Princess Diana's Warning Is at the Root of William and Harry's Rift
Diana told her sons to make sure the women they married were "the one"—and William wasn't sure Meghan was.
When Princess Diana died in 1997 in a car crash that stunned the world, all thoughts were on her young sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, who were respectively 15 and 12 years old at the time. The sight of the two bereft young boys in their dark suits walking behind their mother's coffin will forever be embedded in our collective consciousness. In the aftermath of the tragedy, everyone close to Diana expressed worry for "her boys," as she always called them. But they cited William and Harry's brotherly bond as something on which they could always rely.
As William and Harry grew up to be men, that bond seemed unbreakable. But all that changed in 2016, when Harry began to date Meghan Markle, and William reminded his brother of the advice their mother had once given them. "Both William and Harry knew how deeply unhappy their mother was over her disastrous marriage to Charles," a royal insider told me. "She wanted that to be a cautionary tale for them. Diana and Charles were alone together a little over a dozen times before they were married. They both had second thoughts, but felt a duty to go through with it. Diana told William and Harry to make absolutely sure the woman they wanted to marry was 'the one' and not to rush or be forced into anything."
Concerned that his brother may have been moving too fast with Meghan, William reportedly reminded Harry of his mother's warning. According to Daily Mail, he reportedly asked Harry: "Are you sure you're doing the right thing?" My sources confirmed that Harry was deeply hurt and offended by William's question. "Harry felt that William was dismissive of his relationship with Meghan from the start. That never changed, things only got worse," my source said.
According to insiders, having long been the third wheel on royal engagements with his brother and sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, Harry had grown increasingly weary of being the "spare" without a significant other at his side by the time he met Meghan in the summer of 2016. He'd had one long-term relationship (with Chelsy Davy), dated actress Cressida Bonas for two years, and reportedly had a number of flings. By the time Meghan showed up at Soho House in London for their blind date that fateful summer, Harry was ready to settle down. As Harry said in his post-engagement interview with the BBC, "All the stars were aligned." He fell head over heels in love with Meghan in a matter of months.
Harry had been adrift after serving 10 years in the army, the only place he has said he felt "normal." While William had a clearly defined path as future king, Harry's was undefined. For royals in similar situations in the past, this has led to both unsatisfying (Princess Margaret's resolutely unhappy life) and downright disastrous (Prince Andrew's involvement with Jeffrey Epstein) existences. When Harry founded the Invictus Games, it gave him a renewed sense of purpose. It was no accident that the first time the public saw Harry and Meghan as a couple it was at an Invictus Games event. Royal insiders told me he was thrilled that in Meghan, he'd found someone equally passionate about making a difference in the world.
"Meghan made Harry feel understood and important for the first time," said my source. "She encouraged him to stand up for himself within the family and make his feelings known."
At Harry and Meghan's wedding in May 2018, the brothers seemed close, but behind the scenes, said an insider, "Feelings were hurt about various things that picked at sensitivities. There were harsh words and tears at a fitting with Princess Charlotte between Catherine and Meghan, which upset William. Meghan was told she could not wear a certain tiara she wanted, which angered Harry. And the incident with her father and the paparazzi was just a nightmare for everyone. It brought up so many bad memories."
After nearly a year of rumors of family discord, both Harry and Meghan's feelings of deep unhappiness were on full display in the late 2019 ITV documentary when Harry all but confirmed his estrangement from William and Meghan said she could no longer abide by the British "stiff upper lip" ethos. "That was the beginning of the end," said my source.
Then, on Jan. 8, Harry and Meghan made the stunning announcement they were stepping back from their senior royal duties. In the ensuing weeks, "Megxit" proved to be a complicated and protracted negotiation that ended up with neither side getting what they wanted.
The Queen, having failed to convince Harry and Meghan to remain in the U.K. as senior royals, set strict terms in exchange for their official exit. The Sussexes' plan to be part-time royals was nixed, they were not to use their HRH titles, and "Sussex Royal" would not be allowed to be used in their quest for "financial independence."
In the end, an insider told me Harry felt "pushed out," while William was "furious" about the way his brother and sister-in-law "disrespected the Queen" and "behaved like celebrities instead of royals."
"Harry and William could not be further apart in every way now," my source concluded. "It's a stunning turn of events. Diana knew it was important for William and Harry to be there for each other because they both were facing enormous responsibilities as senior members of the royal family as they grew up and became men. She wanted nothing more for them both than to be happy and to share that happiness with each other. She would be devastated by all this."
Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.