Prince Harry walked out of his grandfather’s funeral on Saturday afternoon, and, conveniently enough, caught up with his brother William and wife Kate just as they passed the BBC’s cameras which were broadcasting a pooled feed to the world.
In royal reporting circles, the spot occupied by the pool camera is often known as the “fixed position,” or FP, and the FP is always the central focus of whatever royal performance is taking place, and the importance of putting on a good show as they passed the FP was clearly uppermost in the young royals’ minds Saturday.
Kate, in particular, played her part in this miniature play to perfection as she waited for Harry, broke the ice with friendly words and a smile, walked him towards his brother, and then fell back to allow them to chat.
It was quite clear Kate was taking charge and was not going to allow another visual debacle, like that which unfolded at last year’s Commonwealth Service, when the two sides of the former fab four frostily ignored each other, to happen on her watch.
Instead, what we witnessed was a demonstrative metaphorical throat clearing in advance of what is understood to be at least an hour which Harry, William, and Charles spent locked in conversation in the queen’s private apartments, availing of an exemption to British coronavirus rules that allows 15 people to gather for a wake.
Common sense would suggest it was unlikely they used the solemn occasion to excavate the detail of Harry’s claims against his family in his and Meghan’s Oprah Winfrey interview—in which they described alleged royal racism, a family and institution who ignored her suicidal feelings, and his male relatives as “trapped” in the monarchy.
But at this stage even discussing the relative merits of the cucumber sandwiches would represent a triumph of royal reconciliation and forgiveness unsurpassed since Harry invited Fergie to his wedding.
Of course, there is an alternate reading of the entire situation, which is that when the sight of two brothers exchanging pleasantries after the funeral of their grandfather is taken as a great sign of peacemaking, then the family involved has an epic problem on its hands.
Duncan Larcombe, a former royal correspondent for the Sun and author of Prince Harry: The Inside Story told The Daily Beast, “The idea that it was choreographed is 100 percent spot on. Harry and William will both have known that all eyes were upon them and every gesture that they might’ve given to each other was going to be of huge interest because of what it would signify. I have covered enough royal events to know that we don’t get fed anything that they don’t absolutely want to signal to us.”
“That said, the fact that they actively wanted to be pictured together is a very encouraging sign. I thought it was very interesting to see Kate’s role as well. Let’s not forget that it wasn’t that many weeks ago that Harry’s wife accused Kate of being a liar. Kate’s involvement tells us that there’s still a relationship there between Kate and Harry, who once described her the as the sister he never had.”
The walk up the hill was certainly better than the original plan, which would have seen Harry get into his own car before being whisked out of sight of the cameras. The palace is likely to have been delighted with a story in the Daily Mail Monday that portrayed the sending away of the cars, enforcing the oh-so casual stroll, as a diplomatic masterstroke by Prince Charles that had saved the monarchy.
Ian Lloyd, a writer and photographer who has followed the royals for many years, told The Daily Beast that the deliberate symbolism of the encounter between William and Harry should not be underestimated.
“They are aware of the cameras and know how important these kinds of visual signals are. It was not an accident the cars were held back and that William and Harry walked up the hill together right at that point, opposite where the little BBC studio tent was. I mean, they could have gone round the corner and no one would have seen them talk. It’s never really accidental with the royals. But it was a healing moment. And it takes the pressure off when they meet again on 1 July for the unveiling of the Diana statue.”
Given that it was Charles and William who came in for the most trenchant criticism from Harry in his and Meghan’s Oprah interview, the fact that newspapers have been full of reports that Harry spent the afternoon chatting with William and their father Prince Charles, and that Charles had spoken at length with Harry, were all taken as a positive signal of potential reconciliation.
By Monday morning, however, the sense of the events of Saturday marking a genuine breakthrough was fading as it was reported that Harry was preparing to head back to California on Monday or Tuesday, missing his grandmother’s birthday.
This may not be the unfeeling gesture it at first appears. As with so much these days, it must be seen through the filter of COVID: the simple fact is that while Harry was able to avail of an exemption on funeral guests attending a wake for up to 15 people on Saturday evening, he wouldn’t legally be allowed to go to his grandmother’s house on Tuesday to wish her happy birthday.
But then the Mail reported Harry may stay for the birthday celebration, as he has an open flight booked back to the States.
The royals are, as ever, in flux. Harry’s possible departure before, or on the early morning of, his grandmother’s first birthday as a widow would be a tactical error (the Sussexes’ spokespeople have declined to comment on Harry’s travel plans) as far as the all-important and very delicate optics of the situation are concerned. A speedy departure would ultimately serve as a rather depressing verdict on the true state of relations between the houses of Sussex and Windsor.
The writer Tom Bower, author of the incisive and revelatory biography of Prince Charles, Rebel Prince, said of the brothers chat while they walked up the hill: “I think it looked good, but the problem remains that the Oprah interview was unbelievably hostile. It’s very difficult to see how you quickly overcome such overt accusations. Although I think that Harry could have been open to some discussion with his father and William after the funeral on Saturday, the real problem is whether Meghan agrees to whatever they might have concluded, and I imagine she has a very different opinion.”
Of course, without Meghan present, it’s hard to see any reconciliation as anything other than a fledgling effort.
Larcombe said, “Meghan couldn’t fly because she was pregnant, but it isn't until we see the four of them together, or see something similar to what we saw on Saturday with Meghan included, that we can actually see any confirmation that all sides are actually keen to find a resolution to this and put it behind them.
“I’m not saying that Harry and Megan definitely feel differently, but maybe the dynamic was different because Meghan wasn't next to Harry.”
Bower told The Daily Beast, “I think it’s very difficult. I think as much as everyone would like Harry and his family to be reunited, it is hard to see how that can happen without some sort of public apology on the part of the Sussexes. The accusations were so grave and Meghan seems to be so hostile to the royal family that unless she has a rethink, it is hard to see how some sort of peace and truce is possible.”