consort. Indeed, there are times when she calls the shots.
When Charles became embroiled in the cash-for-honours scandal in September 2021, first revealed in The Mail on Sunday, it was Camilla who insisted he get rid of his long-standing aide Michael Fawcett.
‘She said Michael had to go. She essentially ousted him,’ according to a friend. ‘She was never really a fan of Fawcett and she could see how damaging this could be to Charles’s reign.’
Camilla intends to keep her Wiltshire home, Ray Mill House, which she bought following her divorce from Andrew Parker Bowles, and which has served as an escape from Royal life.
According to a family friend: ‘She worries about the pressure on Charles.’
A fund of common sense advice, Camilla was not afraid to speak plainly when, in the course of a recent visit to Britain, Harry suggested a mediator be employed to help them all clear the air. Spluttering into her tea, Camilla told Harry it was a ridiculous idea, that they were a family and would sort it out themselves, said a family friend.
The Princess of Wales, meanwhile, has notably grown into her role. Rebecca Priestley, her private secretary for six years, told the Daily Mail that Kate ‘knows every decision is for the rest of her life, everything is for the long game’, and Kate’s playing it accordingly.
The Princess of Wales, meanwhile, has notably grown into her role. Rebecca Priestley, her private secretary for six years, told the Daily Mail that Kate ‘knows every decision is for the rest of her life, everything is for the long game’
Recent years have seen her move ever further into the spotlight, something very apparent earlier this year when Kensington Palace released a trio of photographs to mark her 40th birthday
Recent years have seen her move ever further into the spotlight, something very apparent earlier this year when Kensington Palace released a trio of photographs to mark her 40th birthday. The images were confident, bold even.
It’s no overstatement to say they heralded a new age of Kate. Taken by Italian fashion photographer Paolo Roversi, they showed Kate in two Alexander McQueen frocks and in jewellery from both the Queen’s and Diana’s collections. It was a significant contrast to her debut on Vogue’s cover in 2016, when she was dressed in a brown country coat and a green fedora. William had been wary about her doing things that could be seen as too showy. At that time, he didn’t want her to do anything that might be compared to the famously sexy yet sophisticated portraits of his mother by Mario Testino.
If the Roversi pictures showed a self-possessed Kate, they marked a mellowing on William’s part, too.
A former aide says: ‘William has always been very firm that his role is about duty, not celebrity, but he recognises in today’s world that he and Kate can use their global profile as there is a huge amount of interest in them. There is always something meaningful behind a red- carpet moment.’
That is the point for the Prince and Princess of Wales, and it is what they hope to impress on their children. The family already has a unique global platform, and following the departure of the Sussexes, they no longer have to share it.
With many seeing Charles III as something of a transitional King, can this young family keep Britain believing in the kind of monarchy the Queen represented, the one that is a force for good in our collective lives?
Will William and Kate renew the mystique and magic that served the late Queen so well? William has had the advantage of having observed his grandmother at work for decades.
‘He certainly models himself on the Queen’s sense of duty,’ says one of his long-standing former aides. ‘There are also elements of his father’s duty that he takes into close consideration, but the values he most looks up to are his grandmother’s.
‘He knows that the institution has to be genuine, it has to be authentic, relatable, and really make a difference to people’s lives.’
That’s their Royal ambition: to be new Elizabethans. The monarchy is theirs to fashion as they see fit.
The New Royals, by Katie Nicholl, is published by Little, Brown on October 4 at £20. To pre-order a copy for £18, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937 before October 2. Free UK delivery on orders over £20. Or pre-order via http://hachettebookgroup.com/titles/katie-nicholl/the-new-royals/9780306827983/