As the Queen made her way through Buckingham Palace’s great arch for the final time, followed by her children and grandchildren, all eyes were drawn to the sight of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Sussex walking side by side.
As they marched sombrely together, William in full military uniform and Harry in morning suit due to the fact that he’s no longer a working royal, it was hard not to recall the deeply moving images of the then 15- and 12-year-old princes walking behind their mother’s coffin at her funeral 25 years ago. Now, as then, they are united in grief, enough so to put their recent troubles behind them for a rare public display of unity.
Their wives also joined forces, standing closely in Westminster Hall, although they arrived in separate cars — the new Princess of Wales with Camilla, the Queen Consort, and Meghan Markle with Sophie, Countess of Wessex. But does this mark the beginning of a reconciliation? Or is it merely a temporary truce?
This is not the first sign we have had that the rift between the feuding brothers may be starting to heal. For a brief period on Saturday afternoon, when William and Harry appeared side by side along with their wives outside Windsor Castle, it was almost as if the bitterness of the past two years had been erased. The so-called ‘Fab Four’ were back together, greeting well-wishers and sharing fond memories of the Queen in a gesture of mutual goodwill that has been so glaringly absent since the shock of Megxit and the Sussexes’ move across the pond. The crowd was visibly delighted by the surprise arrival of the foursome, hopeful that they were witnessing the beginnings of a long-awaited reunion.
It was William who made the first move, with a spokesperson stating: “The Prince of Wales invited the Duke and Duchess to join him and the Princess of Wales. The Prince of Wales thought it was an important show of unity at an incredibly difficult time for the family.” While it was a last-minute decision, it was made entirely by William – rather than being carried out at the request of the new king, as certain reports have suggested – who phoned his brother to invite him to join the walkabout. Harry agreed immediately.
“The initiative was Prince William’s but it required Harry to agree. And that in itself is certainly something of a breakthrough,” said Dail Mail editor Richard Kay. “Both are stubborn and both have blamed the other for the estrangement.”
It is said William’s motivation was not how it would look but how his brother would feel about being excluded, as well as the fact that he was keen to draw the focus away from family tensions in the immediate aftermath of his grandmother’s death.
The unexpected reunion was even more remarkable considering the events that took place less than 48 hours before. Harry cut a strikingly lonely figure as he arrived at Balmoral on Thursday night (September 8), a full hour-and-a-half after Buckingham Palace had announced the passing of the 96-year-old monarch. He had not been summoned to catch the same private jet as his brother, the Duke of York, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex, despite embarking on the same journey as them from Windsor, instead making his own decision to travel to Scotland. The last to arrive, he was also the first to leave the following morning, having spent a mere 12 hours with his family.
While at Balmoral, it’s said the two brothers did not speak to each other and Harry chose not to join his father and William at Charles’s home in Birkhall. “Two dinners were being hosted on the royal estate that night and there was a clear divide: one was for the new king and his heir, the other was for the rest of the family,” revealed one insider.
As for Meghan, at one point it seemed she, too, would be making the journey to Balmoral, before the palace was forced to swiftly intervene. When the Sussexes revealed they would be travelling together, royal aides were said to be left “incredulous”, resulting in half-an-hour of frantic discussions which culminated in the King being forced to phone Harry and ask him not to bring his wife. “Charles told Harry that it wasn’t right or appropriate for Meghan to be in Balmoral at such a deeply sad time,” a source told The Sun. “It was pointed out to him that Kate was not going and that the numbers really should be limited to the very closest family. Charles made it very, very clear Meghan would not be welcome.”
Since then, frosty relations appear to have thawed. The King mentioned his son and daughter-in-law by name in his first address as monarch, saying that he wished to “express [his] love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas”. It’s said the King is keen to draw a line under the tumult of recent years.
“His view, basically, is ‘sort it out’,” an aide told the Daily Mail. “He hates any kind of confrontation but he does see this period [of mourning] as an opportunity for his sons.”
So what are the chances of a genuine reconciliation? Insiders say they’re slight but not impossible. Friend of the couple Oprah Winfrey has suggested that the Queen’s death could mark “an opportunity for peacemaking” between the two brothers. It was, of course, the Sussexes’s tell-all interview with the veteran American broadcaster last March that cemented the rift between Harry and Meghan and The Firm, and saw them drop bombshells, including suggesting an unnamed royal raised “concerns and conversations’” about how dark Archie’s skin would be before he was born.
"I was as surprised by the bombshell as everybody else," Winfrey said in an interview with CBS. “I didn’t set out to do a ‘bombshell’ interview. I set out to… have a conversation that would allow them to tell their story."
William and Harry, along with their wives, were reunited again for a private moment on Tuesday night, September 13, as they received the Queen’s coffin alongside other members of the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace, and after today’s display it seems more than likely the brothers will walk side by side behind the late monarch’s coffin at her funeral on Monday (September 8). It will be a far cry from their appearance at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral last April, where they had to be separated by their cousin, Peter Phillips. Like today, Harry will not be allowed to wear military uniform, but an exception is being made for Prince Andrew, as a “final mark of respect for his late mother”. Though the Duke is said to be saddened by the decision, his spokesperson issued a terse statement saying his “decade of military service is not determined by the uniform he wears”.
It seems unlikely that Kate and Meghan will sit together in Westminster Abbey – the Duchess notably travelled in the same car as the Countess of Wessex during today’s procession, rather than with Kate and the Queen Consort – and it remains to be seen whether three-year-old Archie and one-year-old Lilibet will be flown over for the occasion. It’s said the Sussexes are currently trying to decide whether Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland (who is looking after the two children at the couple’s Montecito mansion) should fly in with the children at some point next week.
There have been some positive signs from the Sussex camp. Soon after the news of the Queen’s death on Thursday, their website went dark. All references to their production deals with Spotify and Netflix were gone, replaced instead by a tribute to the Queen and, later, a personal statement from Harry in which he spoke of his cherished memories of his Granny meeting his “darling wife” and “hugging her beloved great-grandchildren”. Meghan has already cancelled several engagements in the US and put her podcast, Archetypes, on hold during the official mourning period for the Queen.
But it’s what Harry decides to do with his upcoming tell-all memoir that is most crucial. Tom Bower, whose acerbic biography of Meghan came out earlier this year, claims the Duke is going ahead as planned. “I am told tonight that Harry is insisting that his book is published in November,” he told GB News. “Apparently, the publishers are not too certain, but he says if they don’t publish it will be a breach of contract.”
Sources close to the Duke deny Bower’s claim, but the book remains a thorny issue. There are suggestions that, if things continue to go well, the part-time international roles that Harry and Meghan angled for when they originally stepped back as senior royals in 2020 could be offered, with royal author Tom Quinn claiming it could see them spending “six months [being] working royals and six months in the States… doing their own thing”. That seems unlikely, however, considering how vocal the Duchess has been in her criticisms of royal life.
It was the Queen who originally put the kibosh on any such plans, reportedly shooting down the couple’s requests to continue to represent the monarchy and work with their patronages. But it’s undeniable that she was keen to keep Harry as close to the fold as possible – releasing a statement after the Oprah interview that stated he, Meghan, and Archie would “always be much-loved family members” - and was known to be deeply saddened by the estrangement between the once-close brothers. Having them bury the hatchet in her honour would be the ultimate parting gift. For William, it all boils down to trust, and the revealing of any more family secrets would surely be a deal-breaker at this precarious stage.
“If Harry releases the book in November, I can’t see there being any way back for the Sussexes,” says one insider. “All hopes of a lasting reconciliation between them and the Royal Family hinge on that.”