For observers of the royal narrative trying to figure out just how badly damaged relations are between Prince Harry and his brother, a pivotal moment was always going to be their joint appearance to unveil a statue to their mother this on what would have been her 60th birthday.
The event appeared to be formally announced as a joint appearance in August last year, when Kensington Palace issued a rare joint statement on behalf of William and Harry announcing that the long-awaited memorial would be revealed in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace on July 1, 2021.
“The statue that Prince William and Prince Harry have commissioned to commemorate their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, will be installed next year on what would have been her 60th Birthday,” the statement read. It came with a quote from the brothers saying: “We look forward to unveiling the statue, which will allow all those who visit Kensington Palace to remember and celebrate her life and legacy.”
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While friends of the royals have previously said that it would be unimaginable for Harry not to return home for the event, a rumor that Harry may skip the ceremony—and thereby avoid an awkward shoulder-to-shoulder moment with his brother—has been gaining ground this week.
Harry’s official spokespeople have, rather interestingly, declined to comment on the issue to The Daily Beast.
While reluctance to officially confirm Harry’s travel plans for the summer is of course understandable given the chaotic state of global travel, and the impending birth of Harry’s second child, the reticence to commit is notably at odds with previous assurances from all sides that both princes would attend the joint unveiling.
The respected royal reporter Russell Myers was one of those to this week question whether the visit will take place, commenting: “Some quarters of the family did give him a frosty reception [at the funeral] and perhaps that did shock him somewhat.” He went on to say Harry may use the birth of his daughter, who is expected to arrive in the summer, as a “convenient excuse” not to “face the family.”
It has been noted in some quarters that Meghan said she was not able to fly to the U.K. for the funeral on doctor’s orders, yet flew to America for a glamorous baby shower just weeks before the birth of Archie.
The statue has already been the subject of much debate and argument between the brothers.
There was back-and-forth for several years before the sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley was formally commissioned in 2017.
It’s hard to imagine the more socially aware Harry of 2021 signing off on Rank-Broadley as the artist. A consummate establishment insider, his familiar effigy of Queen Elizabeth II appears on all U.K. and Commonwealth coinage since 1998.
Predictably the brothers struggled to agree on how the statue would look, although a final design was ultimately settled on.
Although relations were massively strained by Harry and Meghan’s departure from the ranks of working royals, the plan for the brothers to jointly collaborate on unveiling the statute to their mother seemed entirely uncontroversial even in 2020.
But the explosive allegations aired by Harry and Meghan in their interview with Oprah Winfrey have completely altered the tenor of the relationship.
Understandably, William did not take kindly to his family being labelled racist or uncaring in general terms, but what is likely to have specifically enraged him is Meghan’s attack on Kate, about whom William is hugely protective.
Meghan accused Kate of making her cry in the run-up to the wedding, and failing to help Meghan build support in the royal establishment to correct a version of the story which ran in the media saying that it was Meghan who made Kate cry.
Although the brothers exchanged a few cordial words after the funeral of their grandfather (largely, some cynics suspect, for the benefit of the waiting cameras) all sides have sought to downplay any sense of a breakthrough.
Someone in Harry and Meghan’s camp, for example, appears to have briefed sympathetic biographer Omid Scobie that nothing of substance was discussed relating to the controversial allegations made in the Oprah interview or the ensuing fallout.
“This trip was to honor the life of his grandfather and support his grandmother and relatives,” a source described as close to Harry told Scobie. “It was very much a family-focused period of time. Saturday broke the ice for future conversations, but outstanding issues have not been addressed at any great length. The family simply put their issues to one side to focus on what mattered.”
The source took the trouble to add that a tabloid report claiming that Harry wrote a “deeply personal” letter for his father before the funeral was “also false.”
There is likely to have been irritation in the palace that Meghan’s camp appeared to brief sources in the U.S. media that Meghan had spoken to the queen on the telephone to express her condolences. Leaking even the mere existence of private conversations with the monarch is exactly the kind of breach of protocol that puts backs up at the palace.
Despite a positive gesture this week when Harry and Meghan “privately congratulated” William and Kate on their 10th wedding anniversary, the general supposition among friends of the royals is that Harry and William are no closer to reconciling than they were immediately after the interview. It’s hard to see how any real reconciliation can take place when both sides feel that they have been mightily wronged and the other side needs to apologize first.
Prince Philip’s send-off gave everybody convenient alibis to hide behind. Nobody would expect people to be smiling, laughing, or glad-handing at a COVID-era funeral. Real masks served a metaphorical purpose.
A show was put on, a surprisingly fitting way to honor the master of the stiff upper lip.
It’s questionable whether such a facade would convince the public when it’s just Harry, William, and the legacy of their celebrated and much-lamented late mother. Any frostiness between the brothers could completely overshadow the project.
Harry may just decide, on this occasion, that discretion is the better part of valor.