It is perhaps telling that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge still haven’t watched Harry and Meghan’s Oprah Winfrey interview from start to finish.
While the Queen and Prince Charles are understood to have seen all 90 minutes, William and Kate have only viewed selected highlights of the Sussexes’ TV blitzkrieg, in which they accused the Royals of racism (among other things).
As Harry and William prepare to be reunited for the unveiling of the statue of Diana, Princess of Wales at Kensington Palace on Thursday, it is fair to say that emotions are still running high, nearly four months on from the primetime tell-all.
While there is no doubt that the Royal brothers will publicly set aside their differences in memory of their beloved mother, privately, a reconciliation looks unlikely.
According to one well-placed source: “Of course they will put on a brave face for the event, like they did at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. They both know it is not about them but remembering the late princess.
“But the idea that this can all be forgiven and forgotten… it’s going to take a lot longer than a couple of days.”
Yet as ever, it seems that the Duchess of Cambridge will take steps to help to heal the rift in the same way she encouraged a rapprochement between the brothers after Prince Philip’s funeral in April.
Contrary to recent reports suggesting they did not spend time together afterwards, William and Kate chatted with Harry for over an hour at Windsor Castle, along with Charles and Camilla. Other Royals, including the Countess of Wessex, also spoke amiably to the self-exiled prince following the service at St George’s Chapel.
So could another informal “summit” be on the cards while Harry is back in the UK?
The Duke, 36, has landed at Heathrow, but as he has to self-isolate for five days after arriving in Britain – he is expected to quarantine at Frogmore Cottage, his former Windsor home – it would not be feasible for him to see his relatives until Thursday at the earliest.
Meghan, 39, will not be flying over because she only gave birth to their second child, Lilibet, less than a month ago and will remain at the family home in Montecito, Santa Barbara with their two-year-old son, Archie.
Aides had agonised over whether Kate, 39, should attend Thursday’s engagement but she will not be present. While William, 39, always wanted his wife of 10 years to be by his side, there were concerns that Harry might feel ‘outflanked’ by the Cambridges if they were there together, and he was on his own.
Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, and sisters Lady Sarah McCorquodale and Jane Fellowes, are also expected to be in the Sunken Garden on what would have been Diana’s 60th birthday, along with sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley and garden designer Pip Morrison.
Meghan’s absence, however, is being seen as an opportunity to reconnect with what Royal insiders describe as “the old Harry”.
With the Duchess said to be preparing for a “brutal showdown” with the Palace over the bullying claims that have been levelled against her and her husband, there is a sense that the Royals are having to walk a tightrope between defending the institution while keeping the Sussexes onside. The allegations, which the couple vehemently deny, are currently being investigated by an independent law firm.
As one insider explained: “When they speak to the Duke he says one thing, and they think they’ve made progress and then he speaks to the Duchess and they feel they’re back to square one again.
“It’s a really tricky situation they’re trying to balance here.”
Regular briefings out of LA via both official and unofficial spokespeople – which the Palace has countered with briefings of its own – have only served to heighten the sense of paranoia surrounding leaks.
And with William’s emotions probably best described as “conflicted”, Kate will play a pivotal role behind the scenes.
The Duchess of Cambridge is understood to have “said very little” about Meghan’s claim that she made her cry during a bridesmaids’ dress fitting, seemingly more concerned with mending broken Royal bonds.
Even before the couple sat down with Oprah, she was the one telling friends she did not think it was too late to “pull them back in”.
This was despite apparently being burned on several occasions after reaching out to Meghan. When she tried to apologise with flowers following the bridesmaids’ dress incident – which aides insist did leave her in tears, despite Meghan’s claims to the contrary – she reportedly had the door slammed in her face.
One source suggested Kate had expressed sympathy over the negative press, only to be told the former actress was in a different position to her because she had a “profile” before marrying into the Royal family.
“The Duchess hasn’t said much about Oprah at all. I think the bridesmaids’ dress comments were the least of anyone’s worries. And she’s not really the type to get het up about these sorts of things. She’s just trying to help to bring the family back together and alleviate her husband’s stress and sadness.
“The question for the Duke is whether he is able to override the short term pain and damage to get back to the place he once was with his brother. It’s very difficult when the trust has basically gone.”
Yet it would be misleading to suggest that the Royals have more sympathy for Harry than Meghan right now. Before they left for the US, palace staff had nicknamed Meghan ‘Duchess Difficult’ while Harry was referred to as ‘The Hostage’.
While there remains a blood-thicker-than-water approach, regardless of what “much loved family members” have said on Oprah (or elsewhere), the Royals at large appear to blame the couple equally for throwing them under a bus.
According to one source: “Before Oprah there was some sympathy for [Harry], but not after that. He knew the damage he was doing. That he looked deeply uncomfortable tells you everything you need to know.”
Another insider added: “They’re obviously far more upset by what he has said on Oprah and then subsequently on podcasts and everything. But they want relations to improve, not get any worse. So everyone is going to have to make some compromises.”
Hence the scaled-down nature of Thursday’s “small event”, which has been more than four years in the making.
First announced in January 2017, the drawn-out project was repeatedly stalled while the brothers not only worked on the design of the statue but its location. “They both spent a lot of time walking around Kensington Palace gardens, making sure they’d found the perfect place,” said a former aide.
After commissioning Rank-Broadley, whose effigy of the Queen has appeared on all Commonwealth coins since 1998, to create the statue in December 2017, the relationship between the Dukes slowly deteriorated, necessitating separate meetings over the memorial that they would previously have attended together.
Figures such as their former joint private secretary Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, and Diana’s friend Julia Samuels, who were on the statue committee, helped to keep the lines of communication open amid reports that William and Harry were “barely on speaking terms” by the autumn of 2018, after Jason Knauf, the Dukes’ former joint communications director submitted a dossier of bullying allegations against the Sussexes.
Yet the joint statement the brothers issued last August, expressing their hope that “the statue will help all those who visit Kensington Palace to reflect on their mother’s life and her legacy”, suggested a meeting of minds on this one important issue.
As Kate strives to put William and Harry back on the same path, it seems the memorial to the beloved mother who insisted on bringing them up as equals may also help to pave the road to reconciliation.