In the first part of our serialisation of his new book on Saturday, Robert Lacey – a distinguished royal historian and adviser to TV’s The Crown – told how Harry and Meghan’s behaviour left the Royal Family ‘hopping’ mad.
Today, he reveals how William feared Harry was rushing into marriage and that the Queen suggested the couple move to Africa for a year or two to enjoy time together.
For the last two years of his 20s, Prince Harry’s life slipped sideways into what he described as ‘total chaos’. In his own words: ‘I just didn’t know what was wrong with me… I had probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions.’
At his older brother’s suggestion, Harry went into therapy. Even so, Cressida Bonas, his last serious girlfriend before Meghan Markle, came to feel he was a damaged and self-obsessed young man.
‘No matter how educated, talented, rich or cool you believe you are,’ she posted enigmatically on her Instagram page, ‘how you treat people ultimately tells it all.’
She complained to friends that Harry had a neurosis about the media. He’d rant and complain about paparazzi lurking where clearly there were none, she said.
Meghan Markle, star of the U.S. TV legal drama series Suits, came into his life in early July 2016.
Already Harry could sense in Meghan the quirks and originalities that made her such a similar character to Diana.
Prince Harry was ‘furious’ at Prince William after he turned to his uncle Charles Spencer for help in stopping Harry rushing into his marriage to Meghan Markle
She was a changer not a conformist, who fought her battles with the same non-royal – indeed, those temptingly anti-royal – qualities of his mother.
Sometime during that first summer and autumn together in 2016, Harry introduced his girlfriend to his father and his grandmother, who thoroughly approved. The problem was William.
Meghan and Kate actually got on rather well from the start. They might not be best-buddy material, but they found themselves, sister-outsiders in their extraordinary royal situation, and both of them cool professionals, treating each other with mutual respect.
Each was far too canny to make an enemy of a prospective sister-in-law – it only made sense to be friends. The fundamental conflict was between the two males who had known each other all their lives and had never hesitated to tell each other exactly what they thought and felt.
For his part, William was worried that his brother was going too fast in his courtship and he didn’t shrink from saying so when Harry started talking about getting hitched.
‘This all seems to be moving rather quickly,’ William was said to have remarked to Harry doubtfully, on the testimony of more than one friend. ‘Are you sure?’
William couldn’t understand how Harry could contemplate marrying this still unknown and untested quantity less than two years after their first meeting.
It went against his every instinct – and his own track record. If ‘Waity William’ had taken nearly a decade to test out and approve his life partner, surely his younger brother could ponder his options for just a year or so more?
But ‘Waity William’, of course, took so long to commit to Kate for the sake of the monarchy. He had been auditioning her for a job all those years.
So Harry could not help but wonder whether Wills was really concerned about his personal happiness – or whether he was, once again and as per usual, thinking about the make-up and fortunes of ‘the Firm’ whose boss he would become one day?
The response from Harry was a brusque and offended pushback – and after several more peppery reactions, William turned to his uncle Charles Spencer for help.
From time to time Diana’s younger brother had played something of an honorary godfather to both boys in the years since the death of their mother, and their uncle agreed with William to see what he could do.
The result of the Spencer intervention was an even more bitter explosion. Once again Harry refused to slow down.
He didn’t blame his uncle. He understood why Diana’s brother should want to help. Yet he was furious with his elder brother for dragging other family members into the row.
The fraternal fissure became established. There would be patch-ups and reconciliations, especially when a public show of unity was required. But that anger and mistrust – that distance – has lasted to the present day.
Harry didn’t blame his uncle Charles Spencer (both above) for the intervention. He understood why Diana’s brother should want to help. But Harry was furious with his elder brother
Even in the fierceness of their disharmony, William and Harry could clearly see and agree on some of the things that they needed to do next – extracting themselves from each other’s pockets for a start, and setting up their homes more separately.
That meant the brothers should also split apart the offices they had shared at Kensington since 2012.
Harry put in a request to set up his own office and mini court, possibly at Frogmore – but that was a step too far for both the Queen and Prince Charles who would have to finance the new arrangement.
Harry and Meghan were told that they would have to house their staffs in offices at Buckingham Palace under the supervision of the Queen’s private secretary Sir Edward Young – which was hardly the destiny either side wanted.
Still, BP was the royal headquarters, and the couple were willing to see how things might work out.
The saddest separation in many ways came from the two brothers’ decision to split up the Royal Foundation, the thriving charitable enterprise that they had created ten years earlier to promote their various good causes.
Final Abbey snub – printed in black and white
Twenty-three years earlier, William and Harry had stepped out together – so bravely – side by side down the main aisle of Westminster Abbey, in the wake of their mother’s coffin.
On Monday, March 9, 2020, they were due back at the Abbey with their wives for a celebration of Commonwealth Day – but this time Harry was furious.
For the first time, he’d been relegated to the position of ‘junior’ royal, along with Edward and Sophie Wessex.
Neither he nor Meghan had been invited to process down the aisle behind the Queen, who would be accompanied by Charles and Camilla, as well as William and Kate.
In 2018 and 2019, Harry and Meghan had walked down the aisle in the main procession.
But, in 2020, they were being shunted aside on their final appearance as working royals in Britain.
As now glaringly ‘junior’ members of the family, the Sussexes would simply have to shuffle their way to their seats and take their place on the sidelines.
The subservience of a ‘spare’ could not have been more strikingly illustrated.
Fortunately, however, Prince William had more sense than those responsible for the humiliating new protocol.
The weekend before, he’d decided that he and Kate would be quite happy to skip the procession and take their places without ceremony in the congregation alongside Harry and Uncle Edward.
It was a small but sensitive gesture of peace.
Within minutes of each other, the two princes and their wives slipped quietly into their seats, then sat waiting for the Queen and Prince Charles to process in senior splendour down the aisle.
The only problem was that 2,000 orders of service had already been distributed round the Abbey, explaining that William and Kate would enter and process with the main royal party – and making no mention at all of Harry and Meghan.
So there was the snub in black and white – set out for all to see.
Observers also noted that Harry’s face was ‘quite tense and unsmiling’ – and that when William sat down close to him, he barely greeted his brother.
Throughout the service, Meghan megawatted away with her best TV smile but, as the ceremony progressed, Harry appeared to grow gloomier.
According to one observer, ‘his accelerated blinking even suggested he might have been fighting back tears.’
Raising and paying out a good £7 million to £8 million per year for some 26 charities, the Royal Foundation seemed to embody both the legacy of Diana and the harmony of her sons in perpetuating her name.
When William, Kate, Harry and Meghan appeared on stage together for the first time to launch their Royal Foundation Forum, at the end of February 2018, they’d been hailed as the ‘Fab Four’.
‘I’m personally incredibly proud and excited,’ said Harry, ‘that my soon-to-be wife, who is equally passionate about seeing positive change in the world, will soon be joining us with this work.’
William then welcomed Meghan to the family in a more official fashion, adding how ‘delighted’ he was for her to be joining the team, while Kate backed her husband up with a round of applause.
What good actors they all were.
‘Working together as a family,’ came a question, ‘do you ever have disagreements about things?’
Cue nervous laughter. The two women looked at the ground saying nothing, using their hair to hide their faces – and their true emotions, presumably.
Harry held on to Meghan for some mutual support. It was William who said quite directly, ‘Oh, yes’ – inspiring Harry then to add that the clashes came ‘thick and fast’.
Had these disagreements been resolved? the questioner persisted. To which William replied facetiously: ‘We don’t know!’
It was announced that Meghan would become a fourth trustee, and she expressed the hope the foundation might extend its support to the women’s empowerment movement that was developing in the U.S. from the recent Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandals.
‘Right now,’ said Meghan, ‘with so many campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp, there’s no better time to continue to shine a light on women feeling empowered and people supporting them.’
Everybody nodded approvingly. Yet no one — neither on the stage, nor in the audience, nor even in the attentive and critical Press pack — appeared to realise quite how revolutionary was this suggestion that the new recruit was making.
Because only the previous month a $13 million legal defence fund had been created, linked to MeToo and TimesUp, seeking legislation to discipline and punish companies that tolerated sexual harassment.
Legislation meant politics — and in royal terms politics was simply taboo. It was a total no-no for the British Royal Family to endorse any cause, no matter how virtuous, that could be seen to take one political side against another.
So here was another profound reason for the rift that would divide William and Harry and come close to shattering the House of Windsor within two years. Meghan didn’t just want to do good in the world — she wanted to change the world.
On June 20, 2019, not long after Archie’s birth, it was announced that the Royal Foundation’s assets would be divided. William and Kate would take over the existing organisation, while Harry and Meghan would establish a charity of their own aiming at ‘global outreach’.
The following day, which just happened to be William’s 37th birthday, Harry and Meghan trademarked ‘Sussex Royal — The Foundation Of The Duke And Duchess Of Sussex’.
Sussex Royal was the work of Harry, Meghan and her team of American advisers headed by the powerful Hollywood talent and PR agency Sunshine Sachs — the creation of the amiably named Ken Sunshine and PR guru Shawn Sachs.
Those advisers were on hand at the end of July 2019 when the contents of Meghan’s ‘Forces for Change’ Vogue were previewed – and were met by stern and rather worrying disapproval from the British Press.
‘Meghan’s ‘woke’ Vogue is shallow and divisive,’ wrote Melanie Phillips, leading the way in The Times. ‘Her virtue-signalling is all about boasting. It flaunts the signaller’s credentials as a morally virtuous person. It screams, ‘Me! Me! Me!’
The new Duchess, she went on, clearly did not understand that her new, royal status ‘precludes political statements. She still hasn’t grasped that the role of the monarchy is to unite the country.’
The Sun took up the same theme: ‘OUR ROYALS SHOULD KEEP THEIR POLITICAL OPINIONS PRIVATE.’ It was a formidable chorus of disapproval — and not just from commentators.
Editors had serious constitutional concerns about the monarchy trespassing into politics. Meghan evidently did not know – or did not want to know – what it meant to be a Windsor.
Sometime during summer and autumn in 2016, Harry introduced his girlfriend Meghan Markle to his father and his grandmother, who thoroughly approved. The problem was William
That feeling was coming to be shared among the Windsors themselves – and Prince William was particularly disturbed.
Many of the papers had identified Meghan’s proclaimed refusal to be ‘boastful’ by appearing on the front of her issue as a not-so-sly put-down to Kate, whose face had featured on the cover of her own Vogue a few years earlier.
But William’s concern went much deeper. Money, power and survival. These were basic royal issues, and they were far too important to be threatened by trendy controversies in a glossy magazine.
William had heartily endorsed his sister-in-law’s previous publishing initiative. The Royal Foundation had stepped in to support the Grenfell Tower fire cookbook, administering the collection and distribution of the funds.
The project had been ‘driven by a desire’, as the foundation put it, ‘to make a difference together’.
‘Together’ was the operative word. William did not see his future role as monarch – nor his current role as heir – as a matter of him working to maintain the nation’s feelings in harmony while his activist brother and his wife jumped up and down beside him cultivating political and cultural divisions in pursuit of their trendy vision of doing good. Windsors do not do ‘woke’.
William had been worried for some time that Harry was growing away from him, and this was confirmed when he tried to discuss the issues raised by Meghan’s Vogue with his brother.
As with the brothers’ arguments of 2016/17 over William’s attempts to make Harry ‘go slow’, the details of the showdown over Meghan’s ‘Forces for change’ are not known.
But there was another classic Harry explosion, followed by a further, even deeper rift. Suddenly Harry, Meghan and Archie were no longer joining William, Kate and the other members of the Royal Family for their annual summer holiday with Grandma at Balmoral.
The official excuse, conveyed straight-faced by the palace, was that at three months Archie was still too young for the air travel involved. But that didn’t stop the Sussexes somehow managing to travel to Minorca for a week that August, and then taking Archie with them for a few days in the South of France with Elton John and his partner David Furnish.
‘The Côte d’Azur with Elton, but no Balmoral with Granny?’ asked one former attendant to Elizabeth II. ‘They seem to be getting their Queens mixed up.’