Poor Peter Phillips.
After spending 43 years of his life being saved from having to perform any sort of official royal role, on this the day of his grandfather Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, the one-time Chinese milk spruiker appears to have been called up by the palace to fulfil a crucial duty – Official buffer.
Overnight the duke was laid to rest after having passed away on April 9.
The proceedings were sombre and dignified, replete with charming personal touches (such as his bespoke Land Rover hearse) and literal military bells and whistles. It was the service that the fuss-loathing husband of the Queen had himself spent decades carefully devising.
However there was one big, ominous storm cloud which loomed over proceedings and threatened to rain on Philip’s literal parade – the public reunion of Princes William and Harry.
When the two men appeared in the spring sunshine on Saturday in Windsor to take part in the official procession behind the coffin, it was the first time the brothers had been seen together in public since last year’s Commonwealth Day service, an outing that was all miserable, thundercloud looks and icy avoidance of eye contact.
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As they took their place in the castle quadrangle for the eight-minute walk behind Philip’s bespoke hearse on the way to St George’s Chapel, the world’s eyes were always going to be on the two men, looking for any sign of rapprochement – or for any potential movement of incipient fratricide.
And that’s where Peter Phillips came into play, diplomatically wedged between the two brothers in the carefully choreographed family group, though taking a very clear half step back.
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Not only did William and Harry then manage to make it the brief distance from the castle’s State Entrance to the chapel steps without throwing a punch but later, as the family made their way back to the Queen’s private apartments after the service, the two men, along with William’s wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge were seen making conversation.
CONVERSATION, I tell you.
Sound the bugles! Raise the flags! Bust out the best Davenport china and indulge in an extra finger sandwich in jubilation!
But let’s take a suitably regal pause here, before anyone starts eagerly pointing to today’s events as proof that the royal family has miraculously averted the potential PR disaster that he brothers’ public reunion was always going to pose.
This briefest indication of a possible Wales reconciliation has been greeted in some quarters with the same level of breathlessness as if the UK had just decided to nix that whole Brexit fever dream. That is not only premature but wilfully shortsighted and obtuse.
But … being seen uttering some words to one another in public for a matter of minutes is not some grand sign of a reunion or that the healing process has begun between the two men after years of increasingly heightened tensions.
Given that, ever since several years ago reports first surfaced that all was far from well behind the Kensington Palace gates, an approximate 109,788 stories (I’m guessing) have been published about the William and Harry falling out, it can be easy to lose sign of the bigger picture, which is that the men had no choice but to be seen being vaguely civil to one another today.
According to UK reports, royal aides have been “on eggshells” this week with the brothers while working on funeral plans which hardly suggests the ‘WalesBoyz4Life’ WhatsApp group is suddenly back up and running, all cat memes and polo scores.
What we have seen overnight was the very bare minimum required to ensure that coverage of Philip’s send off was not spectacularly overtaken by a frenzied flurry of royal rift stories, all 144-point font headlines and screeching exclamation marks.
As live TV cameras captured every blink and twitch, William and Harry had no choice but to perform. Whether that was driven by a genuine détente of sorts or a desire to make the day just a jot easier on their beloved grandmother, we don’t know.
If this was a concerted, orchestrated effort on the part of discreetly perspiring courtiers then the precedent here is not particularly cheering.
In late 2018, after stories first started circulating in the British press that Kate and Harry’s wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex were feuding, the two women were subsequently seen very, very conspicuously walking beside one another during the royal family’s amble to church for Christmas that year.
They were photographed seemingly happily chatting in what looked like a pretty blatant attempt to put all those nasty quarrel reports to bed.
Look how well that worked out.
As biographies and a steady drumbeat of media stories have made clear, things did not magically improve between the two women, despite their best Meryl Streep-worthy efforts. Only last month, more than two years after that effort of a walk, Meghan went on TV, telling a global audience of 50 million people that Kate had made her cry.
All of which does not augur particularly well for William and Harry if today’s brotherly cordiality was all in aid of the cameras.
The house of Windsor has only just, by the skin of their barely passable teeth, managed to survive the last week and to have somehow avoided the last seven days devolving into a tabloid frenzy and tawdry family drama.
But the William and Harry storm has far – far – from passed and still poses a considerable and ominous threat to the palace and attempts to patch up the bruised royal brand after years of crises and controversy.
On July 1, William and Harry will be reunited again for the unveiling of the statue they commissioned of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales on what would have been her milestone 60th birthday.
If they can manage to put on a good show then and only then might the palace and courtiers be able to start relaxing.
In the meantime, stock up on Rexona and gin chaps – you’re not out of the Wales woods yet.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles