Not for the first time in the Queen’s long reign, all eyes will be on the Buckingham Palace balcony at lunchtime today as the Trooping the Color ceremony makes way for the ear-splitting roar of an RAF flypast.
Over the years, this tableau has offered an engrossing glimpse of who’s in and who’s out, as once-familiar figures were shuffled to the margins of royal life.
This time, however, the spectacle is set to be rivaled by another event, with far more riding on the outcome.
For it will afford us the fascinating sight of Prince Harry and Meghan publicly reuniting with other members of the Royal Family for the first time since their frosty departure from Britain more than two years ago.
It should also offer a view of their children: Archie, three, and daughter Lilibet, one on Saturday, who is set to meet her great-grandmother for the first time. Although her grandson and his children are excluded from the pageantry of the Palace gathering, the Queen has insisted they receive the same courtesies being extended to wider members of the Royal Family.
They will join the Duchess of Cambridge and her three children, who are first cousins to Archie and Lilibet, with a grandstand view of Horse Guards Parade, where Trooping takes place.
Harry and Meghan, along with her mother Doria Ragland, introduce Archie to the Queen and Prince Philip in May 2019
The first picture of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s daughter (above) released in a Christmas card last year
The significance of this olive branch invitation cannot be exaggerated. For it offers the real chance of not just healing the breach between the Sussexes and the royals but also repairing the House of Windsor brand, which, in America at least, has been severely tarnished by the Harry and Meghan falling-out.
What’s more, it could ensure that the couple, who cannot be certain of the reaction they will receive from the public during the four days of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, are met with warmth rather than stony indifference.
Goodwill is far from guaranteed. The couple’s latest approval ratings cannot have escaped their attention: according to polling data from YouGov, the duke is viewed positively by only one Briton in three, while more than half see him in a negative light, giving him a net approval rating of minus 26 Meghan fared even worse, with her approval rating going from minus 39 in March to minus 42.
So if there is to be a rapprochement, it will take more than just a photo opportunity, however artfully arranged. With their accusations of racism, claims of cold indifference by both family members and staff, and the memory of the Oprah Winfrey interview still strong, trust in the duke and duchess remains in short supply.
But the Queen is determined that the Jubilee should be a time to set aside differences and unite both the country and her family – hence her offer of ringside seats for Harry and Meghan.
Harry and Meghan pictured during their controversial interview with Oprah Winfrey last year
Harry and Meghan pictured together at a volleyball event during the Invictus Games at Zuiderpark in April
The Sussexes are expected to stay at Frogmore Cottage, where they will hold a small party for Lilibet that may be attended by the Queen
Baby Lilibet’s role may be crucial. When the couple announced they were giving their daughter the name Lilibet, the Queen’s family nickname, it was seen as a presumptuous choice for a baby who, although eighth in line to the throne, would grow up on the other side of the world, speaking with an American accent.
Courtiers saw it as an impertinent, somewhat cynical exercise to secure the Sussexes’ long-term future as Royal Family members. Some wondered if they had even asked the Queen’s permission.
But time is a great healer and I know the Queen, 96, is anxious to meet her 11th great-grandchild. Although such a meeting could be today, it may be delayed until Lilibet’s birthday on Saturday.
If so, this would almost certainly take place in the Queen’s private apartments at Windsor Castle. But the timing would depend on whether there is a late change of plan and the Queen goes to the Derby after all, despite reports that she isn’t expected to attend.
And if it does happen, imagine if a picture was released. A photograph of Lilibet meeting Lilibet would be a more eloquent symbol of family unity and forgiveness than any anonymous briefing.
It could also be a powerful metaphor for things to come. Even Prince Philip’s decision to set aside his animosity towards the Duchess of York and pose beside her for photographs at Princess Eugenie’s wedding was viewed as a sign of compassion to the wayward Fergie.
It can surely be no coincidence that, to mark her great-grandson Archie’s third birthday last month, the Palace re-issued that memorable picture of Harry and Meghan presenting their newborn son to the Queen and Philip at Windsor Castle, with the duchess’s mother Doria looking on.
It is one of the Queen’s favorite pictures from a time when the bitterness of Harry and Meghan’s departure for California was a long way off and the image of the Royal Family seemed inclusive and diverse. How times have changed.
Harry and Meghan landed in a London airport this afternoon, with a small team of staffers, Page Six reported
With their TV interviews, the couple have painted the royals as remote, uncaring and out of touch. All the same, other family members, including Prince Charles, support the Queen’s magnanimous gesture towards the Sussexes – although there are nerves among Royal Household figures.
These concerns are focused on what is going on with Harry’s ‘intimate and heartfelt’ memoir. It was originally said to be appearing this autumn but there is no sign of it in any list of pre-publication books. Aides don’t know if the manuscript has been sent to publishers or is still being worked on by the prince and his ghost-writer.
The influential commentator and author Tina Brown has suggested that the Palace take steps to persuade the prince to abandon the book. ‘Somebody needs to go to Harry and try saying, “We’re going to give you a check for whatever fee you’ve negotiated for the book and, in return, we ask that you don’t do it.” ‘
In view of the fact that Harry reportedly secured a £ 16 million advance for the book, that might be beyond even deep royal pockets. But at the very least, they might be able to encourage him to soften its content.
Aides are also looking into reports that Harry and Meghan may be tempted to return to the royal fold if their media careers turn out to be less enduring than they had hoped. Their deals with under-pressure streaming giant Netflix no longer seem quite so promising, while the arrangement with Spotify is yet to materialize.
For now, there is no doubt that the couple are on probation during their four-day stay.
What nobody knows is how, whatever the generosity being shown by the Queen, Harry and Meghan will react to their much-reduced walk-on roles in this Jubilee story. Ten years ago at the Diamond Jubilee and 20 years ago at the Golden Jubilee, Harry was a central figure in the celebrations and in every balcony money-shot.
Today, how far he has traveled to the edge of royal life will be uncomfortably clear to him. But it is just possible that the daughter he named after his beloved grandmother, and his son, could yet hold a route back to the way it was.