The image of Harry and Meghan was perhaps the most telling of the year when it comes to their new relationship with the royals.
He was in a sombre suit with a red poppy and military medals, she in a long black dress. They held hands as they walked through Los Angeles National Cemetery on Remembrance Sunday in November to lay a floral tribute to the fallen.
In what was seen as a flagrant publicity stunt, the couple had chosen to release the pictures after Harry had been refused permission for a wreath to be laid at the Cenotaph on his behalf that day, alongside those of other members of his family.
The story around at the time — and it was not publicly corrected because the royals felt strongly it was disrespectful to turn the nation’s act of remembrance into a family row — was that Palace officials had made the decision without discussing it with his grandmother.
Prince Harry was refused permission to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. But the decision was very firmly the Queen’s, rather than one made by Buckingham Palace officials
On Remembrance Sunday, Harry and Meghan walked through Los Angeles National Cemetery to lay a tribute to the fallen
But, today, I can reveal it was the Queen alone who was behind the refusal — and that it took her ‘all of two seconds’ to make up her mind.
‘Remembrance Sunday is sacrosanct when it comes to Her Majesty’s diary,’ explains my source. ‘It’s one of the most important dates in her calendar and nothing is done without her knowledge.
‘People were suggesting the Palace’s reaction to what Harry asked was petty. But it was the Queen’s decision. And what’s more, she actually had very strong views on the subject.’
Another source tells me: ‘While she has enormous admiration for Harry’s achievements both in and out of the military, this was seen as an example of his lack of understanding at what it means for him to be a non-working royal.
‘The Queen is very firmly of the opinion that you can’t pick and choose what you do when it comes to the institution. Either you are in — or you are out.’
This week saw Harry and Meghan’s latest venture — the launch of their updated new website in which they declare their mission ‘to build a better world’.
While it bears a picture of Diana, and Harry describes himself as ‘his mother’s son’ on the site, there is no photograph or mention of his father Charles.
Many see this as an indication of just how far apart Harry and his family have become, although the Prince of Wales has worked hard to maintain a good relationship with his younger son.
It is hard to believe that it was just a year ago today that the royals, full of festive spirit, were happily preparing for their annual New Year’s Day pheasant shoot at Sandringham.
In what was seen as a flagrant publicity stunt, the couple had chosen to release the pictures after Harry had been refused permission for the Cenotaph wreath to be laid on his behalf
Prince Charles has attempted to keep family relations civil, refusing even to discuss the issue. Pictured: Prince Charles and Prince William at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday
Charles regrets Harry’s departure — he dearly loves his son — but his approach is ‘what’s done is done, it’s time to move forwards’, says one who knows him well
No ominous signs of the extent of the coming fracture were on the horizon. Courtiers were quietly gearing up for a busy year ahead — including at least two major foreign tours for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
‘Megxit’ hadn’t even entered our lexicon, let alone been named one of the Collins English Dictionary’s ‘words of the year’.
Exactly a week later, however, the peace of the Queen’s Norfolk bolthole was shattered by Harry and Meghan’s bombshell announcement that they intended to step back as senior members of the Royal Family to pursue lucrative commercial careers abroad.
By the time the M-word came about three months later, the country was in lockdown and the Queen, in isolation with the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor, was preparing her first public address of the pandemic.
It’s an understatement to say that 2020 was a tumultuous year for the House of Windsor.
Publicly it was shaped by the coronavirus crisis, which required admirably deft footwork on behalf of the Royal Households to ensure that the monarchy, so dependent on face-to-face dealings with the public, remained relevant.
This week saw Harry and Meghan’s latest venture — the launch of their updated new website in which they declare their mission ‘to build a better world’
While it bears the above picture of Diana, and Harry describes himself as ‘his mother’s son’ on the site, there is no photograph or mention of his father Charles
Many see this as an indication of just how far apart Harry and his family have become, although the Prince of Wales has worked hard to maintain a good relationship with his younger son. Pictured: Harry and Meghan with Prince Charles, Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, on their way to St Mary Magdalene Church at Sandringham in 2018
Privately, however, the acrimonious departure of the Sussexes has left painfully deep scars, particularly for Prince William — scars that, say those in know, may never be healed.
From the beginning of the year, the 94-year-old Queen — who has spent the vast majority of the past eight months in isolation at Windsor — has shown a quiet but steely determination with regard to Harry and Meghan.
Prince William ‘will be unhappy’ Harry is ‘exploiting Princess Diana’s iconic status’ on new Archewell website
Prince William will be concerned that his brother Harry ‘appears to be exploiting his mother’s iconic status’ after he used a picture with their late mother Princess Diana to help launch his new website with Meghan Markle, a royal expert claimed today.
The updated Archewell website featured a picture of the young prince sitting on the shoulders of Princess Diana, taken at Highgrove in Gloucestershire in July 1986.
An introductory letter introduced Harry as ‘my mother’s son’ and said the couple had both experienced compassion and kindness ‘from our mothers and strangers alike’.
But it made no reference to Harry’s father Prince Charles, or to his brother William – and royal expert Phil Dampier said this will not have gone unnoticed by the family.
He told MailOnline today: ‘I think William will be slightly worried if Harry uses Diana for any of his charitable or commercial ventures without consulting him, and I don’t think he would be happy if Harry appears to be exploiting his mother’s iconic status.
‘It’s also very significant that Harry called himself his ‘mother’s son’ but has made no mention of Prince Charles. William is very much following now in his father’s footsteps with his environmental and conservation work.
‘And although Harry has praised his father in the past, it seems odd not to mention him more and work in conjunction with him, rather than separately.’
As head of The Firm, she put aside her genuine fondness for her grandson and the deep personal hurt she felt at his actions.
And she moved quickly to put Harry straight on his notion that he and Meghan could enjoy the best of both worlds, making their fortunes in LA while ‘supporting’ her as part-time royals from 6,000 miles away.
‘Harry was told very clearly in January by his grandmother that ‘you work for the monarchy, the monarchy doesn’t work for you’,’ one source told me. ‘And if you can’t accept that, then you need to walk away. Her Majesty was remarkably clear and decisive on that point and has never deviated from it, not once.
‘I think what has evolved this year across the Atlantic has only served to prove her point.’
While suggestions that the Palace has been ‘furious’ at the Sussexes’ decision to snap up multi-million offers from Netflix and Spotify are wide of the mark, these deals have served to emphasise why Her Majesty acted the way she did.
‘The deals they have done since moving to California clearly show the truth of it: they simply had ambitions that were completely incompatible with being members of the Royal Family,’ an insider told me.
‘It was their choice to leave and seek their fortunes elsewhere. No one exiled them. Indeed, the Queen made clear she didn’t want Harry and Meghan to go and that they are still very much-loved members of her family and have her support.
‘Harry and Meghan are clearly where they want to be, and good luck to them.
‘But their subsequent career choices have scuppered any chance of retaining even a quasi-official royal role.’
Meghan’s recent link up with her friend Oprah Winfrey to publicise her new range of vegan lattes — which led to the entertainment legend shamelessly plugging them on Instagram with a crown emoji — was seen in the opinion of many in the Royal Household as not just clumsy, but arguably a direct contravention of her and Harry’s promise not to bring the monarchy into disrepute.
‘It just goes to underline the Queen’s judgment,’ emphasised another source. ‘You simply can’t do both roles without conflict. And contrary to speculation, it was actually a pretty straightforward decision on Her Majesty’s behalf.
‘The Queen knows you can’t have a working member of the Royal Family also being paid millions of pounds by Spotify to tell people to ‘swipe and follow’ their podcast, or encouraging consumers to buy a certain brand of coffee. The two are simply incompatible.’
Last March, it was agreed with the Palace that Harry and Meghan should enter a 12-month probationary period before a review of what future part in the Royal Family they might play.
Despite rumours that the couple are angling for another 12-month extension to their probation, the fact is any chance of future royal roles is now ‘dead in the water’, according to sources.
‘It’s solely down to the choices they have made. There is no anger or animosity [on behalf of the Royal Family]. But every commercial deal that has been done by the Sussexes has been a nail in the coffin of any kind of return to royal life.’
Another source explained: ‘To come back would mean they would have to undo all the commercial tie-ups they have already done, and clearly Harry and Meghan don’t want to do that. That is absolutely their choice and the Queen has agreed they can pursue these new carers.
There are categorically no plans to strip Harry and Meghan of their titles, despite much public conjecture. After Edward VIII’s abdication, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor retained theirs until the day they died
‘But to cap it all, they have bought a house 6,000 miles away, which is an unmistakable statement of intent on their behalf.’
Sources also emphasise it is unlikely Harry will be able to get back any military roles that might have been left open for him. For a proud serviceman, it is likely to be one of his most bitter regrets.
But there are categorically no plans to strip them of their titles, despite much public conjecture. After Edward VIII’s abdication, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor retained theirs until the day they died.
To strip Harry and Meghan of their titles would just be punitive and, whatever else the Royal Family are, say insiders, they are not petty.
Intriguingly, I understand that Meghan — possibly flippantly — told friends at one point that she would ‘happily’ hand back her title, which was a wedding gift from the Queen.
There is no suggestion she wishes to do so, however. It seems that being a duchess (or a duke, for that matter) carries a useful cachet in the U.S., for the time being.
William was also deeply hurt by suggestions from the Sussex camp that he, and particularly his wife, had cold-shouldered Meghan
The flip side of William’s deep disenchantment, however, is that at 38 he has built bridges with his 72-year-old father, with whom he has not always had the easiest relationship
William and Kate are also said to have become stronger as a couple than ever. They have become a lot less risk adverse — William taking part in a well-received Comic Relief sketch and allowing their children to be filmed on their doorstep during the weekly ‘clap for carers’
‘He’s loosened up a lot,’ says a friend, ‘they both have, in fact. As a couple William and Kate are quite cautious. People expect them to be very confident, but they aren’t, not naturally anyway’
The hole left by Harry and Meghan’s departure is something that each member of the family has coped with in their own way.
Prince Charles has attempted to keep family relations civil, refusing even to discuss the issue. He regrets Harry’s departure — he dearly loves his son — but his approach is ‘what’s done is done, it’s time to move forwards’, says one who knows him well.
It is William, however, who has felt Harry’s decision to leave the family most keenly.
He has forfeited not just a beloved brother, but someone he expected would stand shoulder to shoulder with him and share the burden of responsibility when he becomes king.
William was also deeply hurt by suggestions from the Sussex camp that he, and particularly his wife, had cold-shouldered Meghan.
In fact, I have been told that Kate — and the Countess of Wessex — both repeatedly ‘reached out’ to the Duchess, particularly after she voiced her unhappiness on a television documentary. But they were rebuffed.
The flip side of William’s deep disenchantment, however, is that at 38 he has built bridges with his 72-year-old father, with whom he has not always had the easiest relationship.
‘William has realised that if he is going to make it work, he needs to be more aligned with his father and they need to work as a team,’ my source says.
He and Kate are also said to have become stronger as a couple than ever.
They have become a lot less risk adverse — William taking part in a well-received Comic Relief sketch and allowing their children to be filmed on their doorstep during the weekly ‘clap for carers’.
‘He’s loosened up a lot,’ says a friend, ‘they both have, in fact. As a couple William and Kate are quite cautious. People expect them to be very confident, but they aren’t, not naturally anyway.
‘Everything that’s happened this year has changed that. They have done a really sterling job.’
Older members of the family, notably Charles and Camilla — as well as the Queen, Princess Anne and the Wessexes — have also enthusiastically embraced the video call culture, and conducted smaller, more intimate public engagements where possible.
Will the family be reconciled? The litmus test will be the Duke of Edinburgh’s 100th birthday in June, which is followed by the planned unveiling at Kensington Palace of the long-awaited memorial statue to William and Harry’s late mother, Princess Diana, Covid permitting
In fact, despite battling Covid himself and being classed as vulnerable because of his age, the Prince of Wales was the first family member to issue a video message from home and conduct a lockdown engagement, meeting President Macron of France.
As for the Queen, she still hopes to resume duties at Buckingham Palace one day in the not too distant future, despite claims she may never return to public life.
One thing is for certain, however. 2021 is a year that her expat grandson and his wife are likely to be fully free from the supposed shackles of royal life.
A source tells me: ‘Everything was turned on its head by the pandemic and people looked to the family for leadership.
‘Megxit and everything associated with it was, to a certain extent, put into perspective.
‘Feelings are still raw, but the family are now intent on focusing on what they can to do for the country instead.’
Will the family be reconciled? The litmus test will be the Duke of Edinburgh’s 100th birthday in June, which is followed by the planned unveiling at Kensington Palace of the long-awaited memorial statue to William and Harry’s late mother, Princess Diana, Covid permitting.
Harry will surely attend both events. ‘And if the two brothers can make that work,’ says my source, ‘then we have hope.’