Prince Harry flew more than 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometres) to see his father after King Charles III was diagnosed with cancer. But Harry did not see his estranged brother, William, during a visit that lasted scarcely 24 hours.
The royal brothers remain emotionally and physically an ocean apart.
British media published photos of Harry at Heathrow Airport on Wednesday afternoon, just a day after he arrived at the same airport on a flight from Los Angeles.
He appeared headed back to life in California after a U.K. visit in which he spent less than an hour with his father at Clarence House, the king’s London home. Any meeting between the brothers would typically be confirmed by palace officials.
William, meanwhile, returned to public duties for the first time since his wife, Kate, was admitted to a London hospital on Jan. 16 for abdominal surgery. She spent almost two weeks at the private London Clinic and is recovering at home. William handed out medals to notables and local heroes at a Windsor Castle ceremony in the morning and was due to attend a charity dinner on Wednesday evening for London’s air ambulance service.
Images from the day are more grist for the popular British media tropes: dutiful William, flyaway Harry.
Behind that simplistic summary are two royal brothers — bonded in bereavement by the death of their mother, Princess Diana, when William was 15 and Harry was 12 — whose paths have diverged dramatically.
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While William, the heir, was destined from birth to be king, Harry, who is fifth in line to the throne behind his brother and William’s three children, has often appeared to struggle with the more ambiguous role of “spare.”
He chose Spare as the title of his 2023 memoir, which recounted a lifetime of sibling grievances — from William getting the bigger bedroom at Balmoral Castle to a ferocious argument in which Harry claims William ripped his necklace and knocked him down onto a dog bowl.
In the book, Harry alleged that the British media treated him and his wife, Meghan — also known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — as villains compared with virtuous William and Kate, and accused palace officials of lying to protect his elder brother.
The Sussexes cited the media’s racist treatment of Meghan, who is biracial, and a lack of support from the palace as reasons for their decision in 2020 to quit royal duties and move to the U.S.
In an explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, the couple portrayed the royal family as indifferent to Meghan’s mental health struggles, and suggested an unnamed family member had made a racist comment to Harry before the birth of their son, Archie. Harry described his relationship with William as “space at the moment.”
The brothers’ interactions since then have been formal, and brief. They were seen temporarily putting their fraught relationship aside to attend the funeral of their grandfather Prince Philip at Windsor Castle in 2021. The pair did not walk side-by-side behind Philip’s coffin, but were pictured chatting and walking together after the service.
In September 2022 the brothers walked side-by-side behind the coffin of their grandmother Queen Elizabeth II before she lay in state. William later said it had evoked memories of doing the same at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997.
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Harry traveled to the U.K. for his father’s coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey in May. He was assigned to sit two rows behind his brother, arrived at the abbey alone and left alone. The brothers were not seen speaking or even acknowledging each other.
Harry’s campaign to tame Britain’s tabloid press has also placed him at odds with his relatives. He broke from the royal family tradition of not engaging in litigation by filing several lawsuits against the news media for hacking his phone and other privacy violations.
Harry claimed in court filings that Charles had directed palace staff to order him to drop his litigation because it was bad for the family. He also said William had secretly settled his own hacking claims against Rupert Murdoch’s publications for a “huge sum of money” in 2020.
In Spare, Harry claims that their father implored them after Philip’s funeral: “Please, boys — don’t make my final years a misery.”
Royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith said rifts within the royal family would take more than a single visit to heal.
“I don’t think we should engage in too much magical thinking about this,” said Bedell Smith, author of Prince Charles: Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life.
“There are some very, very deep, hurts (Harry) has inflicted on the family,” she said. But, she added: “King Charles, by nature, he wants to heal not only the world, but I think his impulse would be to try and heal the family.”
Associated Press writers Brian Melley and Sylvia Hui contributed to this story.
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