Daniela Elser: Royal snub – Charles and Harry not seen together at Prince Philip’s funeral

OPINION:

Prince Charles has never been a man who has had to contend with much – scratch that, any – sort of popularity or who has engendered the sort of feverish public obsession his first wife – and both daughters-in-law – have.

But today, the heir to the throne is on the receiving end of something new from the fickle public – sympathy.

On Saturday, the royal family laid Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh to rest and, in the wake of the sombre family occasion, there has been a certain curious reorienting of Charles’ image from a figure viewed with benign, low-grade distaste to that of a grieving, heartbroken son.

But before we indulge in too much bleeding heart tenderness for the 72-year-old and start dispensing hugs, we’ve got to talk about whether Charles actually failed, and badly, during the funeral as both a dad himself and as the royal family’s new paterfamilias.

Conservatively, 99.6 per cent of the coverage of his son Prince Harry’s return to the UK and his re-entry into the frigid waters of royal family life has been devoted to his all-too-conspicuous reunion with his brother Prince William.

What has been obscured in the tabloid wash is that while the two brothers, whose feud has launched 1000 newspaper front pages, might have actually been seen speaking to one another after the service, Charles was not seen interacting at all with his youngest boy.

(Nor, according to some reports, did his siblings Princess Anne and Prince Edward engage with the self-exiled royal.)

As they stood in the spring sunshine, Harry was notably seen first speaking with William’s wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, before then chatting to his brother, the future king, as the three of them made their way back towards Windsor Castle.

Let’s be real here: this did not seem like an off-the-cuff gesture or a spontaneous, natural thawing of relations. All three of the younger HRHs would have been acutely aware of the unrelenting focus on them and seemed to perform accordingly.

So why was Charles not seen, even for the briefest of moments, talking to Harry?

It was reportedly Charles’ PR masterstroke to wave off the waiting cars after Saturday’s service and for the family to instead walk back towards the castle, giving William and Kate the perfect moment to be seen to be extending the most tentative and tremulous olive branch towards Harry.

Nearly immediately afterwards, reports started zinging their way around the web using the “r” word – reconciliation. After years of antipathy and stewing hurts, here finally was one small indication that things might be looking up for Diana’s sons.

In this vein, one photo of Charles, William and Harry in conversation would have gone far to help sell the notion that things are slowly improving behind palace gates.

It’s not as if they needed to have some sort of in-depth heart-to-heart, all raw emotion and vulnerability. According to the Daily Express’ trusty lip reader, William said to Harry as they took off their masks, “Yes it was great, wasn’t it”, to which Harry replied “It was as he wanted.” At another point, the elder Wales said to the younger, “Absolutely beautiful service, ah, the music.”

Truly riveting stuff.

While William and Harry are reported to have later “mingled” in private with other senior members of the royal family, Charles included, when they returned to the Windsor Castle Quadrangle, there was not a single indication of any sort of father-son détente while a bevy of lenses were trained on the family.

That Charles did not go out of his way to offer a very public gesture of reconciliation with Harry is significant.

We are, after all, only six weeks on from Harry and his wife Meghan taking to TV screens to let loose a barrage of explosive claims about the royal house which resulted in a global outpouring of antipathy towards the palace. Don’t forget too here that Harry saw fit to tell the world that his father had cut him off financially and at one stage stopped taking his calls.

That Charles might not quite be ready to bury the hatchet publicly is perhaps understandable. If there is one thing that I’d known about Charles it is that he has quite the ego on him, though maybe that’s simply what a lifetime of being told you get to be king does to a man.

However, the Prince of Wales isn’t just a father here, he is the next sovereign and as such it would have been in the royal house’s best interest for him to play a part in helping dampen the roiling family drama swirling around Harry.

The Sun has reported Charles, William and Kate held “clear the air talks” with Harry after the funeral, which is all well and good.

Image matters here and if Buckingham Palace and Clarence House really want to put paid to the rift storyline which has dominated royal coverage for years now, if they want to replace the prevailing image of the royal of Windsor as a family and an institution riven by anger and squabbling, then they have to do more. Much more. And much more when cameras are trained on them.

All this quadrangle “mingling” and quasi-family summits don’t appear to have achieved all that much, with The Telegraph reporting that Harry will return to the US this week without having had a one-on-one meeting with his father.

The clock is ticking here for Charles.

The 72-year-old has an ever-narrowing window to sort this situation out before he ascends to the throne. If he fails to deal with this mess before then, he faces the prospect of his reign being not only overshadowed, but defined, by all of this family drama.

God save King Charles III – he is going to need all the divine help he can get to sort this schmozzle out.

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.

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