Two years, six months and one day. That is the time that passed since William and Kate, brand new Prince and Princess of Wales, were last seen in a public act with Harry, brother of the crown prince, and Meghan Markle, his wife. A long gap of more than 30 months that could only be broken by the death of Elizabeth II, grandmother of the two brothers, always close since the death of their mother but distanced since the departure of Harry and his family to the United States in March 2020.
The princes of Wales and the dukes of Sussex were the protagonists of the most unexpected image, in a gesture that brings to mind a possible reconciliation. William, heir to the British throne, attended on Saturday morning the act of proclamation of his father, Charles III, as king. In the afternoon, he arrived in Windsor: after 5.00pm a large black car stopped at the gates of the castle and William got out of the driver’s seat, as his wife, Kate, descended from the passenger’s seat. The surprise would come moments later when Harry and Meghan descended from the back of the vehicle.
The group, who years ago was nicknamed the Fab Four in the United Kingdom, walked together to the castle gates to stroll among the hundreds of bouquets, notes and mementos that the citizens had left at the gates of the queen’s residence. And quite close to their own residences too, in fact, as when they are in the United Kingdom, Harry and Meghan stay in Frogmore Cottage, the 10-bedroom house they renovated, while William and Catherine have just moved to Adelaide Cottage, just 400 feet away.
Dressed in mourning attire, the brothers (who have been seen chatting discreetly, without smiles or gestures) and the sisters-in-law greeted the crowd, walked through the area and read some of the written messages. After the visit, William’s spokesman explained – according to The Guardian – that it was the new Prince of Wales who invited his brother and his sister-in-law to join him and Kate to thank the citizens for their gestures of affection.
This reunion in a public event has been quite a surprise, both for those present and for the British press. The last time they were publicly in the same place was in June, at the mass for the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II, but they entered and left St. Paul’s Cathedral at different times, and once inside they sat in opposite wings. They could not be photographed together. The last picture of the four – already with tense gestures and where Harry and Meghan walked and sat behind the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – was at a Commonwealth Day church service on March 9, 2020, which was also their last public act in the UK. To see the four of them together as equals and chatting amicably, one would have to go back one more year, to March 11, 2019, also at a Commonwealth service in Westminster Abbey.
The brothers had already met after the death of Elizabeth II. Although Harry lives in California, he was in Europe for several events in London, Manchester and Düsseldorf (Germany), so he was able to rush to Balmoral to be with his father and his brother. He arrived late on Thursday, when the death of the monarch had already been announced, and left very early on Friday.
William’s gesture towards Harry – inviting him on a walk, letting themselves be seen together in a first, albeit casual, act – seems like a small approach with the aim of closing the open wound between the brothers. The abandonment of the royal family by the youngest child of Charles III and the late Princess Diana deeply impacted the firstborn, who did not understand that decision. The multiple interviews where the Duke and Duchess of Sussex revealed private family matters also weigh in on their distance; especially the one they gave to Oprah Winfrey shortly after settling in the US, in which they accused the royal family of being racist and where Markle spoke about having considered suicide.
Until now, coldness and distance had prevailed between the brothers. Neither the birth of Lilibet, the second daughter of Harry and Meghan (already in California), in June 2021; nor the unveiling of a statue of Diana for her 60th anniversary a month later, to which they both attended, even posing together for a few minutes; nor the acts for the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II, where they were barely together and where, according to the tabloids, they did not see each other in private – nothing had been able to bring them any closer. Now, with the death of Elizabeth II, William will take on a more institutional role, one with a greater weight, and he will have to make his brother’s role clear as well.
There is also the position of Harry as the son of Charles III. As king, he has the power to decide if he grants Archie and Lilibet, Harry’s children, the title of princes, something that his son has always demanded. On Friday, in his first speech as monarch, he expressed his “love for Harry and Meghan, as they continue to build their lives overseas.”
The distance between England and California is still considerable, but perhaps that of Harry and William will begin to diminish now.