William and Harry: The royal brothers’ rift 25 years after Diana’s death

·5-min read
William and Harry: The royal brothers’ rift 25 years after Diana’s death

Twenty-five years on from the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, much has changed in the lives of her two sons.

Princes William and Harry were just 15 and 12 when their mother was tragically killed in a car crash in a Paris underpass in the early hours of August 31, 1997.

The brothers sought comfort from one another in the aftermath of Diana’s death during their difficult teenage years and beyond.

Harry said of William when he turned 21: “Ever since our mother died, obviously we were close, but he is the one person on this earth who I can actually really… we can talk about anything.”

Royalty – Princess of Wales – Horse-drawn Sleigh Ride – Lech, Austria
The Princess of Wales and her sons William and Harry in 1994 (Martin Keene/PA)

A quarter of a century later, the royal brothers – the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex – are now grown men, fathers and husbands – but their once close relationship has altered beyond all recognition, blighted by a long-running rift.

Harry’s fallout with William stretches back to before his 2018 wedding to American-born former Suits actress Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex.

Royalty – Princess of Wales Funeral – Westminster Abbey, London
The young princes beside the hearse carrying the coffin of their mother (Fiona Hanson/PA)

The duke was apparently angered at what he perceived to be his brother’s “snobbish” attitude towards his bride, after William questioned whether he should rush into things.

The Sussexes later quit as senior working royals after struggling with royal life and moved to California.

They went on, post-Megxit, to accuse the royal family of racism in a primetime Oprah Winfrey television interview and the institution of not helping Meghan when she had suicidal thoughts.

Royal wedding
The brothers at Harry’s wedding in 2018 (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Duchess of Cambridge was publicly singled out by Meghan for allegedly making her cry in the run-up to the wedding.

Harry said he loved William to bits and they had been through hell together, but he added: “The relationship is space at the moment. And time heals all things, hopefully.”

Commonwealth Day 2019
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the Commonwealth Service in 2019 (Richard Pohle/The Times/PA)

William was furious that private family matters were brought into the public domain.

But Robert Lacey, author of Battle Of Brothers: William, Harry And The Inside Story Of A Family In Turmoil, said there were problems much earlier, including in 2005 when Harry was condemned for dressing up as a Nazi for a “Colonials and Natives” party.

Harry was accompanied by William when he chose the costume in a fancy dress shop, but there was no criticism of his older brother in the press, with Harry left struck by his own role as “the monarchy’s institutional scapegoat”.

Royal Visit to Italy
The Prince and Princess of Wales with William and Harry on the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1985 (Ron Bell/PA)

Mr Lacey wrote: “The young prince began re-evaluating his elder brother’s involvement and the unfairness of William’s subsequent emergence smelling of roses. It made Harry feel alienated.

“Friends recall ‘no-speaks’ and quite a serious rift between the two brothers at this time.”

Royalty – Prince Harry at Wetherby School – Notting Hill, London
Prince Harry, five, joining his brother William, seven, on his first day at the Wetherby School in 1989 (Ron Bell/PA)

Mr Lacey suggested Diana raised her sons with a “Talk to each other, for God’s sake!” approach and would have wanted them to end their continuing “social distancing”.

Harry has admitted he turned to drink and drugs as he dealt with the trauma of his mother’s death.

His openness about how he battled to cope and came close to a “complete breakdown” after not talking about his loss has won plaudits from mental health charities.

On the 20th anniversary of her death in 2017, William and Harry were side by side as they viewed tributes left for the princess at her former home, Kensington Palace.

Princes’ charity bike ride
William and Harry in happier times ahead of the Enduro Africa charity ride in South Africa in 2008 (Jerome Delay/PA)

They marked the occasion by commissioning a statue in her memory.

But in the wake of the Megxit and Oprah controversies, they reunited only briefly in the summer of 2021 to finally unveil the bronze tribute, going their separate ways immediately afterwards.

Harry and Meghan are due to visit the UK in September and are expected to stay at Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor estate, just walking distance from the Cambridge family’s new home Adelaide Cottage.

Yet a rapprochement looks unlikely, not least due to the looming prospect of the publication of Harry’s tell-all memoirs, with the couples not expected to spend time together during the Sussexes’ whirlwind trip.

“Granny Diana” has five grandchildren she never got to meet – William and Kate’s children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, and Harry and Meghan’s youngsters Archie and Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor.

The Cambridge children make cards for the princess each year on Mother’s Day, with Charlotte poignantly writing, as seen in pictures released last year: “I love you very much. Papa is missing you.”