Prince Harry’s relationship with King Charles III had its ups and downs throughout his life, and ultimately the Duke of Sussex has become estranged from his father. Here are five key moments that have defined the relationship Harry has with his father.
Over the years, Charles laughed along during Harry’s school plays and broke the news that Princess Diana had died, but ultimately the relationship foundered, with the prince claiming Charles had cut him off financially.
Asked on 60 Minutes in January whether Harry still spoke to the king, he replied: “We aren’t… we haven’t spoken for quite a while. No, not recently.”
Prince Harry was 12 when his mother died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 and was staying in Balmoral, the royal family’s Scottish retreat.
Harry and Prince William had a final phone call with the princess before the tragedy, which happened as the car in which she was traveling was followed by the paparazzi. As the cars’ speed increased, the royal’s vehicle fatally crashed in a road tunnel.
King Charles was the one to tell Harry about his mother, and the prince said his father did not hug him.
Quoted in Harry’s book Spare, the king said: “They tried, darling boy. I’m afraid she didn’t make it.”
“What I do remember with startling clarity is that I didn’t cry,” Harry wrote. “Not one tear. Pa didn’t hug me. He wasn’t great at showing emotions under normalcircumstances, how could he be expected to show them in such a crisis?
“But his hand did fall once more on my knee and he said: ‘It’s going to be OK.’ That was quite a lot for him. Fatherly, hopeful, kind. And so very untrue.
“He stood and left. I don’t recall how I knew that he’d already been in theother room, that he’d already told Willy, but I knew.”
Harry said Charles then left him alone until the bagpipes outside sounded the start of the day according to the tradition at Balmoral: “I must’ve remained in that room, saying nothing, seeing no one, until nine … sharp, when the piper began to play outside.”
Harry’s account of the moment is mixed in that he clearly feels his father was trying in his own way, though the loneliness perhaps shines through more brightly.
After Diana’s death, Harry’s description of Charles’ parenting takes a similar tone—the king watched him at the school play, but laughed at the wrong moments. He wrote him letters about how proud he was of Harry’s achievements, but seemingly couldn’t express such emotions in person.
Needless to say, there is clear warmth towards Charles in Harry’s description of his early life. Things, however, became more complicated as the prince got older.
PR, Queen Camilla and the Media
Prince Harry’s anger burns brightest when he is talking about the media, and this too impacted on his relationship with Charles, according to Spare.
Perhaps the most notable example came when Harry was the subject of a tabloid sting on the front page of the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World.
The newspaper wanted to publish a story about Harry taking drugs and the prince described how the palace capitulated and was cooperating, led by PR adviser Mark Bolland.
“In one swoop this would appease the editor and also bolster the sagging reputation of Pa (Charles). Amid all this unpleasantness, all this extortion and gamesmanship, the spin doctor had discovered one silver lining, one shiny consolation prize for Pa.
“No more the unfaithful husband, Pa would now be presented to the world as the harried single dad coping with a drug-addled child.
“I felt heartbroken at the idea that this had been partly the work of my own family, my own father and future stepmother,” he added. “They’d abetted this nonsense. For what? To make their own lives a bit easier?”
However, the palace gave a different version at the time, in 2002, when an official spokesperson told British trade publication Press Gazette: “There have been stories of a similar nature going around Fleet Street (the British press) for quite some time.
“The NoW has been trying to write a story either about drinking or about cannabis for probably about nine months and we have had innumerable, almost violent arguments with them about it from which, I think, they came to the view that if they were going to write anything, it had to be accurate.
“They finally came to us last week with information that we could not avoid answering and which was not inaccurate.”
Meghan Markle and Harry’s Pleas for Help
Prince Harry’s relationship with Meghan Markle ushered in a new phase of his recurring battles with the British media.
The prince told his mental health docuseries The Me You Can’t See how his pleas for help from his family fell on deaf ears: “I thought my family would help, but every single ask, request, warning, whatever it is, got met with total silence or total neglect.
“We spent four years trying to make it work. We did everything that we possibly could to stay there and carry on doing the role and doing the job, but Meghan was struggling.”
In Spare, Harry described asking Charles for help early in his relationship with Meghan, in 2016, after paparazzi pictures of the couple had appeared in a newspaper.
He described the episode as the “end of the beginning,” mimicking Winston Churchill’s description of a key moment in World War II.
Harry said his father simply said: “Don’t read it, darling boy.”
“‘It’s not that simple,’ I said angrily. ‘I might lose this woman. She might eitherdecide I’m not worth the bother, or the press might so poison the public that someidiot might do something bad, harm her in some way.’
“It was already happening in slow motion. Death threats. Her workplace onlockdown because someone, reacting to what they’d read, had made a crediblethreat.
“‘She’s isolated,’ I said, ‘and afraid, she hasn’t raised the blinds in her housefor months—and you’re telling me not to read it?’ He said I was overreacting. ‘This is sadly just the way it is.’”
Harry and Meghan’s Royal Exit
Prince Harry and Meghan’s royal story came to an abrupt halt after they quit the palace in January 2020 and the duke suggested his father may have leaked their plans to British tabloid The Sun.
A front page exclusive in the newspaper “included the telling detail that we’d offered to relinquish our Sussex titles,” he wrote in Spare. “There was only one document on earth in which that detail was mentioned—my private and confidential letter to my father.
“To which a shockingly, damningly small number of people had access. We hadn’t mentioned it to even our closest friends.”
The couple had hoped to remain “half-in, half-out” part-time royals, living abroad and making money in the private sector, while also occasionally serving the Crown.
Crisis talks were arranged with Charles, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince William, as well as senior palace staff at Sandringham, the family’s Norfolk estate.
Harry later told his Netflix series Harry & Meghan: “It was terrifying to have my brother scream and shout at me, and my father say things that just simply weren’t true, and my grandmother quietly sit there and sort of take it all in.”
Harry and Meghan’s plan was rejected and ultimately, in time, he was stripped of his honorary military titles and patronages, as well as his taxpayer funded police team.
Grief and Royal Bombshells
By 2021, Harry and Meghan’s frustrations with his family were ready to explode into the public domain in the form of a series of interviews, beginning with Oprah Winfrey.
However, shortly after the bombshell sit-down was recorded, Charles’ father Prince Philip was admitted to hospital.
Commentators urged the Sussexes not to cancel the primetime tell-all and it went ahead in March, while Harry’s grandfather was still in hospital.
The couple leveled major accusations at the royals, including Charles, who Harry said cut him off financially after he and Meghan quit.
A month later, in April, Prince Philip died sending the royals, including both Charles and Harry, into mourning.
The prince flew to Britain in April for the funeral, sparking hopes of a reconciliation, and he wrote of the king’s frustration in Spare during a private conversation after the service.
As Harry and William argued, Charles said: “Please, boys—don’t make my final years a misery.”
Needless to say, any hope the talks might trigger a breakthrough was in vain and a month later Harry criticized his family again, twice.
In an appearance on Dax Sheppard’s Armchair Expert podcast, he described himself as experiencing “genetic pain” passed on by his father, though he did add: “There is no blame.”
Also in May, he released The Me You Can’t See with its account of the royal family’s “total neglect” in response to his pleas for help dealing with the media.
In April 2022, at the Invictus Games Harry swerved a question on whether he missed his father and brother, months before the death of the queen in September.
Again, there were hopes the tragedy might bring the family back together and Charles had warm words for his younger son in his first broadcast as king.
However, just three months later in December, the Sussexes Netflix show contained new attacks on the royals and these were followed up in January 2023 with Spare.
The fact that Charles was still grieving for the loss of his mother at the time was evident from his first Christmas speech in December 2022: “I am standing here in this exquisite Chapel of St. George at Windsor Castle, so close to where my beloved mother, the late queen, is laid to rest with my dear father.
“I am reminded of the deeply touching letters, cards and messages which so many of you have sent my wife and myself and I cannot thank you enough for the love and sympathy you have shown our whole family.
“Christmas is a particularly poignant time for all of us who have lost loved ones. We feel their absence at every familiar turn of the season and remember them in each cherished tradition.”
Two weeks later Harry’s 60 Minutes interview dropped, including his acknowledgement that he and Charles “haven’t spoken for quite a while.”
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