Contrasting roles for Harry and William in post-Diana royals' brand

Recent coverage of the two princes' adventures underscore the differences in how their royal roles have evolved since Princess Diana's death 15 years ago.

Matt Rourke/AP
Britain's Prince William (l.) and Prince Harry talk while watching track cycling at the velodrome during the 2012 Summer Olympics, Aug. 2, in London.
Chris Helgren/Reuters/File
Diana, Princess of Wales, is seen arriving at a memorial service with her sons William (l.) and Harry during the 50th anniversary of the Blitz of London in this October 1990 file photo.

British royalists have had a good summer.

In June, the Queen’s Jubilee generated a frenzy of national flag-waving, while her appearance alongside James Bond in a now viral clip for the Olympic opening ceremony delighted even Britons normally indifferent to their often taciturn head of state. Support for the monarchy is at record levels, the product of what some regard as a meticulous rebranding of the institution undertaken after support dipped amid disapproval of Buckingham Palace’s initial reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Yet today, on the 15th anniversary of her death, it is the roles played by her two sons in helping to reinforce the royal brand that have come under scrutiny following two recent episodes that led to markedly contrasting depictions of Princes Harry and William.

The former’s highly publicized indiscretions in Las Vegas left many monarchists shaking their heads at the behavior of a royal whose previous public relations disasters have included being photographed at party in Nazi uniform and recorded using racial slurs on another occasion. Meanwhile, coverage of a pair of successful rescues by Prince William's Royal Air Force helicopter unit bolstered the older brother's emerging image as a safe pair of hands.

Tomasz Mludzinski, a senior research executive at pollsters Ipsos MORI, points out survey findings from June underlining the particular appeal of William, whose approval ratings (89 percent of Britons are satisfied with how he is doing his job) are higher than his father’s, Prince Charles (78 percent), and on a par with the Queen’s (90 percent).

“It’s also striking that the youngest age group polled, 18- to 34-year-olds, who are the least supportive of the idea of the monarchy, are most favorable towards Prince William,” he adds.

Ipsos MORI haven’t polled on Prince Harry’s satisfaction ratings although much media commentary about him has tended to be increasingly positive in recent years, helped by the seriousness with which he has taken his military career and royal ambassadorial duties. His communication skills have also impressed.

But the coverage of the Las Vegas affair has been mixed. Andrew Morton, Diana’s biographer, claimed: “The sober reality is that [Harry’s] nude escapades have created a gaping hole in the image courtiers have carefully constructed for him over the past 10 years.”

Pointing out that their mother always intended that Harry, the third in line to the throne, would be a back-up and “admirable adviser” to William, Mr. Morton predicted in an article for the Daily Telegraph that the second in line would in time take “more sober counsel” from his wife, Kate Middleton.

He added that royal advisers would be all the more disappointed with Harry because he has been “the oil – and sometimes the emollient – between courtiers and the younger royals, particularly his brother.”

However, other observers suggest that Harry is likely to be cut some slack by sections of the public charmed by his sense of mischief and tendency to depart from protocol.

“His role in the armed forces is another element” that might soften the public's view of the Vegas episode, adds Professor Neil Blain, who heads Stirling University’s media department and has written extensively on royalty.  “Will he be seen as an army captain taking time off and letting off steam?”

Mr. Blain meanwhile contends that both Harry and William have been more important in terms of the royal rebranding project because of what he says is “an ambiguity around Charles in terms of how suitable he is seen as a successor.”

“He has fans but the amount of attention which has been placed on the boys by the Palace public relations machine probably has a lot to do with the sense that the relationship that the public has with Charles and Camilla [his second wife] is a bit problematic.”

“The core fact of the royal brand remains that it is still terribly centered on the Queen. We don’t really know what public attachment to the monarchy will be like after her.”

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