The Duke of Sussex arrived back in the UK on Friday, giving him time to view the statue of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, privately ahead of its unveiling next week.

Prince Harry, 36, will spend five days in self-isolation at Frogmore Cottage, Windsor, but is thought likely to want to see the sculpture alone, enabling him a moment of personal reflection before facing the cameras.

The unveiling of the long-awaited statue will create a focal point for fans of the Princess for the first time since her death more than two decades ago.

However, the public will be urged not to leave flowers at the base of the bronze statue at Kensington Palace amid efforts to ensure it does not become a shrine.

The sculpture will stand in the sunken garden, one of the late Princess’s favourite spots at the place she called home from marriage until she died.

Five years in the making

Its unveiling will bring an end to a five-year project that has remained shrouded in utmost secrecy, with details confined to the tightest circle of family, trusted confidantes and senior aides.

Commissioned in January 2017 by the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, who had long wanted a permanent memorial to their mother, the statue will recognise her “positive impact”.

A six-strong committee headed by Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, the Dukes’ former private secretary, has spent the intervening years liaising with all involved and sourcing funds from private investors said to include Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

The statue was designed by Ian Rank-Broadley, a Gloucestershire-based sculptor who specialises in larger-than-life-size figures and whose portrait of the Queen appears on all UK coins.

The statue of the late Princess will stand on the plinth at the sunken gardens of Kensington Palace

Credit: Jamie Lorriman

An opportunity for reconciliation?

But for all of the time and attention that has gone into every aspect of this project, its unveiling has come to represent a more poignant moment than anyone could have foreseen.

For in death, the late Princess will bring her two warring sons back together. 

On Thursday, the brothers will stand shoulder to shoulder, united in her name, and onlookers will surely hope the moment triggers a much deeper reconciliation.

The statue is expected to be swept into the grounds of Kensington Palace in the coming days before being carefully erected on a plinth overlooking the pond.

They will be joined at the vastly reduced ceremony by the Princess’s close relatives, the statue committee, Mr Rank-Broadley and garden designer Pip Morrison.

Royal correspondents have been denied access to the event, with just one Press Association reporter allowed inside the grounds alongside a photographer and two camera operators. 

It comes after Prince Harry said he would no longer participate in the “royal rota” system, accusing some elements of the media of “control by fear”.

From Friday, the public will have unrestricted access to the statue in the sunken garden, which is open throughout the day.

But all concerned are determined that it will not become a place of pilgrimage, lost in a sea of flowers.

“Any flowers or tributes left there will be removed and placed at the golden gates, where they have always been permitted,” a source said.

“There is a strong desire that this does not become a shrine.”

A sea of floral tributes outside Kensington Palace, immediately after the Princess's death in 1997

Credit: Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images

A meticulous operation

A team of conservators working for Historic Royal Palaces will be tasked with the maintenance of the statue, adding it to their roster of responsibilities at Kensington Place that includes interiors, collections and the existing Queen Victoria and King William III statues.

The security team that patrols the site 24/7 will be on hand to ensure it is not damaged, while additional staff monitor the gardens during opening hours.

The Dukes are likely to have a private viewing of the statue ahead of its public unveiling, giving them a chance to reflect privately before facing the cameras.

Princes William and Harry, who were 15 and 13 when the Princess was killed in a car crash in Paris on August 31 1997, decided to commission the statue following a catalogue of problems with the £3.6 million Diana Memorial Fountain in nearby Hyde Park.

Profile: Ian Rank-Broadley

The royal landscape was markedly different when the brothers first announced their plans.

It was January 2017 – Prince Harry had only recently confirmed his fledgling relationship with American actress Meghan Markle.

He remained close to his elder brother, who then had two young children and was working as a helicopter pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance Service.

Eight months later, they were due to mark the 20th anniversary of their mother’s death with a memorial White Garden at Kensington Palace, where they had played as children.

“It has been 20 years since our mother’s death and the time is right to recognise her positive impact in the UK and around the world with a permanent statue,” they said in a joint statement at the time.

“Our mother touched so many lives. We hope the statue will help all those who visit Kensington Palace to reflect on her life and her legacy.”

Rosa Monckton, the Princess’s close friend, who chaired the original memorial committee, described it as a “wonderful thing for her sons to do for her”.

A moment of intense scrutiny

The committee tasked with commissioning the creation of the statue included Julia Samuel, a godparent of Prince George and a close friend of the Princess; Lady Sarah McCorquodale, Diana’s elder sister; Gerry Farrell, the co-owner of London’s Sladmore Gallery; Guy Monson, a financier and trustee of the Invictus Games; and John Barnes, chief executive of Historic Royal Palaces.

Mr Farrell, who was brought in as an artistic adviser, described it in the early days as a “challenging commission”.

He said: “The Princes remember her as a mother, and publicly she meant so many different things to different people. It was important for the Princes to convey the depth of her character and variety of her interests.”

It was originally hoped that the statue would be unveiled by the end of 2017, but privately few involved thought it a realistic timeframe.

A later announcement said it would be installed in 2019, but it was further delayed after her sons decided they needed more time to “get it right”. 

There were suggestions that the feud between the brothers had caused the project to stall, amid reports that they were “barely on speaking terms”.

With the Duke and Duchess of Sussexes’ departure from royal life in January 2020, that rift spilled into the public arena and has only deepened as the couple subsequently aired their many grievances.

It would take another 18 months and many delicate transatlantic discussions before the statue was finally ready to be unveiled on July 1, which would have been the Princess’s 60th birthday. 

It will be a moment of intense scrutiny. Reminiscent, perhaps, of how she lived.