Prince Charles is known for many things – his plant whispering, his Duchy of Cornwall biscuit empire, his trenchant antipathy towards modern architecture – but parenting? Not so much.
(It’s a Monday so let’s politely ignore the tampon-fancying and that extended bout of infidelity.)
For years, nay decades, the Prince of Wales’ image has been that of that of the So-So Dad, which is what makes the social media post shared by Charles and wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall’s Clarence House accounts last night that much more extraordinary.
“I am very proud of my son, William, for his growing commitment to the environment and the bold ambition of the Earthshot Prize,” Charles wrote of his son’s $92 million, decade-long climate initiative.
Hold the phone here.
An outpouring of public emotion? A touching tribute to his boy’s achievement? A royal statement born out of parental pride? Not so long ago this would have been about as likely as the Queen handing over keys to the Buckingham Palace grounds for a British version of the Fyre Festival.
This is significant stuff.
Most obviously, Charles’ post reflected the growing closeness between the two future Kings, both in a personal sense and in terms of the alignment of their official work. It would all be cockle-warming stuff if not for one uncomfortable sore point: Prince Harry.
For decades the world was treated to images of the Prince of Wales and his two boys as a package deal: them skiing; them posing for Christmas cards; the three of them with Sir David Attenborough at the premiere of his Netflix series, Our Planet, in London in 2019.
Instead, what was marked about the Clarence House post was the very conspicuous absence of the plural ‘sons’, with no attempt made to include both of his children in the uncharacteristically intimate and warm outpouring.
Charles’ post is not only a remarkable moment in and of itself (the Windsors? Doing affection?) but also because it represents another sad milestone in the seismic fracturing of Harry from his family.
The younger prince has literally and figuratively been cut out of the picture by an ascendant palace basking in the warm glow of success in their new capacity as climate change powerbrokers.
Over the last week, Harry has never looked more isolated.
Things didn’t have to play out this way.
While William’s Earthshot Prize has earned him universal plaudits and acclaim, he is not the only Wales scion to have gotten an ambitious, daring initiative with a global scope off the ground.
In 2014 Harry launched the Invictus Games, a project that broke the royal mould and helped cement his image as the natural heir to Diana, the Princess of Wales’ compassionate legacy.
Since then, Invictus has only grown in scope and stature and the whole undertaking has only ever been an out and out success.
But did Charles ever take a moment out of his busy day of converting his beloved Aston Martin to run on cheese and schilling oatcakes to tell the world how proud he was of his younger son? As far as I’m aware, he has not.
The sting in this tale (pun intended) goes beyond the fact that Harry has been left out in the cold, but that the very work which is earning William such praise is the very same territory that Harry has been trying to stake out as one of his defining, post-palace career causes.
Climate change and conservation have been key areas of philanthropic focus for not only Charles and William but Harry too for years now.
In 2019, he launched his eco-travel initiative Travelyst, though he faced a flurry of awkward questions given the project’s big reveal came after he and Meghan took four private jet flights in 11 days.
(The Sussexes’ predilection for private travel still continues to blot their charity copybook, most recently when they copped appropriate flak for flying to New York in a borrowed ten-seater Dassault Falcon. Little wonder that the couple has not been able to shake the ‘hypocrite’ label for years now.)
The same year, Harry, again clumsily, tried to establish his green bona fides when he told Jane Goodall that he and Meghan would have only two children to do their bit for the planet.
Since the couple’s audacious palace exit, Harry has remained committed to talking about the peril of a warming Earth. In May, Harry spoke out about his climate fears in the Apple TV+ special, The Me You Can’t See: A Path Forward, saying: “With kids growing up in today’s world, pretty depressing, right, depending on where you live, your home country is either on fire, it’s either underwater, houses or forests are being flattened.”
In September, during that Big Apple jaunt, Harry and Meghan appeared at the Global Citizen Live concert, during which the organisation called on the US to halve its greenhouse emissions by 2030 and for wealthy nations to help developing countries go green.
Last week, it was revealed that the couple had signed on as ‘impact partners’ with a sustainable investing firm called Ethic, saying in a statement: “We want to rethink the nature of investing to help solve the global issues we all face.”
Then, on Thursday, the Washington Post published an op-ed written by Harry and Namibian environmental activist, conservationist and poet Reinhold Mangundu about protecting the Okavango River Basin from the threat of corporate oil exploration.
“The choice is simple: Either we honour our natural and life-sustaining ecosystems, preserving them for generations to come, or we exploit them on a path to permanent destruction,” they wrote.
Given the timing of this piece and given that both of his sons have been plugging away on eco-initiatives, it would have made perfect sense if Charles had shared his pride in both of his sons’ efforts on this front.
Instead, it was only William who was singled out.
So far Harry seems to have lost out in the land grab for public ownership of this issue.
The bigger picture here, beyond the bite of being overlooked by his father, is that William’s Earthshot Prize amounts to a powerful show of force on behalf of the palace; a lesson in showing the world what the monarchy is capable of and the full scope of the institution’s potential to be a force for good in modern Britain.
Not that long ago the Crown looked like it could well go the way of the CD or the VHS; a relic of times past that was abjectly useless in the 21st century, and the whole gilded endeavour’s death date seemed to inch closer and closer.
Instead what we have seen, especially over the last few weeks, is the emergence of a new, much more activist version of the monarchy which is leading the charge on climate change.
Last week alone, Charles directly urged China to act and called on polluters to pay more for the carbon they emit, while William took aim at the bevy of billionaires ploughing their fortunes into shooting themselves into space rather than “the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet”.
In bringing their collective weight to bear on one issue, the royal family has mobilised and the monarchy has transformed from a tourist attraction to an increasingly outspoken pressure group.
Heady stuff, right?
Never before have we seen senior members of the royal family take such vocal positions on issues that veer dangerously close to the political fray. (In this vein, in early November we will see Charles, Camilla, the Queen, William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge descend en regal masse to Glasgow for COP26.)
Which is all a way of saying: the monarchy has never looked better. In the hands of William and Kate especially, the royal house is morphing from a shiny symbolic source of occasional national affection to driven, lobbying powerhouse.
Meanwhile Harry is still plugging away, fighting to get a few wins on the climate change board.
Adding insult to injury for Harry here is that it has been announced that next year’s Earthshot Prize will be held in the United States.
Not only will the 37-year-old prince have to endure his brother’s headline-grabbing triumph from afar, but next year it will land on his doorstep.
What will be fascinating to watch in the future is how the Sussexes’ efforts will stack up by comparison.
Will their nascent Archewell Foundation be able to get similarly exciting initiatives as the Earthshot Prize off the ground? Will they equally be able to establish themselves as leaders defined by action and making a tangible difference?
The race is now on to see which Wales brother prevails on this front. And next year? William will be bringing the tussle to Harry.
Get your dukes up boys.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.