Given the rumours of rancour and rift, the unexpected show of unity between the one-time “Fab Four” of William, Kate, Harry and Meghan has been a masterstroke in ensuring the focus over the coming days of national mourning remains firmly fixed on the late Queen Elizabeth II and the new King Charles III.
As crowds outside Windsor Castle on Saturday gasped at the surprise sight of the new Prince and Princess of Wales emerging from their car accompanied by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, any fears that family divisions would mar the Queen’s final farewell were immediately dispelled.
As the four viewed the mountain of flowers outside the castle, their body language was almost identical. The brothers stood solemnly, heads bowed; the wives, hands placed on their husbands’ backs in a show of gentle support.
They walked in silence, Harry keeping Meghan’s hand in his for much of the time. There may not have been much conversation between the couples, but this was a moment for silent contemplation, not chitchat. And when it came to thanking and shaking the hands of the well-wishers gathered, logistics kept them apart, with the Waleses working one side and the Sussexes working the other.
But taken together with the King’s warm words in his first address to the nation, when he expressed “my love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas”, the significance of this very public gesture should not be underestimated.
And it was needed. The optics of William arriving at Balmoral with the Duke of York, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex, while Harry arrived alone almost two hours after the Queen’s death was announced, did nothing to allay reports of divisions between the once close brothers.
A source said the decision to extend the olive branch was made by the Prince of Wales, who wished to invite the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to accompany him and the Princess of Wales. He discussed it first with the King, who thought it was an important show of unity.
It was an invitation that the Sussexes, who have been outspoken in their criticism of members of the royal family and palace life, were minded to accept. It meant the walkabout was delayed by about 45 minutes as they got ready.
Shortly before the Windsor appearance, William had paid his own moving tribute to “Grannie”, saying: “She was by my side at my happiest moments. And she was by my side during the saddest days of my life.”
Though pressed on the subject, Buckingham Palace officials have so far not clarified whether Harry and Meghan’s children, Archie and Lilibet, will be styled as prince and princess with HRH titles, as protocol would usually allow for the grandchildren of the sovereign.
According to the line of succession updated on the royal family’s website, although they have risen to sixth and seventh in line to the throne, they continue to be known as “Master” and “Miss” at present.