One of the most enduring images of Prince William and Prince Harry will always be the sight of them walking together behind their mother Diana’s coffin in 1997. On that occasion they were flanked on either side by their grandfather, Prince Philip, and their father, Prince Charles – with Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, in the middle.
The eyes of the nation were transfixed by those two young boys as they carried out their agonising duty. Harry in particular, then a diminutive 12-year-old, cut such a small and forlorn figure. It was in that moment – so vulnerable and yet so brave and steadfast – that he won a special place in our hearts.
Over two decades on, and once again the brothers yesterday found themselves side by side in grief. Only this time, of course, there was no wise Duke of Edinburgh at their elbow. And the man who walked between them, Peter Phillips, was not there to provide moral support to two grief-stricken brothers, but to keep Diana’s feuding sons, once so close, firmly apart.
Prince William and Prince Harry, once inseparable, now at loggerheads. Strip away the titles and it could almost be an EastEnders storyline: Grant and Phil Mitchell (‘hold me back, Sharon!’), Cain and Abel – it’s the eternal struggle, just a different script
The death of Prince Philip is a great sadness at a time of even greater sadness for so many. Yesterday’s service at St George’s Chapel exemplified the spirit of the late Duke: sublime in its spartan simplicity, nimble and faultless in its execution, elegant and dignified and – for a grand State occasion – incredibly poignant and personal
The whole family has been rocked by that interview, not least because since it was broadcast so much of what was said seems to have unravelled, including Meghan’s assertion that the Archbishop of Canterbury married them three days before the official wedding in their ‘back yard’
The death of Prince Philip is a great sadness at a time of even greater sadness for so many. Yesterday’s service at St George’s Chapel exemplified the spirit of the late Duke: sublime in its spartan simplicity, nimble and faultless in its execution, elegant and dignified and – for a grand State occasion – incredibly poignant and personal.
The enormity of the Queen’s loss was brought into sharp focus by the stark circumstances, dictated by Covid, that saw her sitting utterly alone in front of her husband’s coffin. She looked so small and so bleak, more like a little Italian widow than a Monarch, a great Queen who has outlived and outlasted them all. And in her moment of grief was reflected the experience of countless of her subjects, far too many of whom have had to say their farewells to loved ones in similarly solitary circumstances.
And yet, for all that yesterday’s service paid tribute to their long marriage and to the Duke’s ‘resolute faith and loyalty’ and ‘life of service’, for all that it was a reminder of the stirring power of faith and the pomp and majesty of the Monarchy, all set beneath a glorious blue April sky, the eye could not help being distracted, once again, by the those two brothers walking, once again, behind a coffin.
Prince Harry was sat directly across from his older brother and his wife Kate having flown in without his wife Meghan
The Queen stands alone as she watches Prince Philip’s coffin being carried by soldiers on its final journey into St George’s Chapel, Windsor today for the funeral of her beloved husband
The Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke of Cambridge look towards Philip’s coffin before it was lowered into the Royal Vault
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Snowdon David Armstrong-Jones, Peter Phillips, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Vice-Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence prepare to set off from the castle behind the coffin
The Queen’s Bentley followed the coffin from the castle to the church, behind the Land Rover and her family marching together
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby praised the extraordinary life of the Duke of Edinburgh
Prince William and Prince Harry, once inseparable, now at loggerheads. Strip away the titles and it could almost be an EastEnders storyline: Grant and Phil Mitchell (‘hold me back, Sharon!’), Cain and Abel – it’s the eternal struggle, just a different script.
Because let’s not forget: it was barely a few weeks ago that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex sat down in front of Oprah Winfrey and fed the Royal Family through a shredder. Even as Prince Philip was nearing the end – and they must have known it – they had no qualms about lobbing the most egregious accusations of racism and bullying over the pond, fuelling every absurd conspiracy theory under the sun and painting themselves, and Meghan in particular, as innocent victims of a vicious and ruthless regime. It was heartless and cruel, and calculated to wound. Which it did. Most notable was Meghan’s claim that the Duchess of Cambridge made her cry over the bridesmaid dresses for her wedding, and that a member of the family had made racist comments about the colour of Archie’s skin.
The whole family has been rocked by that interview, not least because since it was broadcast so much of what was said seems to have unravelled, including Meghan’s assertion that the Archbishop of Canterbury married them three days before the official wedding in their ‘back yard’ (I wonder whether that little embarrassment was mentioned after the service over the cucumber sandwiches).
But it is the character assassination of the Duchess of Cambridge that has angered senior Royals so much, not just because it is so deeply unfair and unrepresentative of her personality, but also because she and Harry used to be such close friends.
From William’s point of view, this attack on his wife feels like the ultimate betrayal, below the belt and unworthy of Harry.
And just as Harry has justified his recent decisions as necessary in order to protect his wife, so William has felt compelled to stand up for the woman he loves and who has been such a source of strength to him.
Never in his life has he experienced anything like this: William is not just grieving for the loss of his grandfather, but for the loss of the brother he once knew.
So no wonder poor Peter Phillips looked a tad nervous as they walked behind the coffin towards St George’s Chapel. Those must have been the longest eight minutes of his life, stuck between those two. William’s chiselled jaw visibly tense and his face flushed, Harry tight-lipped, occasionally sneaking a half sideways glance – unreciprocated – at his brother. As they walked to the stirring music of the military band, the roar of the guns and the tolling of bells, I couldn’t help wondering what was going through Harry’s mind. Was he wishing he was back home in Montecito, crystal-infused water-bottle and meditation manual in hand, or shopping for turmeric root in the organic market? Or was he perhaps feeling a little nostalgic for the last time he was at St George’s Chapel, at his wedding in May 2018. Wondering, perhaps, how it came to be that he should find himself there again just a few years later in such very different circumstances, a virtual exile in his own land, stripped of his beloved military affiliations and with a feud hanging over him and his family.
A feud, let us not forget, entirely of his own making.
As he listened to the spine-tingling singing, was there perhaps a tinge of regret in his heart? After all, this is the world Harry belongs to, this is who he is and who he should be. This is his birthright, these are his people, his history.
Was it really worth throwing all this away just to make dreary documentaries for Netflix?
Maybe in his mind it was. Because unlike Prince Philip, Harry seems unable to appreciate what all of us, looking on yesterday, could clearly see: what a great privilege it is to be part of this world. That however frustrating it can be at times, however tedious and difficult and limiting, being a member of the British Royal Family means being part of something timeless and magnificent, something bigger than any one person or ego.
And yesterday in St George’s Chapel was a reminder of all that. How vulgar and vacuous by comparison to such quiet dignity that Oprah interview now seems, with its petty score-settling, self-serving hand-wringing and faux outrage.
How one-dimensional and short-sighted compared to the great panorama of history, the great roll-call of duty and sacrifice before us in Windsor.
And above all, how mean-spirited and wrong-headed the attack on the Duchess of Cambridge. Because the Princes who walked out of St George’s Chapel were very different in demeanour to the ones who walked in – and by all accounts it was Kate who broke the ice.
The Royal Family stand at the bottom of the steps of St George’s Chapel as the coffin is carried up into the church
For 16 years Prince Philip tinkered and toiled on a secret project he knew he would never live to see used – the hearse to carry his own coffin
Prince Philip lifts his hat during his final public engagement in 2017 with his beloved Royal Marines, whose leaders will help carry Philip’s coffin today
For the next month at least the Queen will draw on a supply of black-edged writing paper for all her correspondence, in line with royal tradition, and just as she did after the death of the Queen Mother in 2002
The Duke of Edinburgh (pictured in 2014) will be buried on Saturday afternoon at around 3pm
It was she with whom, after the service had concluded and the Queen had left the Chapel, Harry was seen conversing before walking ahead to join William. And she who, sensing a rapprochement, then fell back discreetly to allow the pair to exchange a few quiet words. So very typically Kate: an act of self-effacing kindness for the greater good.
Who knows what was said; who knows where this leaves them. It hardly seems possible that in those few moments all the pain and betrayal of the past few weeks could have been erased.
But it is testimony to the Duchess of Cambridge’s incredible generosity of spirit that she should be the one to extend an olive branch, despite being very much the injured party.
If Harry has any sense left whatsoever, he may want to reflect on this fact, and consider himself very lucky to have such a kind and forgiving influence in his family.
He may want to look around and see that, OK, they may not be perfect; OK, they may not always have the right words or the wokest of sentiments; OK, they have their own troubles and tribulations; but his family love him very much, and are willing – even in the midst of their own grief – to show it.
Time to wake up, Harry, and smell the oat chai latte.
FEELING THE PAIN: Sad Harry, left, before the funeral. Above left: Distanced from William as they walk. Above: The brothers break the ice