Queen Elizabeth’s funeral: He’s been alone and adrift over these strange 10 days. Has the Prince Harry we loved gone for good?
If ever there was a moment which crystallised for Prince Harry what he has walked away from, it came minutes after he followed the coffin of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II from Westminster Abbey.
Passing the Cenotaph, Britain’s memorial to fallen soldiers, the King, Princess Anne and the Prince of Wales all solemnly saluted the monument.
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But as a non-working royal stripped of his military patronages and the uniform that once defined him, all the former soldier could do was look ahead.
It is one thing to separate yourself from a family by choice; quite another to be stripped of the honour and camaraderie that a military life bestows.
Harry created the Invictus Games because 10 years in the army and two tours of duty in Afghanistan taught him the true cost of dedicating your life not just to Queen, but to country.
His heavy brow and tormented face will be one of the lasting images of this strange 10 days in September where the world lost their monarch but he lost a grandma who loved, protected and – critically – endeavoured to understand him right until the end.
That he marked his 38th birthday in the days between the Queen’s death and her funeral only further highlighted how marooned he has become in the peculiar space where royalty ends and celebrity begins.
Without his children by his side, and with a wife who is at best confounded by his family’s status and symbolism and at worst openly despises it, he must have felt deeply alone and adrift, an outsider to the family and the firm that have steered him all his life.
While he stood side by side with his brother and cousins, emotionally he could not have been more alienated.
Yet he was gracious in mourning.
While he and the Duchess of Sussex have welcomed multiple invitations to “speak their truth”, his royal upbringing informed him that this was not a week to protest against decisions or brief preferred journalists with his side of the story.
Even when the newly anointed Prince and Princess of Wales asked him and his wife to accompany them on a walkabout at Windsor, it did little to ease the hurts and indignities he had to endure in the last week and a half.
He was last to arrive at Balmoral after learning the Queen was gravely ill, having travelled on a separate flight to the rest of the royal family.
He was forbidden to wear military uniform at the funeral.
But when the powers that be relented and allowed him, like his Uncle Andrew, to don uniform for the vigil next to the coffin at Westminster Hall, it had been stripped of the ER insignia.
Further, he and Meghan were reportedly “uninvited” to a gathering with international dignitaries at Buckingham Palace the evening before the funeral.
While some believed he had been relegated to the second row at the funeral in the Abbey, he was pointedly seated directly behind his father.
At the committal ceremony at St George’s Chapel he was reinstated to the front row next to Princess Charlotte with whom he exchanged a warm smile.
It was a poignant reminder that he is not just estranged from his brother but the nephews and nieces who would undoubtedly have regarded him as their favourite uncle.
Has that Harry who they loved, and we loved, gone for good?
For now, he has reportedly hit the pause button on his autobiography and Meghan has suspended the roll out of her podcast, Archetypes.
As the royal family now begins a private period of mourning, there is the opportunity to re-evaluate not only the grandma he has lost but the life that lies ahead.
In that strange mix of spectacle and sorrow, he will have contemplated not just the monarch he called his “commander in chief” but the 25 years that have passed since he lost his mother.
Grief is far more than a pool of sadness we stare into; it’s a mirror that reflects the sense of meaning we feel about our own lives.
The Queen and her grandson shared a closeness not just because she became a mother figure after the loss of Diana but because their humour was aligned.
It was she whom he conscripted to record a video to take on the Obama’s challenge in the Invictus Games, and he hilariously helped her record her voicemail message when she got her first mobile phone.
“Hey, wassup? This is Liz. Sorry I’m away from the throne. Press one for Philip, two for Charles and three for the corgis!” it said, much to the shock of her private secretary.
Harry would have become a valued member of a family which is now gently swapping Elizabethan deference and mystique for Carolean relatability.
This week it cannot have been lost on the 5th in line to the throne, or his wife, that severing themselves from the dull hand shaking and ribbon cutting has also precluded them from fully inhabiting their place in the pageantry and history that is their birthright.
It’ll be no surprise if, in the days ahead, the sunny Californian climes prove jarring rather than joyful.
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