keeping up with the royals

Just How Awkward Could the Coronation Be for Prince Harry?

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Photo: WPA Pool/Getty Images

With only a few weeks left before King Charles’s coronation, his estranged son has finally returned his RSVP: Prince Harry will attend but without a plus-one.

“Buckingham Palace is pleased to confirm that the Duke of Sussex will attend the coronation service at Westminster Abbey on May 6,” a palace spokesperson told “Page Six.” So Harry will attend, while his wife, Meghan Markle, “will remain in California with Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet.”

According to various tabloid reports, Harry and his family have been going back and forth on this for months, tension on both sides having ratcheted way up after Harry’s memoir, Spare, leaked in January. He cast many of his relatives in a keenly unflattering light while insisting that he hoped to repair the relationships. As the first rounds of bonkers highlights made headlines, Harry told an interviewer that “the ball is in their court” regarding invitations to the coronation, but it actually appeared to be in his: By March, the Sussexes confirmed the palace had been in touch about the ceremony but declined to say whether they might go. Still, the reply-by date printed on some invitations came and went, and the couple — per a separate “Page Six” article — still hadn’t decided. “Harry has a lot of questions about how the event will work,” a source told the paper, adding that he and Meghan understood it was a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” situation. Sounds about right, but just how awkward is this party going to be?

Here’s what we know.

Is Harry going for the whole weekend?

According to Harry and Meghan’s biographer, Omid Scobie, no: “Expect it to be a fairly quick trip to the U.K. for Harry, who will only be attending the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey,” he wrote on Twitter. The coronation also overlaps with their son Archie’s 4th birthday, which Scobie says “played a factor in the couple’s decision.” An apparent Sussex source told “Page Six” that “there was no way that Meghan was going to miss her son’s birthday.”

How mad were the royals about Spare?

True to form, the royals have not spoken about the book. Publicly, they have been carrying out their duties as if nothing happened; privately, some of them are said to be seething. Prince William — painted by Spare as a jealous hothead who once threw Harry on a dog bowl, allegedly encouraged him to wear a Nazi uniform, and was potentially unsupportive of his relationship with Meghan Markle despite being a massive Suits-head — is purportedly “devastated” and “incredibly angry at the level of detail.” He has reportedly “come to terms with the fact that he’s lost his little brother quite possibly for life.” Even in March, the sources were saying he felt “very strongly” about Harry not attending the coronation, and mere weeks away from the big day, he reportedly has “no interest in communicating” with his brother. Other sources have claimed that Charles, whom Harry portrays in a mostly sympathetic fashion, was “outraged” over his son’s descriptions of Camilla as a “dangerous” and opportunistic media tactician. Still, another anonymous informant says he has “no appetite at this moment in time to engage,” and so far the strategy seems to be to do nothing and let it pass.

Given Harry’s accusations of story-planting by senior royals, going on the offensive via palace spokespeople would only have proved his point. And while he would likely caution readers against accepting information from anonymous “insiders” as necessarily true, it feels fair to assume that many of the people Harry has written about are not happy with how they come off.

So no royal retaliation, say, in the form of lost titles or missed invitations?

Maybe yes, maybe no: Despite some tabloid chatter about Harry and Meghan potentially losing their duke and duchess titles as punishment for the perceived breach of loyalty, that sort of retributive measure was not taken. That makes some sense: Being publicly vindictive would only validate Harry’s narrative and invite yet another critical media cycle — probably not what the new king wants as he ascends his throne. Some sources are also saying that, for Charles, inviting the Sussexes isn’t solely about salvaging royal reputations. “It is his son, after all, and the king really does want a reconciliation in the long term,” Vanity Fair’s royal correspondent, Katie Nicholl, told Entertainment Tonight. “I think he wants to be magnanimous. I think he wants to take a leaf out of the queen’s book. I think he ultimately wants to heal the rift and wants his son at his coronation.”

Unlikely to help in that regard is Charles’s decision to revoke Harry and Meghan’s lease on Frogmore Cottage (formerly their U.K. residence) and — according to recent reports — give it to Prince Andrew, of all people. To be fair, the couple live full time in California. They do not use Frogmore Cottage on anything like a regular basis, staying there only for the occasional visit. The last residents of the cottage would actually be Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, who lived there for a while after the Sussexes decamped to North America. Still, the timing feels significant: Charles is said to have handed Harry and Meghan their eviction notice shortly after Spare’s publication, lending undertones of revenge to the real-estate shuffle. For the Sussexes, it “feels very final and like a cruel punishment,” someone in their camp told Scobie. “It’s like [the family] wants to cut them out of the picture for good.”

Where does Harry’s relationship with his family stand now?

During his Spare press tour, the prince repeatedly stated that he wants his family back, but also said that “they have shown absolutely no willingness to reconcile.” Harry believes his family members should be the ones to bend: “You could argue that some of the stuff I’ve put in there, well, they will never forgive me anyway,” he recently told The Telegraph. “But the way I see it is, I’m willing to forgive you for everything you’ve done, and I wish you’d actually sat down with me, properly, and instead of saying I’m delusional and paranoid, actually sit down and have a proper conversation about this, because what I’d really like is some accountability. And an apology to my wife.”

Per Us Weekly’s sources, he hasn’t gotten it. “No apology to Meghan has been made by the Palace, which frustrates Harry,” this person told the magazine nearly a month after Spare’s publication. “Nor has he received a personal apology.” A second unnamed person added, “At this point, the royals can only move forward and come to some form of truce with Harry if everyone sits down and talks through their issues privately.”

At the same time, the Duke hasn’t yet acknowledged that some in his family might see Spare’s disclosures as hurtful or even as a flat-out betrayal. “I’m not sure how honesty is burning bridges,” Harry told Tom Bradby when the interviewer pointed out that the book could complicate reconciliation. “You know, silence only allows the abuser to abuse. Right? So I don’t know how staying silent is ever gonna make things better.”

Some might argue that there is a difference between staying silent — which Harry was not doing before Spare’s publication (see also his six-part Netflix docuseries and his Oprah interview special) — and cataloguing decades of grievances, both legitimate and petty, in microscopic detail. If Harry does genuinely want to rebuild his relationships with his father and brother, he might consider some accountability, too.

In certain respects, it sounds like he has been trying to make inroads. On March 3, for example, when he and Meghan christened their 1-year-old daughter, Princess Lilibet Diana — yes, they did style her as a princess, and yes, they are technically entitled to do — in California, none of the senior royals showed up. Charles, Camilla, William, and Kate were reportedly invited but did not attend. Tyler Perry was there, though. Of course he was.

More recently, during Harry’s impromptu visit to London in late March (he showed up for a hearing in his lawsuit against Associated Newspapers Limited), the Duke reportedly tried to see his dad. That didn’t happen because, according to the Telegraph, the king communicated that he was “busy” — no further details provided. Entertainment Tonight’s sources say that the royals fear Harry drama will “overshadow” the king’s big day and that “more private matters could be made public” with the press trained on the family’s chattiest member. And even though Charles may want his younger son there, his older son reportedly does not.

How does Prince William feel about seeing his little brother?

If sources are to be believed, annoyed. Pissed. Chagrined, even. According to the Daily Beast, Prince William has been fuming about Harry’s public reluctance to confirm that he’s coming when “everyone thinks he will be there.” That’s what a purported friend of William’s told the outlet, adding that the future king is “baffled” by the hemming and hawing. “Relations have never been this bad, and it feels like Harry is just stringing it out to try and be difficult, frankly,” the friend said. This person has a point: The reply-by date was reportedly April 3, and while that’s probably more flexible for immediate family, a 2,000-person state ceremony is no small thing to organize — particularly given the reports that no one wants to sit or socialize with the Sussexes. (“I hope they’ll be seated in Iceland,” one royal supposedly told a Daily Mail source.) After weeks of “transatlantic ping-pong,” the tabloid reports, many senior royals plan not to speak to Harry past “basic greetings.” Some sources suspect Prince William and Princess Kate are “relieved” Meghan won’t be there because it may spare them extra scrutiny during the ceremony.

Still other tabloids are claiming that Kate — whom Harry depicted as snobbish, standoffish, and too uptight to share a lip gloss with Meghan without visibly wincing — wishes William actually would say something. She was apparently hurt, and furious, about the material Harry included, such as supposed snippets of her text messages. “Kate felt William should stick up for her more,” a source told OK! It sounds like the coronation won’t be the time for that, however, at least if Entertainment Tonight’s sources are credible. “William is still upset about Harry’s book. He feels it was a betrayal,” this individual claimed in late April. William purportedly has no plans to talk to Harold “about their disagreements,” according to ET’s source: “The relationship is still fractured, and it is unclear when they will be able to mend fences.”

Why isn’t Meghan going?

It sounds like she read the room and decided her attendance would be an “inauthentic” gesture, given all that has happened. “They had to make a decision that felt genuine and authentic, especially after everything that has been said and all the things that have gone down,” a source allegedly close to the Sussexes told “Page Six.” “The words that Harry and Meghan have said about the importance of their family are lining up with their actions. They care about their family, so Meghan is going to stay [in California] and Harry is going to support his dad.” Also? “If she was super-controlling, then she could have made sure that Harry didn’t go,” this person added. “She’s all good, she supports Harry — they both have nothing more to prove.”

Speaking of having nothing to prove, okay, a separate “insider” told “Page Six” that “Prince Harry is going to support his dad … and then he’ll be coming home as soon as possible to be with his son.” So “for all the people who say they want to be half in and half out of the royal family, this proves just the opposite.”

If Harry hates the tabloids so much, why are his sources chatting through the tabloids?

A good question that I cannot answer! Although they don’t exclusively communicate via the tabloids: Refuting a recent report by The Telegraph — alleging that Meghan and Charles exchanged letters after she told Oprah someone in the family had expressed concerns “about how dark [Archie’s] skin might be when he’s born” and that she was skipping the coronation because she felt the family hadn’t adequately addressed her central complaints about bullying by the press — a Sussex spokesperson issued a statement to the New York Post and NBC. “The Duchess of Sussex is going about her life in the present, not thinking about correspondence from two years ago related to conversations from four years ago,” it read. “Any suggestion otherwise is false and frankly ridiculous.”

Will Harry participate in the ceremony, or will he just be a guest?

Presently unclear, though Harry relinquished his public duties when he stepped back as a senior royal, so it wouldn’t be surprising not to see him on the Buckingham Palace balcony after the ceremony. That was procedure at the queen’s Platinum Jubilee, too: Only working royals got to stand on the balcony with her at the Trooping of the Colour. And Charles — who has previously expressed a desire not only to slim down the ranks of the senior royals but also to streamline the coronation itself — may skip the bit where he makes all the dukes kneel to him in the ceremony, Vanity Fair’s Nicholl told ET. That would potentially absolve both him and Harry of one uncomfortable moment.

Will the king respond with a tell-all of his own?

A Daily Mirror report has dangled the possibility, saying that the BBC — as part of its coronation coverage — wants to run a sit-down interview with the king, in which he would doubtless be asked about Meghan and Harry. The Mirror also said Jonathan Dimbleby, who conducted the 1994 interview in which Charles publicly admitted to cheating on Princess Diana, might do this one, too. But that special didn’t go well for Charles, and while it makes sense that the BBC (or any media outlet) would be eager to air an exclusive with the monarch, it’s hard to envision him issuing a response to Harry via a TV profile. “A lack of candor is the royal way; candor is seen dolorously, even if the only truly discreet royal — Queen Elizabeth — is now dead,” the Daily Beast points out. “She never divulged anything” and generally met even the biggest family crises with outward-facing silence.

Charles has historically been a more outspoken figure than his mother, but a king sitting down for a prime-time tell-all to retaliate against his son? I’m skeptical! That just doesn’t seem like something a reigning monarch would do. As the Mirror itself notes, “Even one small comment on Harry and Meghan would make worldwide news. It could also prompt a response from Harry, which would be unpredictable, like so much. Everything is very delicate.”

Which activities will be available to Harry over coronation weekend?

Given that Charles has reportedly set the coronation as the deadline for Harry and Meghan to move their belongings out of Frogmore, it’s possible he will have some packing to do. According to the Daily Mail, Prince William has worried that Harry “could steal the limelight by, for example, going on a walkabout in a deprived London borough,” so … maybe he’ll do that!

Otherwise, Harry may consult the official coronation website for an overview of the agenda — May 6: Big Day; May 7: “a spectacular Coronation Concert” at Windsor Castle at which apparently no one wants to play, plus light shows and drone displays across the country; May 6-8: Big Lunches; May 8: Big Help Out and a bank holiday, which Brits are encouraged to spend volunteering — as well as a small menu of coronation appetizers (literal and figurative). The preparation toolkit includes three coronation recipes for things like Coronation Roast and Coronation Aubergine, as well as a Spotify playlist that is truly all over the gaff. Ed Sheeran, Grace Jones, Queen, Michael Bublé … did the king make this himself? Is it a preview of chaos to come?

Stay tuned to find out.

This article has been updated.

Just How Awkward Could the Coronation Be for Prince Harry?