Last week, the UK came together to celebrate the Queen’s 70-year reign for the Platinum Jubilee over a four-day bank holiday weekend – with the royal family presenting a united front.
At the Trooping The Colour, the Queen and her family – which included Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince William, Kate Middleton and their three children, but not Prince Harry, Meghan Markle or Prince Andrew – stood proudly on the balcony overlooking the crowds at Buckingham Palace, with Charles moved to tears.
But while the weekend was a joyous celebration, there were also eyebrows raised over the appearance of Harry, 37, and Meghan, 40 – who were back in the UK only for the second time since their shock departure in 2020.
The couple were first seen watching the Horse Guard Parade through a window, where they playfully engaged with their nieces and nephews, Savannah and Isla Phillips and Lena and Mia Tindall.
They then appeared together at the Thanksgiving service, held at St Paul’s Cathedral last Friday, where they were sat away from Kate and William during the service and were on the other side of the cathedral, behind Prince Edward and Sophie and Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice, and their partners. Meghan seemed to cling to Harry for support as they walked to their seats and they were seen chatting and looking intently at each other. The Queen was unable to make the service due to her experiencing some discomfort after the Trooping The Colour, but it’s thought she finally met the couple’s one-year-old daughter, Lilibet, during a family lunch as well as seeing their three-year-old son, Archie, for the first time in over two years.
Although Harry and Meghan weren’t pictured with Kate and William, they were seen talking to Zara and Mike Tindall after the service – their first public interaction with the royals since their move to the US. It was also their first since an explosive interview with US TV host and close neighbour, Oprah Winfrey – during which they dropped several “truth bombs” and alleged there had been an incident of racism and that the palace had ignored the couple’s pleas for mental health support.
It also emerged last year that Harry would be releasing a tell-all memoir – which has reportedly left the royals “anxious” about what else he could say.
But while their visit suggested slightly thawed relations, and may have marked the start of healing the ongoing rift between them, royal expert Duncan Larcombe says he believes things will have been different behind palace walls.
He says, “The Jubilee weekend has been a really special, emotional, happy time – not only for the Queen, but for the nation. Like all Jubilees, it brings a sense of comradery and unites the country.
“But while the royals may have put on a united front, there will, without a doubt, have been a lot of tension, awkwardness and wariness behind-the-scenes. Ultimately, Harry and Meghan’s presence will have been problematic, because of the fact that there has been a huge amount of trust broken. I can’t imagine there would have been a great deal of interaction, or any heart-to-hearts, as the royals will wonder if anything they say may end up as a chapter in Harry’s memoir, or on a future podcast.
“It’s unchartered territory for the royals, really – they’ve never had one of their own ‘in bed’ with streaming giants or publishing houses before.
“I think it’s great they were there, as obviously the Queen has a real soft spot for Harry. But I think it will be have been tense and cast a bit of a shadow over the whole thing for the royals.”
Insiders have said that Harry and Meghan have barely had contact with Harry’s dad, Prince Charles – whose parenting Harry criticised in a podcast last year – and Harry’s brother William, who was said to be “furious” over the Oprah interview.
Harry and Meghan returned to the UK for a brief meeting with the Queen – reportedly with their Netflix camera crew in tow – in April on the way to The Netherlands for The Invictus Games, but Meghan has not faced her father-in-law or brother-in-law for over two years.
As well as the rift, there had also been drama in the build-up to the Jubilee as Meghan’s estranged dad, Thomas Markle, suffered a major stroke just days before he was due to fly to the UK. His health had sparked speculation over whether Harry and Meghan would return to the UK, or whether they would visit Thomas instead.
And Duncan says that it will have been William’s wife Kate who will have been a real pillar of strength for the royals during the weekend. She was seen calmly reassuring and guiding her children during the Trooping The Colour, and standing with the royals in a series of elegant outfits, smiling and taking the celebrations in her stride.
Closer has previously reported how Kate has constantly tried to act as a peacemaker between the two brothers, as she was previously extremely close with Harry.
Last spring, the world watched with bated breath when Kate discreetly took a step back to instigate a conversation between William, 39, and Harry at Prince Philip’s funeral, and Harry has notably refrained from targeting her in any of his tirades against the royals.
And over the weekend, Kate could be seen remaining calm and smiling as she walked past Harry and Meghan at the service.
And Duncan says she will have been doing all she could to keep tensions at bay.
Duncan says, “Kate is the royal family’s golden ticket. She’s hugely popular, she’s never put a foot wrong and she’s really cemented her status as a key member of the family. We saw how she acted as peacemaker last year at Philip’s funeral and I imagine she’ll have been trying to ease the tension between William and Harry this weekend too. She’ll have swooped in to save the day should there have been any drama and made sure everything ran smoothly.
“She had an understated outfit on, she focused on her children and at no point did she try to take any of the limelight. She’ll have been a huge help to the royals this weekend, and I think she’s key to their future.”
There is not another UK visit in the pipeline for Meghan and Harry, and it’s thought that this summer their focus will be on releasing their Invictus Games Netflix documentary and launching their “Archetypes” podcast, said to be due out next month.
And Duncan says that the state of the royal rift is now in Harry and Meghan’s hands and that it could either be the start of a healing process, or the last royal event they’ll ever be invited to.
He says, “The test really begins now for Harry and Meghan. They have come to the UK and to the Jubilee and really cemented themselves as royals again – which is great for their brand and something that Spotify, Netflix and Penguin will be eating up.
“But everything now depends on their behaviour moving forward. Clearly an olive branch has been extended by the royal family here. But Harry and Meghan would ruin that if any private information about this weekend was spoken about to the press or revealed in a book.
“It’s last-chance saloon for them now. If anything from the weekend leaked, I imagine they will be totally cut off and that’ll be it. It’s very dangerous ground if they betray anyone now. But if they act appropriately and prove they can be trusted, it could be a huge step in the right direction and the start of a new beginning.”