Daniela Elser: Queen’s plan to repair royal rift with Prince Harry and Meghan

OPINION

Of all the things one could accuse Harry and Meghan of in 2021, being boring is simply not one of them.

Sure, they may be accused of sacrificing the royal family on the altar of TV ratings and going rogue in the most damaging way for the palace since King Henry VIII got the idea for breaking away from the Catholic Church so he could shack up with Anne Boelyn.

But dull? Predictable? Humdrum?

Huh!

This week Duke and Duchess of Sussex welcomed the arrival of their second child, daughter and monarchical namesake Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, with their choice of her highly unusual moniker once again setting off a storm of controversy.

Things hit a new low when lawyers acting for the Sussexes accused the BBC of libel after the national broadcaster suggested that they had not gotten permission from the Queen to use her lifelong nickname for their daughter.

The palace’s refusal to back the couple and their lack of denial of the BBC report bore the hallmarks of a new, pugnacious front in the trans-Atlantic war between Harry and the wider royal family.

However, even before this particular brawl broke out, there were already signs that something was afoot in London, something that carried with it a hint of palace string-pulling and that the palace was setting the scene for an unprecedented fightback.

Earlier this week, the UK Telegraph ran a story reporting that Prince Charles and his California-based son were in “regular contact”, the first major sign that the rift between the Sussexes and the house of Windsor might be ever so slowly starting to heal.

Which was of course splendid news for fans everywhere of father-son rapprochements and the happily-ever-after brigade.

After all, for months now Harry and Meghan’s emotional incontinence when anywhere near a microphone ushered in a new and bruising chapter for the royal family, with allegations of racism, lousy parenting and “total neglect”.

Since the couple’s infamous Oprah Winfrey TV interview in March, the relationship between the Duke and Duchess and the House of Windsor seems to have only gone from shoddy to catastrophic.

When Harry returned to the UK in April for his grandfather Prince Philip’s funeral, the cracks in the family were on full, dismal show.

What this new information – the Charles/Harry detente – is now out there and circling in the press is most likely only because someone wanted it to be, with the most obvious instigator here being the palace.

But, where things really get interesting is later in the Telegraph piece.

“The royal family is keen to bring the Duke and Duchess of Sussex back into the fold,” it says.

“Despite being grievously hurt by their explosive allegations of racism and neglect, they recognise that the Duke, in particular, is hurting and that further ostracism would only cause further damage.

“The Queen is said to have invited the Duke to join her for lunch at Windsor Castle later this month, when he returns to the UK to join the Duke of Cambridge as they unveil a statue of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, on July 1.”

The intended impression here seems plain: The benevolent palace will welcome the recalcitrant Duke back into its tweedy bosom because Harry is “hurting” and they want to prevent “further damage”. That is, the Queen and Co will be the grown-ups in the room and are set to firmly take things in hand.

These sorts of delicious tidbits popping up in the British press would seem to suggest that the palace is by no means done with Harry and are no longer willing to turn a blind eye to his new-found penchant for wreaking havoc in the name of truth-telling.

Machiavelli himself would be proud here.

And Harry? Well, the language would seem to infer a certain fragility and tendency towards self-sabotage.

The Harry-is-not-okay narrative was also raised this week by royal biographer Angela Levin who spent a year with him for her 2017 book Conversations With A Prince. She wrote: “Perhaps despite his new life, I suspect he is unhappier than we think, and remains haunted by a catalogue of grievances.”

So is there legitimacy to fears for Harry’s wellbeing? Or is he now following in his mother’s very unfortunate footsteps of finding himself cast as somewhat unstable in contrast to the steely, considered palace; the neurotic son beset by too much gauche emotion in contrast to the sane, clear-headed palace?

Prior to the Lilibet brouhaha, it looked like Buckingham Palace could only come out on splendid top. If Harry doesn’t appear at Windsor Castle freshly washed and ready for a catch-up with Gan Gan, he would only look churlish and childish. If he does, they would look like the mature, sensible party whose steady hand was needed to resolve this mucky situation.

Either way, the royal family would get to enjoy looking like paragons of forgiveness and forbearance.

That was then. But 24 hours can be a very long time in Sussex-land.

Now, the palace’s play has been substantially undermined by the briefing war that has broken out in London over Lilibet’s name and any palace attempts to manage Harry and Meghan via media proxies will lose its potency.

Still, there is no getting away from the fact that it would seem that the pieces on the royal family chessboard appear to now be being moved with a new-found urgency and vigour. Maybe it’s worth remembering that in chess, the Queen is the most powerful figure of all.

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