Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's baby hasn't even been born yet, and already it's telling us so much about the nature of the monarchy.
With the Duchess of Sussex's due date fast approaching—or just past, no one really knows—speculation is raging as to the circumstances in which she will actually be delivered of a son or daughter, as the official announcement traditionally states.
But will there even be that exactly worded announcement posted outside the Buckingham Palace gates? Where will the baby be delivered, in London or closer to Harry and Meghan's new residence in Windsor? At a hospital or at home, hearkening back to the way it was always done before Princess Anne and Princess Dianaeschewed the norms of previous generations?
Harry and Meghan have "taken a personal decision to keep the plans around the arrival of their baby private," a Buckingham Palace spokesman said earlier this month.
Lest anyone needs reminding, when Kate Middleton gave birth to each of her three children, the process unfolded, from the declaration of labor to their first photo op, with military precision. It felt as if there was no room for error and, luckily, the babies obliged.
So that's the royal baby protocol we've been used to for the past six years, and the wait-and-see nature of Meghan's pregnancy—which, in real life, is obviously the more normal of the two scenarios—has driven home not just the differing sensibilities between Kate and Meghan (Kate, unless she really wanted to rock the boat, didn't exactly have too much say in the matter), but just how different Harry and his older brother Prince William's lives are—and have been all along.
The schism that appears to have formed between the two turned into a division of continental proportions this week when it was reported that Harry and Meghan might move to Africa after their baby is born—and the palace didn't deny it.
"Any future plans for The Duke and Duchess are speculative at this stage," a spokesperson said in response. "No decisions have been taken about future roles. The Duke will continue to [fulfill] his role as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador."
The fact that this idea is even among life's possibilities for the couple illustrates the divergent paths the Cambridges and Sussexes will continue to take as William and Kate get ever closer to the throne and Harry and Meghan set out on their own.
Which isn't to say that Harry doesn't remain a beloved member of the family, but as sixth in line to the throne, never has the heir felt more spare.
While royal watchers have differed in recent months with regard to how much the severing of Harry's and William's households really means for their personal relationship as brothers, with some doubling down on the feud explanation and others judging it a perfectly normal progression now that Harry is married and starting his own family, there's no doubt that steps are being taken to insert distance between the two.
Should this Africa move come to pass, or a move to Canada, Australia or any other far-off locale that's been mentioned, the official reason would be that Harry and Meghan are further spreading their philanthropic wings. But they won't be able to shake the underlying narrative that they actually want to distance themselves from the daily grind of royal life as much as possible, which, for Harry, carries the additional detraction of operating in William's shadow.
Harry, however, not too long ago committed himself to full-time royalty, with the packed schedule of appearances and directory's worth of patronages that entails. Not to mention, family has always been important to him, and almost everyone in the world whom he's close to lives in the United Kingdom.
Then again, Harry has personal connections to Africa, with Meghan and without. In addition to having his own charity in Lesotho, Princess Diana did some of her most memorable humanitarian work in the region, meeting with Nelson Mandelaand other anti-apartheid leaders, as well as AIDS patients and homeless teens in South Africa, and visiting with landmine victims in Angola.
Incidentally, shortly before she died, Diana said she was thinking of moving to South Africa, where her brother Charles lived at the time, to retire from public life.
Maybe, with the arrival of Meghan in his life, home has become too much for Harry—the attention, the criticism, the expectations...or lack thereof.
Two years apart in age, William and Harry occupied neighboring rungs on the royal ladder for the entirety of their lives until William's first child, Prince George, was born.
Of course, their situation wasn't a case of an uncle stewing over his nephew's arrival (though George does love The Lion King). Rather, Harry's move down the ladder was an inevitability, one that he, as a 28-year-old man at the time, had comfortably accepted as a fact of his life. Not to mention, no one is clamoring for a promotion, considering how succession actually works.
"Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don't think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time," he told biographer Angela Levin in 2017.
At the same time, he has a platform and he wants to do good with it, as his mother did in her too-short life. "I feel there is just a smallish window when people are interested in me before [William's kids] take over, and I've got to make the most of it," he said.
The window burst open, taking half the wall with it, however, when he and Meghan got engaged, then proceeded to have the most talked-about wedding on the planet in 2018 and then announce, five months later, that a baby was on the way.
If he hadn't before, Harry has certainly realized since getting married just how much people's interest in him and Meghan hasn't waned, and isn't likely to wane anytime soon. Hence the recent measures to take control of their own narrative—moving out of Kensington Palace, having their own office, starting a separate Instagram account, etc. They tried to take it further, wanting to hang their own independent Sussex shingle, but the queen determined that their office had to remain under the Buckingham Palace umbrella.
That minor setback aside, Harry's distance from the throne—which will only grow longer once George and his siblings have children—is what's allowing him to contemplate a big move, or a private birth plan. To the big brother goes the crown, but to the little brother...the chance for a little something extra.
William and Kate may be trying to bring up Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louisas normally as possible for as long as possible, but Harry and Meghan could actually do it with their kid. (Again, relatively speaking. Grandma's house is Buckingham Palace...and Windsor Castle, and Sandringham, and Balmoral...)
Their baby will automatically be a lord or lady, it being up to the queen to bestow something grander, but there is precedent should Harry and Meghan not want their child to have any title at all. Harry's cousins Peter Phillips and Zara Tindall are title-less, thanks to Princess Anne's desire to give them a so-called regular life, minus their grandmother being the queen and all, and it's worked out wonderfully for them.
And then there's William, on the straight-and-narrow road to the throne.
"Prince William is not an institution; nor a soap star; nor a football hero. He is a boy: in the next few years, perhaps the most important and sometimes painful part of his life, he will grow up and become a man," read the press marching orders when William, future king, enrolled at Eton in 1995. Those words proved eerily prescient.
William and Harry have always been inextricably linked—as brothers, as children of a dysfunctional marriage, and as sufferers of a grotesque tragedy, one that would forever cloud their opinions of the media and leave them wondering what could have been if Diana had lived.
When their mother died in 1997, William was 15 and Harry was two weeks away from his 13th birthday. Days later they walked together somberly, along with their father, grandfather and uncle, behind their mother's casket toward Westminster Abbey. The funeral was watched by approximately 2.5 billion people, after which the brothers were whisked away to Charles' country estate, Highgrove, before returning to their respective schools.
Their two-year age gap had been enough to make William the one who was more attuned to his mother's mood swings, and more aware of his parents' separation in 1992, when he was 10.
According to Tim Graham's 2008 biography William, friends said that Diana confided in her eldest son as if he were an adult, while Charles thought her talking to William about their marriage was entirely inappropriate.
When they finally decided to separate, Diana visited William at his grammar school, Ludgrove, to discuss the matter with him.
"I went to the school and put it to William, particularly, that if you find someone you love in life you must hang on to it and look after it, and if you were lucky enough to find someone who loved you then one must protect it," she told Martin Bashir for the BBC's Panorama in 1995. Asked how William took the news, she said, "He's a child that's a deep thinker, and we don't know for a few years how it's gone in. But I put it in gently, without resentment or any anger. "
Despite the separation, the still-married Prince and Princess of Wales continued to appear as a family with their children on important royal occasions.
Diana told Bashir, "I mean, once or twice I've heard people say to me that, you know, 'Diana's out to destroy the monarchy,' which has bewildered me, because why would I want to destroy something that is my children's future?"
Charles and Diana didn't officially divorce until 1996, and then a year later Diana was gone. Her death prompted a national display of emotion that was simultaneously touching and overwhelming for two boys who all of a sudden felt like everybody's concern.
Directing the vow to his late sister, Charles Spencer said in his eulogy at Diana's funeral, that he and the rest of her "blood family" would "do all we can to continue the imaginative and loving way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men, so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition, but can sing openly as you planned."
All in all, Prince Charles proceeded to raise two upstanding men with the help of the village that is the royal family, including Granny, the queen.
They both joined the military and learned how to fly helicopters. They even both sewed their wild oats—though William's were quick oats in comparison to Harry's steel-cut, slow-cook variety. And they were forever bonded as princes, grandsons of the queen, sentenced to an odd life even in the best of times.
But one has always been freer to sing than the other.
"They are normal little boys who are unlucky enough to create an abnormal amount of attention," their father remarked back in the 1980s.
As a 3-year-old, William was the hot-headed trouble-maker, envious of the attention bestowed on baby Harry. It was as a serious-looking teenager that William developed his reputation for being the more pragmatic, less temperamental, more stable brother.
The mercurial Harry, empathetic but unpredictable like Diana, may have gotten into more trouble but he was also considered the more infectiously charming of the two. However, by the time Harry was romping around a billiard table in the buff, William—no longer a jealous toddler—seemed content to let his brother have the attention.
"Too much army and not enough prince," Harry has characterized his wilder moments.
Ironically, young 'n' wild Harry got so much attention, he resented his brother for not shouldering his fair share, especially since William wasn't exactly a saint.
"He was also drinking when he shouldn't have been, but because he was the heir, he got away with it, and Harry was the one who took the flak," Katie Nicholl, Vanity Fair's royals correspondent, explained to the magazine's Julie Miller last year. "It took one of their aides to actually coax Harry into speaking to William again, because Harry was so angry."
But overall, the two have balanced each other out.
"You've got a really trusted sibling who is incredibly complementary to you in character as well as in outlook and belief and ideals and values and that sort of thing, which Prince Harry undoubtedly is with Prince William," Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, who worked as the brothers' private secretary for eight years, told royals biographer Penny Junor for her 2014 book Prince Harry: Brother, Soldier, Son.
"[Harry] can apply different skills and talents to some of the issues that William as monarch may not have the time for, or which may not be quite appropriate for the top man to do but which the man one down can do."
A lot has to happen, of course, before the Duke of Cambridge becomes king, all of it rather unpleasant.
Not only does the longest-reigning monarch in British history have to no longer be around, but William and Harry's own father will also have to be gone or have decided for some reason to pass the crown along to his eldest son—a move Prince Charles has given no indication whatsoever that he's planning to make.
William himself has said that he tries not to think too much about it for those very morbid reasons. But at the same time, he's expected to live his life as a future king, now more so than ever as the energetic but also 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth II continues to lighten her own list of responsibilities with an eye on the future.
The 36-year-old is allowed his missteps and peccadilloes—his father already proved that you can step in it on numerous occasions on the journey but end up at the same destination—but ultimately he's being groomed to think like a monarch.
And monarchs are judgy.
As the "top man," William got the memo early on that something bigger than him required his cooperation. Harry took longer to sort himself out, not just romantically, and there was good reason for it. While some people may have been uncomfortable approaching the rambunctious prince or otherwise raining on what looked like a high-spirited parade, William eventually got his little brother to seek counseling for unresolved issues triggered by their mum's death.
"My brother was a huge blessing," Harry said in a 2017 interview on Bryony Gordon's Mad World podcast. "He kept saying, 'this is not right, this is not normal—you need to talk about stuff. It's not normal to think that nothing's affected you.'"
William's intervention is something Harry has always been grateful for, and their bond runs deep—but that doesn't mean it wasn't capable of being jolted by the sort of disagreements that have been roiling families since the beginning of time.
The party line was that William and Kate were as excited as anybody about Harry and Meghan's engagement. The media quickly dubbed them the "Fab Four," because what could have been better than fashionable double dates featuring the future of the British monarchy? William served as Harry's best man, just as Harry did for William in 2011. And then...
It got weird.
First it was the sadly expected rumors of a problem between Meghan and Kate, who seem to have a perfectly cordial, if unremarkable, relationship. Despite the fact that Kate has been a busy mother of three since April 2018 and spent the summer on maternity leave from royal duties (which, as a future queen, are different from Meghan's), and Meghan was kinda busy going on her honeymoon and acquainting herself with her brand-new life, their lack of face time with each other provided endless fodder for sensational stories about the Fab Four breaking up.
But more recently, it's been Harry and William at the center of the discord reports—though it's not as if their wives aren't still key supporting characters.
"During the early stages of [Harry and Meghan's] relationship, ahead of the engagement announcement, William did speak to Harry, just wanting to make sure Harry knew what he was getting himself into," Katie Nicholl reported shortly before Christmas. "He voiced some concerns that things were moving too quickly… I was told when Harry first brought Meghan back to the palace, he was desperate for Kate's approval. He so wanted Kate and Meghan to become firm friends and allies. I don't think it ever crossed his mind that he perhaps wouldn't get it unconditionally from his brother."
So, not all interventions are welcome.
"I think Harry felt that he didn't have the backing from the one person he really wanted it from," Nicholl said.
Moreover, she added, "I think it's unfortunate that Meghan and Kate have really been caught in this crossfire, because there hasn't been any fall out. The thought of two duchesses fighting simply pulls more headlines than a rift between brothers."
And yet the princes' purported problems—made all the more stark and unexpected because they preceded by a decades-long narrative that optimistically squeezed them together into a Diana-shaped mold—are holding their own in the headlines.
"It's a bit sad really," a source told the Sunday Times this past weekend. "The wives don't get on. The brothers have fallen out."
People reported that the princes didn't speak to each other on the way in or out of St. George's Chapel on Easter Sunday, though Harry was seen chatting with Kate, whom he's always treated like a sister.
Meghan, who could go into labor any minute, did not attend the service, after which all the family in town had lunch with the queen at Windsor Castle.
But while they apparently didn't go on an egg hunt together, just a week prior, the tuxedo-wearing brothers seemed perfectly normal with each other at the premiere of Our Planet, the latest documentary narrated by national treasure David Attenborough, at London's Natural History Museum. They attended with Prince Charles, the trio's first outing without any spouses since April 2017.
Sources told the Telegraph recently that Charles and his boys are "closer than ever" these days—but it's also known that Charles has grown averse to drama in his golden years. And there couldn't have been a better time for him to get his sons together for a cheerful night out.
It's not as if they don't still need each other, no matter how many royal expectations, time zones and ladder rungs come between them.