The Longer Read

With an embattled royal family, could Prince Harry return as the half-in, half-out Windsor?

As Prince William is forced to pull out of the funeral of a beloved godfather due to a ‘personal matter’ and King Charles and the Princess of Wales still out of action due to medical issues, the idea of Prince Harry coming back into the family fold has been much discussed – and dismissed. But, says Anna Tyzack, there is precedent and, this time, a ‘Hybrid-Harry’ might make sense all round.

Wednesday 28 February 2024 10:33 GMT
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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle hit ski slopes on Invictus Games Canada trip.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle hit ski slopes on Invictus Games Canada trip. (Andrew Chin/Getty Images)

It’s the culmination of everything they’ve been building since they cut away from the royal family in 2020. Yet the Sussexes’ newly launched website,?sussex.com, suggests a couple who still haven’t fully worked out who they are.?

It’s earnest and informal, with first names and laidback lifestyle images, whilst also being unashamedly regal, with a coat of arms and official titles, even though Prince Harry promised his grandmother he’d never use his royal name for commercialisation. Many royal watchers were furious to see them still brandishing their coat of arms as non-working royals – and using the wrong heraldry no less.?

But it leaves the question hanging, if they are not royal, what?are?they? The late Queen declined Harry’s request to be a part-time royal, and yet, reading his website you’d think this is exactly what he is. Which leads to another question: in times of need, could a hybrid Harry ever work?

Whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of it, jumping straight on a plane to London after learning that his father has cancer was an understandable thing for the Duke of Sussex to do.

Harry stayed for just 25 hours and was given just 45 minutes with King Charles III, which seems a little tight given the distance he’d travelled and the fact they hadn’t seen each other for more than seven months, but Charles was reportedly tired after his treatment and Harry was just happy he got to see him at all. Afterwards, he said that he was “grateful” that he was able to get on a plane and spend time with his father.?

Who knows whether it’s true that royal aides blocked the Duke of Sussex from joining the King at Sandringham for fear he’d never leave; what is certain is that during this short, overdue father-son exchange something shifted.

While commentators sniped from the sidelines, the mood had palpably lifted elsewhere. You could see it in Prince Harry’s face last week when he was interviewed on Good Morning America even though he said very little about the meeting: “I’ve got other trips planned that would take me through the UK or back to the UK, so I’ll stop in and see my family as much as I can,” he gushed before adding, “I love my family.”

For the King’s sake, one can’t help but hope that a true reconciliation with his beloved youngest son is imminent. He has stateside grandchildren to get to know and the obvious thing would be for Harry to pick up some slack while the King is off duty. And increasingly he is needed. It was the disgraced Prince Andrew leading the royal family to a memorial service at Windsor Palace when Prince Wiliam pulled out due to a ‘personal matter’ and Queen Camilla who was there to represent her husband. But a slimmed down Royal family is looking increasingly starved and in need of serious ‘man-power’ that is qualified and able to step in when unforseen circumstances like this hit.

However, royal sources have been quick to quash rumours that he might support the working royals: there is still no place for a half-in, half-out working royal, they say, and “no chance” of the Duke of Sussex being drafted in to help as his brother, the Prince of Wales, worries that he still cannot be trusted.?

The Duke visits the Whistler Sliding Centre for a training camp for the Invictus Games being held next year
The Duke visits the Whistler Sliding Centre for a training camp for the Invictus Games being held next year (Reuters)

But if the door is closed now, that isn’t to say that the opportunity won’t stop knocking. Indeed, this support when needed was what was originally proposed during Megxit in 2020 – and dismissed as out of the question back then by the late Queen during the infamous Sandringham Summit.

However, as the family is buffeted by unforeseen headwinds, maybe the time has come to reassess.

We are certainly living in different times to that of the late Queen Elizabeth. A look across to Denmark finds Queen Margrethe has recently stepped down to give her son Prince Frederik, who is known for speaking with an open mind and not caring much for formality, his moment on the throne. There does seem to be more modern, alternative models emerging that say you can serve, as well as have some kind of life.

With his recent comments in Canada, Harry seemed to signal a yearning to do something more than his Montecito life was currently affording him.? “I have always had a life of service,” he said on Good Morning America.?

There would simply be too much to catch up on for Harry if they let him straight back into The Firm
There would simply be too much to catch up on for Harry if they let him straight back into The Firm (PA)

Of course, his recent work has been more to do with serving up gossipy details about his life behind Palace walls. This has led to a survey in which 85 per cent of respondents said they want Harry and Meghan to be stripped of their titles.

But while the Harry haters are of the view that he should stay put in America and leave it to devoted senior royals to pick up, the truth is that Harry still has the crowd-pulling stardust that some of the other members struggle with.

No one can slot into the shoes of a senior royal like him and he has form for making a positive difference to people’s lives. The best of Harry was on display last week as he launched the first-ever winter Invictus Games, to be held in 2025. The Duke, dressed for the weather, was photographed in Whistler Canada hurtling headfirst down the skeleton track at 99km/hr and trying his hand at wheelchair curling.?

There are wider questions around how the Prince could possibly return to any kind of royal service when he and Meghan are still trading on their royal name in America

Of course, this is to gloss over the events of the past four years; as the esteemed royal commentator Hugo Vickers points out, there’s too much ground to cover to welcome Harry straight back into the A-team.

“The last thing the King needs is Prince Harry coming stomping back and doing whatever he does,” he says. “It wouldn’t be helpful at all; he’d hog all the headlines.” Another source close to the King agrees: “It’d make a mockery of the monarchy. How can we forget what was said in the book and on Oprah?”?

It’s a fair point. Harry and Meghan’s definitive airing of their dirty laundry on multiple platforms has left the royal family understandably wary of getting stung. Four years of unbridled revelations from a couple who profess to loathe the media has been deeply hurtful to the family and friends of the two princes.

The prince during a funeral procession for the late Queen Mother in 2002
The prince during a funeral procession for the late Queen Mother in 2002 (Getty)

But while it is true that they haven’t been in the same room since the coronation last May, when the boys were younger, they were thick as thieves. Their pally relationship continued once Prince William had got together with Kate and Harry came to see her as an older sister, liking nothing more than making her laugh.?

Of course, this has meant that revelations around his previously adored sister-in-law are more cutting, but a line could be drawn if there was evidence of the “old” Harry coming back in spirit.

It would make a Harry return certainly more palatable in practice. And it does feel like something is shifting in the younger Prince. Lessons learnt maybe??

Prince Harry isn’t the same persecuted man who sat on Oprah’s sofa. He will be 40 years old in September and it’s time to grow up. Shaken by the sign of his father’s mortality in his cancer diagnosis, his wrath has cooled.

Cold calling: the Sussexes meet with sit-ski athlete Rosa Sanchez Bermudez
Cold calling: the Sussexes meet with sit-ski athlete Rosa Sanchez Bermudez (AP)

Royal expert Dr Tess Dunlop agrees that Harry is no longer angry; the Harry on television last week was loving and smiling and seemingly eager to make peace. He said last week that sickness brings families together and, for as many people at the palace who are determined to keep the gates closed, there are as many who may start to feel uncomfortable if there is a sniff he is being kept away from his sick father by any other forces at play.

For the past few years, Harry has been feeling desperately protective of his own young family and while he has made some questionable decisions, he isn’t heartless.

However, hard it is for both sides, there is a need for some kind of resolution beyond estrangement, especially when a serious illness is in play. Rather than regarding him as a dangerous lone wolf, it might be more helpful for the family to start seeing him as a lost sheep, instead.

It doesn’t have to be Wills and Kate who reach out initially, it could be his cousin and confidante Princess Eugenie, who is in regular contact with him and knows what it’s like to cut a secondary figure within The Firm.

While the Harry haters are of the view that he should stay put in America and leave it to devoted senior royals to pick up, the truth is that Harry still has the crowd-pulling stardust

She also knows something of how Harry must be feeling right now as her mother, Sarah Ferguson, underwent treatment for breast cancer last summer only to be diagnosed with malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, in January.

“She has always been known for being wise beyond her years, and is great at giving advice,” says a source. “She and Harry are still very close, so there’s no doubt she’ll be there for him over the coming months – and if she can help at all with relations between him and the family, of course she will.”

Of course, Meghan might be a sticking point to any new arrangement. According to a royal source, Harry would consider helping out if he were ever asked, but as far as Meghan is concerned, that ship sailed long ago: “Meghan doesn’t want to come anywhere near here; she knows she’s made herself unpopular,” he says.

Yet that might work for both parties. Conversely, a hybrid Harry doing his bit for the royal family alone could make it more palatable for those in the UK and might help their relationship too.?

The relationship between the two brothers has been strained since Harry ditched his royal duties
The relationship between the two brothers has been strained since Harry ditched his royal duties (PA)

Meghan has successfully forged her identity in California, recently signing a contract with female-founded media outlet, Lemonada, while the Prince appears to still be unsure about his identity away from everything he has ever known.

When asked in the Good Morning America interview if he felt American he paused before replying, “Do I feel American? No. I don’t know how I feel.” If he was given a role, however small, many believe he’d feel like himself again – the cheeky Prince that Meghan fell for that night in Soho House.

But while there may be private hopes there will be a reconciliation between Harry and his UK family, there are wider questions around how the Prince could possibly return to any kind of royal service when he and Meghan are still trading on their royal name in America.

The lack of clarity, financial and otherwise, that comes with being half in and half out was what stopped the Queen from agreeing to a hybrid role for the pair; she was very clear that in stepping away from the work of the royal family, the Sussexes would not be able “to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service”.?

But that isn’t to say that things couldn’t be clarified. Harry has been very vocal about his lack of police protection in the UK following Megxit; perhaps the Sussexes could continue to support themselves in the States yet Harry could be funded and protected by the royal family while he’s in the UK?

The Windsors walking down the aisle in 2011
The Windsors walking down the aisle in 2011 (Getty)

Some royal watchers still think no, appalled that their website bears their coat of arms, despite them being non-working royals. “You can’t have people exploiting their royal connections on the one hand and doing so-called service on the other,” says Vickers.?

But there are precedents for grey areas sometimes to work better than black and white. Look at the Duchess of York; she’s divorced from her husband, Prince Andrew, yet continues to live amicably under the same roof as him and has numerous patronages despite being stripped of her HRH status.

She was an outcast initially but now the wider family consider her one of them. “The Duchess is a good example of how the best setups can fall into place outside existing structures,” says an acquaintance. “She’s all for fluidity – she tells everyone to do whatever works for them.”?

In Spare, Harry writes of a fraternal relationship that is so broken that he doesn’t believe Prince William wants him to be happy.

Perhaps giving Harry the chance to try royal service his way would prove that he does. The ultimate olive branch that could help heal such deep wounds could be the biggest service to us all.

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