QUEEN Elizabeth II was fortunate to find a strong and understanding partner to support her, with Prince Philip by her side for nearly 75 years.
But now he is gone, and when his funeral on Saturday was over, she returned – very much a lonely and solitary figure – to her apartments in Windsor Castle. But she is not alone.
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Apart from her immediate family of Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward, the Queen is able to rely on the support and comfort of Edward’s wife, the Countess of Wessex, who has become a pivotal figure in the sovereign’s close circle.
Together with the Duchess of Cambridge, Sophie is the new backbone of the royal family – a backbone not one of male dominance, but very much a female support and guide to how the monarchy is going to adapt and survive in the next two decades.
Royal expert Penny Junor said: “After all those years of having Philip by her side, both as a loving husband and a supportive consort, no-one will ever fill the void in the Queen’s life left by him.
“But she has the love of a nation and her own family to support her through the coming months. And she know she can always rely on Sophie and Kate.”
Barely two days after the announcement of Philip’s death it was Sophie Wessex who was the first close member of the Royal family to respond to the public’s understandable desire for more information about how Philip had passed away.
"It was so gentle, like someone took him by the hand, and then he went. Very peaceful, which is what you want for somebody, isn’t it?” said Sophie, taking the lead as she responded to the question.
Sophie’s sensitive response to the devastating blow of losing Philip resonated with the public, rather than the measured statements of Charles or Andrew.
It was the second time Sophie had spoken in about her father-in-law’s death.
The day before she wound down the window of her Range Rover to respond to a question about how the Queen was bearing up, saying: “Thinking of others before herself, she's amazing."
The fact that Sophie, whose husband is 13th in line to the throne, appeared to be leading the family’s public response, came as no surprise to those who have followed the machinations of the royals over the last decade.
It has simply re-emphasised what is now accepted at court, that Sophie, 56, the unassuming daughter of a tyre company executive, is now the closest to the Queen.
Or as one courtier puts it: “If you’re asking who is HM’s favourite child, it’s none of them – it’s actually her daughter-in-law.”
And Kate, while not being as close to the Queen as Sophie, is now seen to be a huge asset to the monarchy, not least for her attempts to act as the go-between in the rift between her husband William, and the errant Prince Harry.
A senior royal source said: “For all that has been said about Prince Charles being the one leading the way to shape the monarchy and to streamline it to ensure its survival, it will be up to these two, Sophie and Kate, about how they support the way forward.”
Indeed it is not being acknowledged by those who serve the sovereign that it will be Kate and Sophie who will “just get on with it” (to use one of Prince Philip’s favourite phrases) as they help the next generation adapt for the future.
These two capable women – both who weren’t born royal – will be the new “strength and stay” to support the Queen and then, when the time comes, Prince Charles as he inherits the crown.
It was touching that at the end of Prince Philip’s funeral, it was Kate, 39, who consoled a tearful Prince Charles with a kiss on the cheek and a comforting hand on his shoulder.
A courtier who was outside St George’s Chapel on the day said that, out of camera shot, Kate did exactly the same for the Duchess of Cornwall, who was as visibly upset as her husband Charles.
Not long after that sensitive gesture of comfort to her father-in-law and Camilla, came Kate’s most crucial act of all – the moment she made the first move to speak to Harry, who had been avoiding any eye contact with his brother.
The two brothers were said to have only exchanged texts since Harry’s return from Los Angeles at the beginning of last week.
Moments later Kate artfully dropped back a little as the royal party made its way back up the hill to Windsor Castle, ensuring that the two feuding brothers had to engage with each other, even if not for long.
Royal biographer Ingrid Seward said: “It was typical of Kate to break the ice and speak to Harry, with William by her side.
“Harry must have felt awkward because he knew the hurt he had caused but Kate was charming to him.
“After the things that Meghan said to Oprah about the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate would have been quite entitled to also avoid Harry.
“She has got beautiful manners and when she sees an awkward situation she wouldn’t run away from it.
“Kate is a mum of three, she has a husband she needs to support — and I don’t think there’s enough time in her life to hold grudges.”
As the world could see, Kate conducted herself at the funeral as a confident and composed figure, her demeanour sombre yet stylish.
It’s no wonder she has impressed the Queen – not least for the way she has calmed her husband (William was known to have a short fuse, often losing his temper with staff).
A senior royal source, who has worked for William and Kate at Kensington Palace, observes: “Kate has grown so much in emotional stature during her time with William.
“She was so nervous of saying or doing the wrong thing in the early years, but she now has real confidence. What you see is a woman of genuine warmth and empathy – it’s not an act.”
The way the two women have reacted to the pandemic has also impressed the Queen, with both Kate and Sophie quietly continuing their royal engagements, albeit by Zoom appearances rather than physical visits.
Royal expert Penny Junor has been particularly taken by the way Kate and William have acted over the last year.
“They have blossomed during the pandemic,” she says. Their lifestyle, humility and sense of public service all chime well with today’s world."
And although the loss of Harry and Meghan to the family is considerable — and the damage they may be able to inflict from afar unnerving — the contrast between the couples could not be starker.
Penny observes: “The Cambridges give the impression that they care about the problems of others.
“The Sussexes seem more concerned with their own wellbeing.”
We shared how Prince Harry wrote Charles ‘deeply personal note’ ahead of homecoming for Philip’s funeral.
The highly-anticipated return of Prince Harry to British soil did deliver a hint of hope of a reconciliation, as Charles sent cars away after his father's funeral to allow his sons the chance to talk.
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