Debating the merits of William versus Harry in 140 characters via Twitter is no mean feat, and while I believe comparisons between the princes are both unfair and redundant, it is also essential to look at the big picture.
As patron and conceiver of the Invictus Games, Prince Harry has excelled in his position in Florida this week. He has hugged his way across Orlando championing the needs of veterans and urging those of us watching to shelve the pity in favor of being inspired by the incredible accomplishments of the many wounded yet valiant servicemen and women. As a veteran himself Harry carries his own scars from the battlefield, and as such he has devoted himself to aiding in the physical and mental rehabilitation of these brave men and women.
Watching Harry do what he does so well inevitably leads to comparisons to his older brother, Prince William, who has in recent weeks been accused of being work-shy, reluctant and even lazy. For those in the peanut gallery it’s rather easy to sit back and throw around criticism, but there are other powers at play.
Up until the abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, the Queen led an idyllic childhood, one in which her parents, largely free of the stresses of royal life, were very much present. With the untimely death of her father in 1952 and her subsequent accession, it was a childhood she had little chance of emulating for her own children. The demands of the job kept her away for months at a time, and even when she was home she was burdened by the strains of constitutional duty. Criticism therefore swayed the other way with accusations of her being a detached and uncaring mother. As the direct heir, Charles too was denied the quality time with his children he no doubt longed for. He has always been an attentive father, but due to the nature of his position Charles and Diana were required to be fulltime working royals. Given the extremes of their experiences, Charles and the Queen are very keen for William to be afforded the quality family life they were forced to sacrifice.
As second-in-line to the throne there is no set constitutional role for William, and with a long royal future ahead, is it really such a bad thing that he be allowed the opportunity to give his children a loving well adjusted childhood? After all, George too will one day assume the mantle of sovereignty. The Queen’s advancing years are of course front and centre when the argument for William to “do more” escalates, but do more he will upon the upcoming conclusion of his air ambulance contract.
The other issue often forgotten is that for better or worse Prince Charles has pretty much spent his entire adult working life overshadowed by others. First by his beautiful, charismatic young wife and later by his popular son and daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge. Before the ink on the marriage certificate had even dried, calls rang out for William to overstep his father to become the nation’s next king. Constitutionally it doesn’t work like that, but it was no doubt a bitter pill to swallow for Charles, a man who has devoted his entire life to preparation for the top job. At sixty-seven Charles is the longest-serving heir apparent in British history, and when he does eventually become king he will do a fine job, but with society ever more driven by youth and beauty, he will constantly be fighting a losing battle to remain relevant. If at this stage the Queen or indeed Charles wanted William to be doing more, he would most definitely be doing more, but there’s no denying his destiny is calling.
Yes, Harry is doing a cracking job, and as long as he’s single and without children, it is easier for him to keep the focus on his royal role without the added pressure of impending kingship. With the births of George and Charlotte and his resulting drop in the pecking order, it would have been very easy for him to fumble around and lose his way. One only has to look to Prince Andrew to see the difficulty in carving out a successful role within the royal family when there really is no set role to be had. Instead, the success of Harry’s chief causes – Sentebale and Invictus – promise to be tangible long-lasting legacies for which he should be immensely proud. He connects in a way that is truly infectious, and his energy and vitality are a tremendous asset to both crown and country. Like his mother before him Harry is a big hugger, and his tactile and affectionate approach is embraced wherever he goes. It is a style that works beautifully for him, but why should the same be expected of William?
Out of respect for the position it is unbecoming for the future head of state to run around hugging everybody. The Queen doesn’t do it, nor does Charles, so why should William? William connects with his particular patronages in his own way, and it is individuality that should be recognized. If everyone took Harry’s approach the monarchy would become one big love fest. Us reticent Brits like the formality of our monarchy, and all that hugging would prove quite alarming at a tree planting, state banquet or during a walkabout.
The Queen struggled to identify with Diana’s touch-feely approach, but she acknowledged its positive impact right away, and she supported Diana throughout all her charitable endeavors. I am not comparing William and Harry to the Queen and Diana, but rather using their unique styles to illustrate how important individuality is and how neither approach is right or wrong. Throughout the royal family, from Charles and Anne, to Camilla, Sophie, Edward and Philip, each member of the family brings his or her own flair to the table, and each has its place.
I too am ready to see William find his calling and to embrace his destiny in a way that inspires confidence, but for a man who lost his mother so publically and tragically, and who has no say in his future, it is also important to recognize that he is a human being wrestling to find an acceptable balance between his public and private roles. We are all fallible and we all make mistakes. William wouldn’t have been forgiven quite so quickly as Harry over the Vegas antics, just as Harry wouldn’t be required to exhibit the same level of decorum with a visiting head of state.
Everyone loves Harry, but pitting brother against brother, style against style and position against position is an imprudent exercise. Harry will continue to shine within the royal family, but it is William who will be king, and it is William who has a lifetime of service ahead. I wouldn’t discount him just yet.