Not for the first time in the Queen’s long reign, all eyes will be on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at lunchtime today as the Trooping the Color ceremony gives way to the deafening roar of RAF flypast.
Over the years, this tableau has offered a compelling glimpse of who’s in and who’s out as once-famous figures were pushed to the fringes of royal life.
This time, however, the spectacle will be surpassed by another event where far more depends on the outcome.
Because it will offer us the mesmerizing sight of Prince Harry and Meghan reuniting publicly with other members of the royal family for the first time since their chilly departure from the UK more than two years ago.
It should also offer a look at their children: Archie, three, and daughter Lilibet, one on Saturday, who will be meeting her great-grandmother for the first time. Although her grandson and children are barred from the pageantry of gathering at the palace, the Queen has insisted they receive the same courtesies accorded to broader members of the royal family.
They will join the Duchess of Cambridge and their three children, who are first cousins of Archie and Lilibet, overlooking the Horse Guards Parade grandstand where Trooping is taking place.
Harry and Meghan and their mother, Doria Ragland, introduced Archie to the Queen and Prince Philip in May 2019
The first picture of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s daughter (above) was posted on a Christmas card last year
The importance of this olive branch invitation cannot be overstated. Because it offers a real chance not only to mend the rift between the Sussexes and the Royals, but also to repair the House of Windsor brand, which has been badly marred, at least in America, by the dispute between Harry and Meghan.
What’s more, it could ensure that the couple, who can’t be sure of the public’s reaction during the four-day platinum anniversary celebrations, is treated with warmth rather than stony indifference.
Goodwill is anything but guaranteed. The couple’s recent approval ratings can’t have escaped their notice: According to polling data from YouGov, the Duke is viewed positively by just one in three Brits, while more than half rate him negatively, giving him a net approval rating of minus 26. Meghan fared even worse , her approval rating rose to minus 42 from minus 39 in March.
So if there is to be a rapprochement, it takes more than just a photo opportunity, no matter how artistically arranged. With their accusations of racism, claims of cold indifference from family members and staff and memories of the Oprah Winfrey interview still going strong, trust in the Duke and Duchess remains scarce.
But the Queen is determined that the anniversary should be a time to settle differences and unite both the country and her family – hence her offer to offer ringside seating for Harry and Meghan.
Harry and Meghan during their controversial interview with Oprah Winfrey last year
Harry and Meghan were pictured together at a volleyball event during the Invictus Games at the Zuiderpark in April
The Sussexes are expected to stay at Frogmore Cottage, where they will throw a small party for Lilibet, which the Queen may attend
Baby Lilibet’s role could be crucial. When the couple announced they were naming their daughter Lilibet, the Queen’s family nickname, it was seen as an imprudent choice for a baby who, despite being eighth in line to the throne, will be growing up speaking on the other side of the world would with an American accent.
Courtiers saw it as an outrageous, somewhat cynical exercise to secure the Sussexes’ long-term future as members of the royal family. Some wondered if they had even asked the Queen for permission.
But time is a great healer and I know the Queen, 96, is itching to meet her 11th great-grandchild. Although such a meeting could take place today, it could be postponed until Lilibet’s birthday on Saturday.
If so, it would almost certainly take place in the Queen’s private apartments at Windsor Castle. But timing would depend on whether there is a late change of plan and the Queen does go to the Derby despite reports she is unlikely to attend.
And if it does happen, imagine if a picture had been published. A photograph of Lilibet meeting Lilibet would be a more eloquent symbol of family unity and forgiveness than any anonymous teaching.
It could also be a powerful metaphor for things to come. Even Prince Philip’s decision to put aside his animosity towards the Duchess of York and pose alongside her for photos at Princess Eugenie’s wedding was seen as a show of sympathy for wayward Fergie.
It can certainly be no coincidence that to mark the third birthday of their great-grandson Archie last month, the Palace revisited this memorable image of Harry and Meghan presenting their newborn son to the Queen and Philip at Windsor Castle with Doria, the Duchess’ mother published keep watching.
It’s one of the Queen’s favorite images from a time when the bitterness of Harry and Meghan’s departure for California was still a long way off and the picture of the royal family seemed broad and diverse. How times have changed.
Harry and Meghan landed at a London airport this afternoon with a small team of staff, Page Six reported
With their television interviews, the couple have portrayed the royals as distant, indifferent and out of touch. Still, other family members, including Prince Charles, are supportive of the Queen’s generous gesture to the Sussexes – although there are nerves among figures in the royal household.
Those concerns center on what’s going on with Harry’s “intimate and heartfelt” memoir. It was originally supposed to be out this fall, but there’s no mention of it in any pre-release book listings. Helpers do not know whether the manuscript was sent to publishers or is still being edited by the prince and his ghostwriter.
Influential commentator and author Tina Brown has suggested that the palace is taking steps to persuade the prince to abandon the book. “Someone needs to go to Harry and try to say, ‘We’re going to give you a check for the fee you negotiated for the book, and in return we’re asking you not to do it. ‘
Considering Harry reportedly received a £16million advance on the book, that could well be beyond deep royal pockets. But at least they could perhaps encourage him to tone down the content.
Aides are also investigating reports that Harry and Meghan may be tempted to return to the royal flock if their media careers prove to be less sustainable than they had hoped. Its deals with struggling streaming giant Netflix are looking less promising, while the deal with Spotify has yet to materialize.
For now, there’s no doubt the couple are on probation during their four-day stay.
What nobody knows is how Harry and Meghan will react to their greatly reduced supporting roles in this anniversary story, despite the generosity the Queen is showing. Ten years ago at the Diamond Jubilee and 20 years ago at the Golden Jubilee, Harry was a central figure in the celebrations and in every balcony money shot.
Today he becomes uncomfortably aware of how far he has traveled to the fringes of royal life. But it’s entirely possible that the daughter, who he named after his beloved grandmother, and his son could still hold back a route as it was.