The subtle briefings were designed to give Prince Harry the softest possible landing on his arrival back in the UK ahead of his beloved grandfather’s funeral on Saturday.
From sources suggesting he was “united in grief” with the rest of the Royal family following the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, to the couple’s unofficial spokesman Omid Scobie insisting – should anyone be in doubt – that “Harry was incredibly close to Philip”, the Sussex spin machine was in evidence as the displaced Prince prepared for his first transatlantic flight in 13 months.
Members of the Royal family also sought to calm serves ahead of what is feared could be a difficult reunion for the House of Windsor, with a palace source suggesting that the Prince of Wales was particularly looking forward to seeing his youngest son. “It’s been more than a year,” they pointed out.
Yet with Harry, 36, due back in the royal fold without his pregnant wife, Meghan, who will not be flying over from LA on medical advice, how warm is his welcome likely to be?
It is no secret that the Royal family were left universally shellshocked by the couple’s interview with Oprah Winfrey last month, in which they accused an unnamed family member of asking about Archie’s skin tone and blamed “The Firm” for a lack of support.
Harry’s suggestion that Charles and the Duke of Cambridge felt “trapped” in the monarchy is also believed to have caused deep offence among his nearest and dearest – not to mention the fact that the two-hour televised tell-all was broadcast to the world while Prince Philip, 99, was still undergoing treatment in hospital.
With subsequent phone calls between the royal brothers and between Harry and his father described as “unproductive” by Gayle King, the US TV anchor and a friend of the Sussexes, bristling tensions still remain.
The fragile situation was certainly not helped by the statement issued via the Sussexes’ Archewell website on Friday reacting to Duke’s death.
Reading: “In loving memory of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, 1921-2021. Thank you for your service… you will be greatly missed,” the brevity of the message raised eyebrows behind palace gates – as well as the misjudged timing.
As one royal insider explained: “There’s a natural order here and they just ignored it by putting their own statement out, without telling anyone, before the Prince of Wales had even issued a response. Quite a few people read it and thought: “Is that all they’ve got to say?”.”
Watch: Philip’s death ‘like someone took him by the hand and off he went’ – Sophie
Yet despite the disquiet over recent events, there is a genuine sense that the family do want to use their former patriarch’s passing as a catalyst for reconciliation. It comes after Sir John Major, the former prime minister, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that “the friction that we are told has arisen is a friction better ended as speedily as possible”.
According to one royal source: “The funeral will be a unifying moment because it’s about the loss of a beloved father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
“And on top of all that, there’s a real, clear-eyed focus on support for the Queen. It’s all about HM right now. That’s the universal feeling right across all branches of the family.”
Or as another put it: “They know the world will be watching. There will be no outward signs of any tensions whatsoever. The entire focus will be on the Queen, no exceptions. A family unified.”
With the funeral procession and ceremony due to be broadcast live from Windsor Castle, some have even suggested that the Royal family will be able to better hide their emotions because they will be wearing facemasks inside in accordance with coronavirus guidelines.
Much was made of the body language between the Sussexes and the Cambridges during their last royal engagement together at Westminster Abbey on March 9 2020, with some media outlets even employing lip readers to decipher their stilted conversations.
Watch: Queen left with ‘huge void’ in her life after Philip’s death – Andrew
But with the royals expected to walk in silence behind the Duke’s coffin, which will be transported from the State Entrance to St George’s Chapel in a specially adapted Land Rover hearse, little is likely to be given away as they put on brave faces.
Although Mr Scobie insisted that Meghan “had made every effort to travel but unfortunately she did not receive medical clearance,” it is thought the American former actress was highly unlikely to attend for fear of proving too much of a distraction. Thought to be due to give birth to their second child, a girl, as early as next month, the Duchess will remain in Montecito with their son Archie, 23 months. With the guest list limited to 30 under the current covid rules, none of Philip’s great-grandchildren will be attending.
Since he is flying solo, and exempt from the 10-day quarantine for UK arrivals on compassionate grounds, it is thought Harry will stay at Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, still his UK home. It is not known whether he will share the Grade II listed, five-bedroom property with his cousin Princess Eugenie, her husband Jack Brooksbank and their two-month-old son August, to whom it has been sublet, or require them to temporarily move in with Eugenie’s parents, the Duke and Duchess of York, at nearby Royal Lodge. One report suggested he could stay at Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace.
Reports from the US had suggested that Harry was due to arrive in Britain as early as Sunday.
A large black Cadillac Escalade, known to be used by the Sussexes, left his Californian home shortly after 3.30pm local time (11.30pm GMT) on Saturday, amid rumours it was taking Harry to Los Angeles International Airport. There were a number of scheduled flights to London from LA due to land at Heathrow on Sunday and Monday.
There were unconfirmed rumours he landed in London at around noon on Sunday after an air steward, thought to be from American Airlines, tweeted: “Prince Harry arriving on my Flight from LAX. Not your everyday arrival passenger.”
The Prince is expected to take a coronavirus test before leaving the US and on the second and fifth day after returning to Britain.
The pandemic prevented Harry from returning to his homeland to see his beloved grandfather before his death. The soon-to-be father-of-two will no doubt be keen to ensure that problems that have plagued the patrimonial ties Philip held so dear do not end up becoming endemic.
Watch: The wonderful life of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh