Will King's diagnosis bring a thaw between Harry and William?

1 week ago 19

Prince Harry in Las VegasImage source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Prince Harry appeared unexpectedly presenting an award in Las Vegas

By Sean Coughlan

Royal correspondent

"Prince freakin' Harry," shouted award-winning US footballer Cameron Heyward, at the start of an emotional acceptance speech in which he thanked God and many of his other supporters.

The football star seemed as startled as anyone to see the Duke of Sussex handing over the prize at an NFL award ceremony in Las Vegas.

After the sombre headlines about his flying visit to London to see his father, after the King's cancer diagnosis, here was Prince Harry in Nevada. Despite the international travel, he was looking relaxed and teasing about American football re-inventing rugby, except with "taking a breather every 15 seconds".

It wasn't only the sports star who seemed bemused by Prince Harry's presence.

At the end of a tumultuous week of royal health news, people have still been puzzling about Prince Harry's transatlantic scramble to see the King on Tuesday.

If you'd travelled overnight across the Atlantic to London, in an anxious dash to see a parent with bad news, rushing there in a convoy from Heathrow - how long would you expect to stay with your family?

The meeting, when it came, was probably less than 45 minutes.

And there was no meeting at all with his brother, the Prince of Wales. Even before Prince Harry had reached his father at Clarence House, sources had already ruled out any chance of such an encounter.

King Charles's cancer diagnosis

There was to be no fraternal feelgood music playing in the background. Such an emergency wasn't going to start thawing out the family permafrost. There were just awkward grainy pictures of Harry in the obligatory black Range Rovers.

"If his father's illness isn't the catalyst for a rapprochement with William, what will be? With each successive year, and each key moment in life that passes, the rift will become more and more entrenched," says historian and author Sir Anthony Seldon.

He warns it will be Prince Harry who will lose public support from this stand off and says he should "take a grip on his life" and not see himself as a "victim".

"The truth is that Harry is a specially talented and compassionate person who has the potential to do vast good. I remain optimistic, but with each passing year, and each passing crisis, that optimism takes a hit," says Sir Anthony.

Image source, Reuters

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The King and Queen seen for the first time since the cancer diagnosis was revealed

So why was there such a short visit to his father? And why did Prince Harry fly out again after a single night?

It's understood that the timing of the event in Las Vegas wasn't a factor in deciding his rapid turnaround.

Instead the suggestion is to turn it round and imagine the trip from Harry's perspective.

He's flown over, desperate to see a parent with some distressing health news. That meeting finishes quickly, for whatever reason, and then everyone leaves. He's in a hotel and no one is rushing to see him, except the press.

What happens next? Well, it's a rapid exit back to the United States.

It's not that Prince Harry and Meghan are hiding away. In fact the opposite, with a trip to Jamaica already this year and a visit to Canada next week at an event linked to the Invictus Games, which he founded.

"I think his quick visit did look a bit odd," says royal commentator and academic, Prof Pauline Maclaran, who has a different take on what happened.

"My interpretation of it is that Harry acted on impulse and felt he must see his father face-to-face when he heard the news," she adds. "We've already heard of attempts at some sort of reconciliation, speaking to him on his birthday, so I think Harry saw this as another important step.

"But King Charles already had his plans to go to Sandringham for a much-needed rest after treatment, so the meeting was kept short. But he did delay, so he could spend some time with Harry."

It's certainly a very human interpretation to think that the King, who is 75 years old, would have been tired after cancer treatment, which in turn followed a recent prostate procedure.

People are often upset and disorientated by such worrying health news. Anyone who has got that kind of news about cancer or illness knows that reactions to such a shock can be unpredictable.

It's also the case that Royal Family tensions are much more between the brothers, Prince William and Prince Harry, than they are with their father. At every opportunity there have been signs the King wants to leave the door open to a reconciliation.

If as well as love triangles there are hate triangles, another major tension for Prince Harry has been his feud with the tabloid press.

It's made even more intense because of his multiple legal battles against newspapers over claims of hacking and unlawful information gathering - he won more damages against the Mirror Group on Friday.

The front pages' framing of Prince Harry's short visit as evidence he is being snubbed by his family has to be understood in the context of the hostility that parts of the press feel towards him, and his readiness to take them to court.

Prince Harry and Meghan have become their own separate front in the culture wars.

Image source, PA Media

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Prince William attended a charity fundraiser in London with Hollywood star Tom Cruise this week

But Prince Harry didn't meet with his brother Prince William. There is no sign of an olive branch. And maybe the huge attention paid to this disagreement is because it allows us to project thoughts and feelings about our own family disputes.

Psychologist Dr Sandra Wheatley says sibling rivalry is no respecter of status.

"It shows how everyone is human. It's rare to meet people who think they were treated equally by their parents," she says.

Big events in family life, such as illness, death and marriage, can also be times when people feel vulnerable, increasing sibling tensions.

"Highly-emotional moments can trigger highly-emotional responses," says Dr Wheatley, adding that when families fall out it can be long-lasting and intense.

"It's astonishing how people can put so much vitriol and energy into despising someone. It's extraordinarily damaging," she says of the most bitter sibling rivalry.

No one really knows what might be going on privately in the Royal Family. Is it just brothers jousting, like Liam and Noel Gallagher - but with crowns?

What is plain is that even as King Charles recovers and returns to work, his two sons are on very different and diverging paths.

In the way that Charles once had to take on more royal roles as his mother grew older, so Prince William will inevitably be expected to take on more high-profile duties as the next-in-line.

It was Prince William who first expressed thanks for the messages of support for the King, at an A-list event with actor Tom Cruise. He is the voice of an ancient institution, while his brother Harry's ventures feel more like a Californian start-up.

Prince William will have an even bigger role with the depleted number of working royals - as those remaining begin to look older and more frail. That pressure is exacerbated by Prince William's wife Catherine also recovering from surgery.

The growing difference in Prince William and Prince Harry's lives could add to the tensions and resentments between the royal brothers.

"Even more than ever, Prince William will be feeling he has to shoulder all the responsibility, while Harry gets to act on impulse," says Prof Maclaran.

Despite what seems to be a lack of family reconciliation, under the surface the longer-term trend actually seems to be about more contact, particularly between Prince Harry and his father.

But talking in public about such building of bridges could sound like a breach of privacy.

And when siblings fall out badly, psychologist Dr Wheatley says that eventually: "Someone has to be the big person and say 'sorry'."

But then she pauses: "But often they don't. Otherwise I'd be out of a job."

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