RICHARD EDEN: Inside story of Harry’s absence from old pal’s wedding – Daily Mail

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When Prince Harry started introducing new girlfriend Meghan Markle to his closest pals back in 2017, not all of them warmed to the American actress.

Harry’s friends, after all, tend to be country sports enthusiasts with an earthy sense of humour, while Meghan is a politically correct Californian who practises yoga when she’s not sipping green smoothies or nibbling avocado on toast.

One of the Prince’s oldest chums was determined to remain close, however, and in 2019 agreed to take on the responsibility of becoming godfather to Prince Archie, the Sussexes’ first child.

That friend is 33-year-old Hugh Grosvenor, the 7th Duke of Westminster and one of the richest men in Britain.

Hugh, who was among the guests at St George’s Chapel, Windsor when the Sussexes got married, will himself walk down the aisle tomorrow in a ceremony of such grandeur it is being described as a ‘royal wedding’ in its own right.

So, the absence of Harry, Meghan and Hugh’s godson, Archie, from Chester Cathedral might seem striking.

Citing an insider source, People magazine in the US reports that Prince Harry received an invitation but declined it after realising ‘the challenges of his attendance‘.

This followed a claim in the New York Post that, according to another unnamed source, ‘Harry actually got a “save the date” card a few months ago but called Hugh and said it would be too awkward if he and Meghan Markle attended, so he made his apologies and Hugh understood.’

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at the Armed Forces Complex in Abuja, Nigeria, last month

I’ve been told that the true sequence of events was rather more confusing than that. We might never know. But Harry and Meghan’s absence from the wedding speaks volumes all the same.

Other members of the Royal Family are expected to be there, and Harry’s elder brother Prince William is due to be an usher. Are relations between Harry and his brother now so bad that they cannot even attend the same event?

Space would hardly have been a problem. With room for 500 guests in the cathedral, it would have been easy enough to place the Sussexes far away from the family members they have publicly attacked.

It won’t be the first wedding of a close friend that Harry has missed. There was disappointment when, last summer, the Sussexes were absent for Jack Mann’s exchange of vows with osteopath Isabella Clark in Suffolk.

The guests that day included Harry’s friend Thomas van Straubenzee, who is the godfather of his niece, Princess Charlotte.

On the night of his own wedding in 2018, Harry had stood shoulder to shoulder with Mann and his other close friends in the famous ‘band of brothers’ photograph at Windsor Castle. Later, it was suggested that Mann – whom Harry met at Sandhurst, where both were commissioned into the Blues and Royals division of the Household Cavalry – was not merely one of the ushers but was, in fact, the Prince’s ‘real’ best man.

And that, by implication, elder brother Prince William was no more than playing the part at St George’s Chapel.

Anyone who doubts the depth of Harry’s rift with some of his oldest and – once upon a time – closest friends need look no further than the new series of Clarkson’s Farm on Amazon Prime, in which columnist and presenter Jeremy Clarkson at-tempts to run his 1,000-acre Diddly Squat farm in Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire.

Clarkson was condemned by Harry last year after writing in a newspaper article that he hated the Duchess of Sussex on ‘a cellular level‘.

Although Clarkson – formerly presenter of Top Gear and The Grand Tour – made an apology, Harry’s spokesman was withering in his denunciation, declaring: ‘What remains to be addressed is his [Clarkson’s] long-standing pattern of writing articles that spread hate rhetoric, dangerous conspiracy theories and misogyny.’

Yet who should appear in a recent episode of Clarkson’s Farm… but another of Harry’s oldest friends!

Hugh van Cutsem, described simply as ‘Hugh’ on screen, is seen stalking deer with Clarkson in the Cotswolds countryside – an appearance that would have been unthinkable were he still close to Harry.

Hugh, whose late father was one of King Charles’s oldest friends, has known the royal princes all their lives. With his wife, Rose, he was among those who did their bit to make Me-ghan feel at home when she first moved from California to the UK in 2017, inviting the new couple to supper at their house in West London.

The van Cutsems, too, were among the guests at the Sussexes’ wedding the following year. Yet things look rather different now.

Harry seemed to confirm the extent of the breach with the fam-ily in his best-selling memoir, Spare, revealing that both Hugh’s mother, Emilie, and one of her four sons had contacted him to voice their fury after the Sussexes’ 2021 interview with Oprah Winfrey – during which Meghan aired the explosive claim that the Royal Family was racist.

Harry's elder brother Prince William is due to be an usher at tomorrow's wedding. Richard Eden asks whether relations between Harry and his brother now so bad that they cannot even attend the same event

‘Several close mates and beloved figures in my life, including one of Hugh and Emilie’s sons, Emilie herself, and even Tiggy [Pettifer, his former nanny], had chastised me for Oprah,’ wrote the Duke.

How sad that Harry’s increasing estrangement from some of his friends appears to mirror Meghan’s distant relationship with members of her own family.

Harry has never even met his father-in-law, Thomas Markle, and it was notable how few of Meghan’s relatives were invited to their wedding.

However many new showbiz pals Harry makes in California, there might come a time when he regrets losing touch with his old pals. Tomorrow’s wedding would have been the perfect chance to mend a few fences.

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