Sometimes what is most important, in both art and life, is not what is there, splashed around for everyone to see, but what is missing.
Case in point, the unveiling of the highly anticipated and much ballyhooed sculpture of Diana, Princess of Wales in the grounds of Kensington Palace. What is missing from the Ian Rank-Broadley piece is her iconic diamond and sapphire engagement ring. What is missing is a single indication of her royal status.
And most crucially and telling what was missing from the event: Any member of the royal family, aside from Princes William and Harry, in attendance at the brief ceremony and any money from the royal coffers having gone into the project.
This was no accident or a scheduling bungle or an instance of the legendary Windsor parsimony at play (though dear god they are a family who loves a bargain). If there was one underlying message to the subdued event it is this: Beware. Here be HRHs with very, very long memories.
Outside Kensington Palace, crowds gathered to mark what would have been the princess’ 60th birthday with floral tributes from the public adorning the palace gates and a horde of international media crews jostling for prime position.
Inside was a testament to what can happen to troublesome and vexatious royal recruits.
At the time of the ceremony, the Queen was in Edinburgh as part of her four day tour in Scotland. Prince Charles this week has been urging UK pension funds to address climate change.
Not a single other member of the royal family, aside from the Wales brothers via the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s accounts, has posted about the occasion on social media. (The Queen’s @RoyalFamily Twitter account did re-tweet the official Kensington Palace post but that’s it.)
Not a single royal social media account has marked Diana’s milestone birthday.
Tellingly, there has not been a single indication that the Queen and co might have dipped into their deep, deep pockets to help finance the bronze piece. When the project was announced in January 2017, William and Harry via joint statement said they had established “a committee to commission and privately raise funds for the creation of the statue”.
Thursday’s Court Circular, the official record of engagements carried about by working members of the royal family, failed to mention the event. It is extraordinary that 24 years after her death, Diana is still being blanked – or at least peevishly ignored – by the royal family.
If there was one essential, sad truth that the ceremony underscored it was that the consequences of getting on the wrong side of the house of Windsor can be brutal and enduring.
If anyone, say anyone who might happen to now live in Montecito, California, needed a reminder about the ruthlessness that can lie at the heart of the royal family, then this was it.
In recent months Harry and wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex have unleashed a barrage of damaging claims about the palace, including callous disregard for the duchess’ mental health, racism and “total neglect”.
Via TV interviews and a podcast appearance, the Sussexes have been responsible for a wholly unprecedented rat-a-tat-tat of biting criticism that has triggered the biggest crisis in the palace in decades.
While, thus far, the palace might have adopted a posture of benign, slightly patronising, placation, when it comes to the wayward duo, should Harry and Meghan continue with their anti-royal crusade then that softly-softly approach could well be replaced with something much more brutal.
Only last month it was reported the Queen had briefed Buckingham Palace aides to push back against any “mistruths” circulated about the royal family in what, per the Daily Mail, amounted to an “extraordinary move” that reflects Her Majesty’s “exasperation at the relentless briefings that allies of the couple [the Sussexes] have been giving to the media”.
The bond between Harry and his family has long been under considerable, groaning strain.
Today, the media’s attention is giddily fixated on the fact that William and Harry managed to spend half an hour in each other’s company and in the presence of a scant two cameras (the usual royal rota of journalists from mainstream outlets having been barred) without resorting to fisticuffs. (Would anyone have really been that surprised, given the bad blood between the two men, to have seen them rolling around the lawn, getting grass stains on their mid-priced suits, at some point? Exactly.)
Instead, they walked side-by-side, chatting and not looking daggers at one another, as they made their way into the palace’s Edwardian Sunken Garden, where they smiled and laughed with Diana’s sisters, Lady Jane Fellowes and Lady Sarah McCorquodale, and their uncle, the Earl Spencer.
Jolly good show chaps!
But really, can a years-long feud be jerry-rigged and hastily patched up with half an hour of good humoured smiling while various family members and Britain’s reigning sculptor look on?
Rather than some cheering thawing of relations, it seems the event was more an isolated amnesty, a brief laying down of arms in their mother’s name if you will, in the enduring feud that has riven William and Harry in recent years.
Only this week it was reported that William had thought Meghan was “that bloody woman”, a report that Kensington Palace has not denied.
So too have a number of new and damaging claims been recently reported about the former Suits star’s time at the palace via the updated edition of Robert Lacey’s Battle of Brothers. According to the veteran royal biographer, William instigated the Sussexes being split off from the Cambridges’ office in 2019 after learning of bullying claims being raised against Meghan.
An investigation into the allegations, which the duchess has strenuously denied, is currently being undertaken by an external London law firm. Harry and Meghan, meanwhile, have been reported to be working on a 30-page dossier “in justification of their treatment of staff, setting out precise details of why they parted company with certain personnel”.
Which is to say, we have a long way to go yet before any sort of genuine rapprochement and mending of fences can happen.
Today was a day about absence: The absence of a beloved mother and sister whose loss is clearly still keenly felt by her loved ones. And the deliberate absence of a woman from the royal purview who shook the monarchy to its very foundations.
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