Can you be sent to the Tower for saying that the Princess of Wales is slaying it? I’ll risk my neck, because at the coronation there was no other word. She played her part spectacularly well. As she stood outside Westminster Abbey, in the pouring rain, a friend I was watching it with whistled admiringly. “She looks,” he said simply, “magnificent.” If ever a woman faced a date with destiny, it was her. If ever a woman rose to it, she did. When rumors started circulating a week or so before the ceremony that she was going to wear flowers in her hair, I thought: “Oh no. Please don’t. It’s a coronation, not Woodstock.” I needn’t have worried.
The Princess of Wales knows exactly what she’s doing. As of last weekend there is no longer any trace of the slightly nervy, unremarkable middle-class girl from the home counties. Somewhere along the way Kate Middleton has acquired more star power and charisma and regal bearing than all the other royals combined. How ironic that Prince Andrew bangs on about his “blood princess” daughters, but it’s actually the girl from Berkshire who makes the monarchy look exciting and relevant.
You can tell me till you’re blue in the face that the monarchy isn’t about star power, that it’s about stability, the constitution, yada yada blah. It is and it isn’t, but star power matters. Henry VIII knew it. Elizabeth I knew it and so did Elizabeth II. Now it matters more than ever, in the Internet Age when civilian stars are 10 a penny, as Harry and Meghan are discovering, but royal fairy dust is thin on the ground.
Charles and Camilla are all very well. They seem good people with the best of intentions. I’m pleased he has finally got the job he was born to do. But who would you be more interested to meet, Kate or Camilla? Kate has the mysterious air of Queen Elizabeth about her. Every so often during the fandango I found myself thinking: “Where’s the Queen?” It’s going to take a very long time, if ever, before “the Queen” means anything other than Elizabeth II to a lot of us. And I suspect, whisper it, that it’s going to skip a generation. I look at Camilla and I think: “Well done, love — crack on, excellent diamonds.” I look at Kate and see “Queen”.
There’s a photograph of her arriving at the abbey and looking over her shoulder directly into the camera. Compare it to one taken in the same place on her wedding day and see the transformation. There’s a steeliness to her gaze that wasn’t there 12 years ago. There’s an alchemy at work that the other royals must desperately wish they could bottle. It’s the title and the history and the clothes, sure. It’s about being comparatively young and slim and brushing up extremely well. As Prince William put it recently, bless him: “Oh, she always looks stunning.”
Yet it’s also the old-fashioned stuff, like posture. She looks as though she has spent the past 12 years balancing a book on her head, and who knows, maybe she has. Shoulders back, head up, ramrod straight in robes that weigh a ton, she swept up the aisle of that abbey. If she worried that her mischievous five-year-old son Prince Louis behind her might run amok at any minute, she didn’t show it. Princess Charlotte was in command of herself, and it was a canny touch that she was in a mini-me version of her mother’s outfit.
And Kate’s 3D-embroidered headpiece was a modern masterstroke. No one can compete with the Crown Jewels — which, as she’s well aware, she’ll be wearing next time around — so don’t even try. In the meantime she’d clearly decided to shake things up a bit. She ticked the Diana box with her earrings. She could have worn any tiara under the sun, but instead she wore that confection of silver bullion, crystals and silver thread, and hats off, as it were, to the milliner Jess Collett.
There’s an alchemy at work that the other royals must desperately wish they could bottle.
I’m not sure it’s in anyone’s interests, least of all theirs, for Charles and Camilla to bat on until death. We all know they’d be happier feeding the chickens at Highgrove. I get that William and Kate may not want the top jobs just yet. Their children are still young, and Charles and Camilla are still hale and hearty and up for it. I get, too, that the monarchy is more heredity than celebrity, but you know what? Sod it. Kings and queens abdicate in other countries. So do popes. Let’s not wait until William and Kate are in their sixties; let’s crack on and crown them. Meghan: start practicing your game face.
On the plus side, Prince Harry could reflect, nobody thumped him. Nobody mentioned the dog bowl, nobody argued about uniforms and, if Netflix were there, well, at least they got wet. In a parallel universe the King’s son would have been at the coronation with his wife, standing shoulder to shoulder with his brother. Instead Harry ambled into Westminster Abbey with a property developer and a former tequila salesman, Edo Mapelli Mozzi and Jack Brooksbank. Their wives, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, are the only members of the family who still talk to him. He walked up the nave on his own, nodding hopefully at people in the congregation, who didn’t nod back, and took a seat in Siberia.
Well, not quite Siberia. He wasn’t on the other side of the nave from his family, as he was at the Platinum Jubilee. But he was seated with the also-rans in the third row, behind the Princess Royal, next to Brooksbank, along from Prince Andrew and up the nave from Ant and Dec. He chatted a bit to Brooksbank, and even cracked a smile at one point, but the depth of the family froideur was obvious. Nobody in front turned to say hello or tapped him on the shoulder from behind. Scarcely anyone even looked at him — although Princess Anne seems to have made a point of smiling at him.
Harry ambled into Westminster Abbey with a property developer and a former tequila salesman.
Was it an accident that there were more shots of Tom Parker Bowles, the King’s stepson, than there were of Harry? Was it a coincidence that in so many of the shots Harry was cropped just out of sight? The Palace controls the footage with an iron fist, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt right until the end. But then, as the King and Queen processed out of Westminster Abbey, the chosen shot had Harry right in the middle, his face hidden by the big red feather on Anne’s hat. At that point, I decided, the Palace was having a laugh.
He arrived on Friday morning from California and flew commercial, which was good of him. He spent the night at Frogmore Cottage, his last before his father repossesses it. Did he feel a pang when he saw the other members of his family in their gowns and uniforms? He was dressed like any other civilian in a morning suit and medals and seems essentially to have flown 5,000 miles to look at his lap.
When the scepter was put into his father’s hand, he looked at his order of service. When the crown was put on his father’s head, he was looking the other way. When the choir launched into “Zadok the Priest,” fit to raise the dead, he was gazing idly up the nave towards the door. He peered round the side of Tim Laurence to see his father standing at the altar, and glanced at William as he walked back to his seat, but then it was straight back to his lap.
He didn’t look up when the Archbishop of Canterbury shouted “God save the King” and he definitely didn’t look up when his supposedly wicked stepmother — in a Garrard diamond necklace and with two small Jack Russells embroidered in gold thread on the hem of her gown — was crowned. He muttered “God save the King” and the national anthem. He looked at his feet. If Charles glanced at Harry, I didn’t see it. William and Kate definitely didn’t, because if they had, he would have turned to stone.
As is customary with the couple who left London for a quiet life, the run-up to the coronation came with an awful lot of noise. Would they be invited? Would they come? Harry, reliably vocal in his hatred of the press and publicity, began negotiations through the press, in a blaze of publicity.
The chosen shot had Harry right in the middle, his face hidden by the big red feather on Anne’s hat.
Going on television in January to flog his autobiography, which threw his family under the bus and reversed over them several times, he was asked if he’d be joining them at the coronation. He replied with consummate passive aggression that the ball was in their court. He wanted an apology, a sit-down peace summit and an explicit acknowledgment of the Sussexes’ terrible suffering, which no amount of money, marital happiness and California sunshine has done anything to abate. The royals effectively replied that they’d love to talk, but they’d be very busy washing their hair for the next five months.
There were rumors that the King and Prince William disagreed over whether to invite them at all. The King thought yes, whereas William worried they would pull a stunt: a freelance royal walkabout in a deprived London borough, perhaps, posing as the duke and duchess of the downtrodden and dispossessed. A source told Valentine Low, The Times’s royal correspondent, that their invitation would not be “wrapped in an apologetic bow. It will be, ‘Here is an invitation, let us know if you are coming.’”
E-mail negotiations went on long after the deadline for RSVPs had expired, with reports that Harry was being “advised” to “play it long right up to the last minute”. One frustrated source described it to The Mail on Sunday as “like trying to communicate with Mars. It was easier to deal with Sinn Fein.”
To chivvy them along, Harry told The Daily Telegraph that he had more than enough material for another 400-page book, and went on TV to say, with a straight face: “There needs to be a constructive conversation, one that can happen in private, that doesn’t get leaked.” He also said that writing 400 pages of nasty things about his family felt like “an act of service”, although he did not clarify to whom.
In the end, the King is said to have been “pleased” that Harry was there, while the Queen was in “a forgiving mood”. One courtier said carefully of Meghan’s absence: “The outcome chosen is one that suits all.” Another was more direct: there were “audible sighs of relief”, although if they’d only listened to Meghan’s podcasts last year they would know that, actually, she is not difficult and her presence is in fact a balm to the soul. She was apparently worried that she might be booed, or as they put it in California, she had a desire “to avoid attracting negative attention”.
For the Montecito Two, it’s back to playing the long game. Peace talks could happen in the future, The Sunday Times reported. Harry will be back. This time he came on his own, sat on his own, talked to pretty much no one and left. By the time the golden coach was back at Buckingham Palace, he was at Heathrow. He had been in England for 29 hours. Was it worth it? I guess it depends how much you’re paying.
Hilary Rose is a longtime columnist at The Times of London and the author of the weekly column How to Get Dressed