If we could turn back time – by even a year – the sight of Princes William and Harry walking side by side behind their beloved Grandpa’s coffin at his funeral on Saturday would have been both heart-rending and heart-warming.
A nation would remember the day nearly a quarter of a century ago that these once inseparable boys followed in the wake of their mother Diana’s coffin – united forever, we thought, in grief and loss and love. An unbreakable bond.
Yet break that bond has. It has been shattered by Harry’s swift and unexpected departure from his royal duties to live in the US, and by the incendiary interview he and his wife gave to Oprah Winfrey in California as ‘Grandpa’ lay gravely ill in hospital.
There is hope now of reconciliation between William and Harry, with many believing that the duke’s death will grant them the common ground to rebuild their once rock-solid relationship; that this funeral will bring Diana’s once inseparable sons together again, just as she would have wished.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during their CBS interview with Oprah Winfrey last month
That as the elder, William should be the bigger man, extend the olive branch and excuse Harry and Meghan for all the pain they have caused the Royal Family by publicly branding at least one of them as racist in the interview with Oprah.
There are those who feel William should even find it in himself to forgive Harry, to move on, to forget all the wild, unfounded accusations levelled at him, his wife and the rest of the Royal Family.
As a Christian who believes in the sanctity of forgiveness as the cornerstone of our faith, I would dearly love that to happen.
Yet if I were William – who, let’s not forget will one day become the Supreme Governor of the Church of England – I would have to ask myself: Can I really find it in myself to forgive Harry’s betrayal? Are some wounds just too deep?
Harry knew exactly what he was doing when he and Meghan secretly plotted to leave the UK just months after their wedding, demanding a new deal from the Queen to reduce their royal duties yet keep the privileges and titles and personal protection.
All while pursuing a multi-millionaire celebrity lifestyle in California and living in the pocket of Netflix.
Yes, the same company which produced the hit TV series The Crown – a fantastic and often cruel representation of the royals, portraying the Queen as cold and out-of-touch and Prince Philip as a blundering buffoon.
Harry knew he would be badly letting down his brother William – also father to a young family – increasing not just his burden of duty but also the sheer amount of public engagements he would have to carry out in Harry’s absence.
He knew he was breaking that bond with his brother, yet he did it anyway. For, as Harry said in that interview, it was his new family – not the Royal Family – that now came first.
Yet, like his grandfather and grandmother, William never complained, never explained.
Only once has he publicly defended his family from Meghan’s accusations, in an uncharacteristic and clearly furious response to a journalist who asked if her claims were true.
Prince William and Prince Harry attending the European premiere of Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the Royal Albert Hall in 2017
Through gritted teeth he replied: The Royal Family is ‘very much not racist’.
Harry must have known that what his wife was to tell the world in that interview would make the Royal Family look cold, remote and unwelcoming.
As we saw, Harry was utterly complicit in his walk-on role – especially when it came to the as yet unspecified claims of racism.
Perhaps even more unforgivable is that Harry allowed his wife to traduce his sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, on more than one occasion.
Those of us who have come to love and admire our future queen were furious. Imagine how betrayed her husband must have felt! Harry had committed an unpardonable sin allowing Kate to be attacked.
For, make no mistake, there is seldom any forgiveness between brothers when the sisters-in-law fall out.
Naturally, both men are utterly protective of their wives.
One can only imagine how upset Kate would have been when Meghan claimed in front of around 50million viewers worldwide that she had not made her cry at a fitting for her bridesmaid dress in 2018 – that it was Kate who had made her cry.
Meghan also claimed that she was suicidal when she was five months pregnant with son Archie and that the royals refused to make Archie a prince.
She claimed to have repeatedly asked the palace for advice, only to be ignored.
Prince Philip, Prince William, Charles Spencer, Prince Harry and Prince Charles, walk during the funeral service for Princess Diana
The Queen was characteriscally chilly in her response, stating famously that ‘some recollections may vary’.
But the House of Windsor has been left reeling and there is no doubt that the interview created deep anger and anxiety at a time when the family were preparing to say their final goodbyes to Prince Philip.
What sorrow Harry and Meghan’s words must have brought the Queen as her lifelong partner, her rock, was seriously ill in hospital.
And what brother could forgive another who justified his actions by saying that if Grandpa died they would postpone the interview? Not cancel. Simply delay! As it happened, the Duke did return home from hospital for a few weeks to die beside his beloved Lilibet.
Had Diana lived, perhaps she would have knocked some sense into Harry’s head, befriended Meghan, smoothed the path of conciliation between her two once inseparable sons.
Would she have seen the early warning signs, as women often do, and brokered peace before this modern day War of the Waleses had even began?
I feel great sadness for William and Kate now as they plan for Prince Philip’s funeral. To them he was a man they revered and loved, and they have pledged their life to serve in his honourable footsteps.
On top of all that, they will have to greet and smile at the brother who, with his wife, turned his back on that path and caused them so much pain.
Funerals are supposed to bring families together but, as many of us know, they can often rip them apart. Such sadness exacerbates pains inflicted, imagined or real.
Emotions are heightened; we cling to those we know we can trust. And for William and Kate, they are most unlikely to trust the man who allowed the contents of one of their recent conversations to be shared with America via TV anchor Gayle King.
Yet, still, I feel sorry for Harry, walking alone on that final march, knowing what damage he has inflicted – not just on his brother, but on the Queen and grandfather he adored and grieves for.
The boys may walk side by side on Saturday – just as they did with the Duke of Edinburgh, their father and uncle, all those years ago at their mother’s funeral. But I fear now that their hearts might as well be a million miles apart.
Meghan’s friends revealed this week that she and her husband were ‘ready to forgive’ the Royal Family for their treatment of her.
Sadly, I fear it will be many, many years – if ever – before William or Kate can forgive them.