Examining the Lengthy Fallout Between the Once Close Prince Harry and Kate Middleton

From a bond as close as any sibling to silence—is their relationship repairable?

Prince Harry, Kate Middleton
(Image credit: Getty)

It perhaps goes without saying—and is an understatement of the year—that the once-close relationship between Prince Harry and his sister-in-law, the Princess of Wales, has dissolved (not to mention his basically nonexistent relationship with his brother and Kate’s husband, Prince William). If you look at Harry and Kate even in the photos in this article, it’s clear the affection they once shared for one another, dating back as far as the early aughts, when William and Kate began their relationship. Now, The Daily Mail reports, though it survived the initial shockwaves of the 2018 bridesmaids dress row, the relationship has now crumbled as Harry’s media bombshells have “deeply wounded” her.

“Prince Harry once described her as the sister he never had—but his relationship with Kate Middleton is far from what it once was,” the outlet writes. “In the early years of the Duke’s brother’s relationship with the Princess of Wales, he [Harry] referenced his fear that she would ‘take Willy away.’ Despite this, the two are believed to have gotten along swimmingly and often attended royal events together.” After the disconnect began between William and Harry, Kate often acted as peacemaker, as we tangentially saw at Prince Philip’s funeral in 2021. As the photo above shows, the two—pictured together in 2019—made it through the scuffle around bridesmaids dresses during the leadup to Harry and Meghan Markle’s 2018 wedding. (Nobody looks miffed in that photo.) But now, the relationship is broken (and hopefully not beyond repair).

Prince Harry, Kate Middleton

(Image credit: Getty)

As far back to the early days of William and Kate’s courtship, Kate always maintained an open-door policy to Harry, a source at the University of St. Andrews—where William and Kate met and fell in love—told The Daily Mail in 2016. “While they were students, she always made him feel welcome at the four-bedroom cottage they rented on distant royal cousin Henry Cheape’s estate, Strathtyrum, just outside St. Andrews,” the source said. “The three also spent weekends together at the cottage, Tam-na-Ghar, on the Balmoral estate.” Another insider said cynics “might say she knew that getting on with Harry was key to her relationship with William. Harry, although he can be moody, over-sensitive, and unreliable to his girlfriends, is otherwise enormously good fun. Everybody likes him. Why shouldn’t Kate, too?”

Another source added “From day one Kate made a massive effort with Harry. But it was a natural thing for her because she grew up in such an inclusive family, the ‘en masse Middletons’ and all that,” referring to a nickname given to the Middleton family of five because they were such a tight family unit.

Harry said that, when William finally proposed in 2010, he only learned of their engagement when it was announced publicly that November. In a statement at the time, Harry said “I am delighted that my brother has popped the question! It means I get a sister, which I have always wanted.” In 2011, Harry said he would take Kate under his wing, “or she’ll be taking me under her wing, probably.” Yet, after their 2011 wedding (12 years ago today, actually), he claimed that he felt like an outsider and a “non-person” because he was still a bachelor. (He wouldn’t marry for seven more years, in 2018.) Yet, during the years between William and Kate’s marriage in 2011 and his own to Meghan in 2018, “a strong, sisterly bond was cemented with the at-times lonely Harry,” a source said. “As Harry once said, Kate is like the big sister he never had. Even, occasionally, a mother figure.”

The Daily Mail writes “and so, into the emotional vacuum [William and Harry’s late mother Princess] Diana left behind for both her sons, stepped Kate. At the time, it was reported she had become both a trusted counsel and something of a partner in crime for the persistently single Harry. Reports stated they had a ‘genuine friendship,’ which was founded on nights spent in front of Game of Thrones boxsets and companionable suppers. From giving him cookery lessons to offering sensible romantic advice, Kate became Harry’s lynchpin.” 

Kate Middleton, Princess Charlotte, Prince Harry

(Image credit: Getty)

A source said “Harry appeals to her sillier side because he is carefree, footloose, and loves banter. He finds things funny about people and says so.” Once William and Kate started having children—Prince George in 2013, Princess Charlotte in 2015, and Prince Louis in 2018—“Kate also adores the way Harry plays with her children. He is very good with them, a charming big kid and silly uncle,” a source said. Harry was neighbors with the then Cambridges, and “was said to be totally at ease popping over” to William and Kate’s home at Apartment 1A in Kensington Palace, and “they’re used to their cozy trio. It’s hard to imagine anyone else joining them.” Harry refuted this in Spare, though, writing he was never invited to Apartment 1A, despite assuming he’d receive an invite. He wrote he was left disappointed and believed they felt “three is a crowd.”

The threesome worked together frequently, attending a number of royal engagements together and launching Heads Together in 2016, aimed at tackling the stigma of mental health. Yet sources said that, when the trio carried out royal engagements together, Harry often “felt like a third wheel” or a “gooseberry.” An insider said “he [Harry] never quite fitted in.”

Kate Middleton, Prince William, Prince Harry

(Image credit: Getty)

Then, in 2016, Harry met and quickly fell in love with Meghan. Royal expert Katie Nicholl said “I think Meghan has very much been the catalyst in giving him that confidence to break free from William and Kate, and to break free from that trio dynamic, which was at times cozy and convenient, but actually wasn’t really what he wanted.” In Spare, Harry wrote it had been his “dream for a long time” to become “a foursome.” The four were dubbed the “Fab Four,” and, after Harry and Meghan’s 2017 engagement, William and Kate released a statement that said “We are very excited for Harry and Meghan. It has been wonderful getting to know Meghan and to see how happy she and Harry are together.”

While they acknowledged that the “Fab Four” wasn’t perfect, Harry said at a 2018 event “I think it’s really good we have got four different personalities, and we all have that same passion to make a difference. We have different opinions, and they work really well [together]. Working as a family does have its challenges—of course it does. [I think] the fact that everybody is laughing shows they know exactly what it’s like. But we are stuck together for the rest of our lives.” Well, maybe not so much.

Prince William, Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle, Prince Harry

(Image credit: Getty)

After Harry and Meghan’s wedding that May, as the year went on, Nicholl reported “Harry felt William wasn’t rolling out the red carpet for Meghan and told him so. They had a bit of a fallout, which was only resolved when Charles stepped in and asked William to make an effort.” William and Kate asked Harry and Meghan to spend Christmas with them, but tensions continued to mount—and in January 2020, Harry and Meghan stepped back as working members of the royal family. In addition to the distance between Kate and Harry—an insider said that Kate had cried over it, “missed” her close bond with Harry, and worried she’d “never be close to him again”—Harry and Meghan’s exit skyrocketed Kate’s workload, resulting in occasional 18-hour workdays. “Kate’s in a panic and has been having bouts of anxiety,” a source said. “She barely has time to rest, and when she does try to sleep, her mind is constantly racing.”

For the next stretch of time, Kate played peacemaker between the warring brothers and, Nicholl said, was “deeply saddened by the brothers’ falling out. Don’t forget she was incredibly close to Harry herself.” But then, the bombshells: The Oprah Winfrey sit-down. The Netflix docuseries. Spare. Is it all a bridge too far for the now Princess of Wales?

“I think Catherine and William will be feeling deeply wounded,” Kate’s uncle Gary Goldsmith said around the time Harry & Meghan was released. “They love Harry, they miss him. He is family and, despite this attack, I believe they’d still welcome him and Meghan back. There’s nothing Catherine would want more than for the brothers to be reconciled, because that’s the real love story here. Two brothers who love each other but have been torn apart. No one wants Prince Harry to be unhappy. No one wants to see Meghan so depressed she felt like taking her life, but is this really the best way to go about repairing relationships? To me, the series felt not only scripted and inauthentic, but unfair, self-interested, unreasonable, and untrue—especially when done in the knowledge that William and Catherine could never answer back.” 

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.