Prince William and Prince Harry Have Had Serious Issues in Their Relationship As Far Back as 2002, Royal Biographer Says

So no, for the (hopefully) last time, it wasn’t Meghan Markle’s fault.

Prince Harry
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Just on the off chance there was someone who erroneously still believed that Meghan Markle is the reason for the acrimony between brothers Prince William and Prince Harry, let royal biographer Robert Lacey reiterate that is not true. William and Harry fell out years before Harry even met Meghan, Lacey said, and went through time periods of not speaking as far back as 2002 because Harry felt he always got the blame, The Daily Mail reports.

Prince Harry and Prince William

William and Harry's issues extend back to 2002, a full 14 years before Harry even met Meghan.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Though William and Harry are in one of their rockiest of the rocky periods they’ve had as brothers, Lacey said fissures in the relationship between the brothers began to appear as far back as 22 years ago. “That’s the year it was discovered that Harry had been smoking cannabis, a revelation generating excruciating ‘drug shame’ headlines,” The Daily Mail writes. “There was further humiliation for Harry three years later when he was pictured wearing a Nazi desert uniform to a Colonials and Natives fancy dress party held at the home of Olympic gold medal-winning showjumper Richard Meade. Amid the furor, Harry issued a public apology, and [then] Prince Charles packed him off to be lectured by the Chief Rabbi.”

“Meghan was not the original factor in Prince Harry’s decision to get shot of his family,” Lacey wrote in his bestselling book, Battle of Brothers.  

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Just in case it was still percolating in your mind, Meghan was not the cause of William and Harry's ongoing rift.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Harry got tired of taking all the blame from incidents like the aforementioned Nazi costume while William seemingly emerged without a blemish.

“In January 2005, following the ‘Colonials and Natives’ costume fiasco, we now know that Prince Harry was drawn to reevaluate his elder brother’s involvement and the unfairness of William’s emergence smelling of roses,” Lacey writes. “It made Harry feel alienated. Friends recall ‘no speaks’ and quite a serious rift between the brothers at the time—as there had been after the ‘Drugs Shame’ of 2002, when Harry had first started to realize the price of playing the functional scapegoat.”

On one occasion, Harry and his friend Guy Pelly took the blame for “wild antics” at the Rattlebone pub, “when the real Rattlebone ringleader had been William,” Lacey writes. Royal author and journalist Katie Nicholl seconds this and recalled one royal aide telling her that “for the first time their [William and Harry] relationship really suffered and they barely spoke,” she said. “Harry resented the fact that William got away so lightly.”

Prince William Prince Harry

The ongoing "heir and spare" dynamic between the two brothers caused deep tension between the two.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

On the matter, Lacey concluded that “It was the function of the elder brother to be perfect whether he truly was or not, and it was the function of the younger one to make the rest of us laugh or complain or feel disapproving—and at all events to make us feel thoroughly superior to the poor clueless kid. This was the role that all of us shaped for Prince Harry over the years.”

Of the Nazi costume incident, Harry addressed it head on in his and Meghan’s Netflix docuseries Harry & Meghan: “It was probably one of the biggest mistakes of my life,” he said. “I felt so ashamed afterwards.” Harry added that “All I wanted to do was make it right. I sat down and spoke to the Chief Rabbi in London, which had a profound impact on me. I went to Berlin and spoke to a Holocaust survivor. I could have just ignored it and gone on and made the same mistakes over and over again in my life. But I learned from that.” 

Prince William and Prince Harry

Though bonded through the shared trauma of losing their mother, Princess Diana, about five years after her death, a wedge began to form.

(Image credit: Getty)

Up to the present day now, Harry is scheduled to be in the U.K. in May for an event surrounding the 10-year anniversary of the Invictus Games. The Mirror reports that Harry, naturally, wants to see his sister-in-law, the Princess of Wales, especially in light of her recent cancer diagnosis, which she announced to the public last Friday. When Harry visited his father, King Charles, in London following Charles’ own announcement that he too has cancer, his visit was kept to just around 30 minutes, even though Harry had flown to the U.K. from Los Angeles. In terms of the length of the visit, royal expert Tom Quinn told The Mirror that Harry can likely expect the same with Kate.

“Given Kate’s cancer diagnosis, Harry will certainly make efforts to see his brother and Kate when he returns to the U.K. in May—if it happens at all, it’s to be a very brief, carefully choreographed meeting and organized to last a short time so that the brothers can avoid any difficult conversations,” Quinn said.

Prince Harry, Kate Middleton, and Prince William

Harry is naturally concerned about his sister-in-law Kate, who announced last Friday that she has an undisclosed type of cancer.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Prince Harry

The two couples have grown more distant as the years have gone on, with the crux of the distance being the brothers' longstanding issues with one another, and not the women they married.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A source speaking to The Mirror said of Harry’s upcoming visit that Harry “knows it will take time” to mend fences with William, and added “He will do all he can to let his brother know he is there for him and to repair that bond. He knows it won’t be easy.” They also noted that “Harry is ready to put in the work, as he is determined to have his family back and show support.”

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.