LONDON: Princes William and Harry walked side by side behind their grandmother Queen Elizabeth's coffin on Wednesday, a scene reminiscent of when, as boys 25 years ago, they followed their mother Princess Diana's casket in the glare of global media.
The brothers, whose relationship has become strained in recent years, were taking part in a solemn procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, where the queen's body will lie in state for four days until her funeral on Monday. Their father King Charles was just in front of them with the late queen's other children. Charles's wife Camilla, the Queen Consort, William's wife Kate, Princess of Wales, and Harry's wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, travelled to the hall by car.
In 1997, after Diana was killed aged 36 in a car crash in Paris, William and Harry, aged 15 and 12, walked through central London in her funeral cortege, one of the defining images of their lives. While the circumstances are very different now, the queen having died peacefully aged 96 at her Scottish home, there are similarities - the emotion, the solemn pageantry, and the sense of a momentous event unfolding in front of crowds and cameras.
Both brothers have spoken in the past of the lasting trauma they endured after their mother's death and that long, gruelling walk, during which they maintained a stoical facade despite the grief and turmoil they were feeling. "It was like I was outside my body, just walking along, doing what was expected of me, showing one tenth of the emotion that everyone was showing," Harry said in a 2021 TV documentary series, revealing that he had later used alcohol and drugs to numb the pain.
William said in 2017 that the shock of Diana's death still lingered within him. "You never get over it. It's such an unbelievably big moment in your life that it never leaves you. You just learn to deal with it," he said in a TV programme.
The brothers were close for many years after Diana's death, but their lives have taken different turns in recent years.
William, who dedicates himself full-time to his royal duties, is now next in line to the throne. Harry lives in the United States, having stepped away from his own royal duties since 2020. Harry and Meghan gave a bombshell interview to Oprah Winfrey in March 2021 in which Meghan talked about her unhappiness and isolation during her time as a working royal after she married Harry in 2018.
Harry described feeling trapped by royal life and criticised his family for failing to support his wife. Meghan also said there had been "concerns and conversations" within the family when she was pregnant with her son Archie about what colour his skin would be. Meghan's mother is Black and her father is white.
Buckingham Palace responded that "some recollections may vary" though the issues raised were "concerning". Since the queen's death last Thursday, there have been signs that the royal family were trying to patch things up with Harry and Meghan.
In his first address as sovereign, Charles said he loved them, and the following day the couple joined William and Kate on a walkabout among crowds of mourners near Windsor Castle. Whether the queen's death leads to a lasting rapprochement between the brothers remains to be seen.
Since their rift came out into the open, they have been together on a number of emotional occasions that did not appear to bring them closer. One was the funeral in April last year of their grandfather Prince Philip, the queen's husband, when they walked behind the coffin, though not side by side - they were separated by a cousin.
Another was the unveiling a few months later of a statue of their mother at Kensington Palace, her former home. "Every day, we wish she were still with us," the brothers said in a joint statement on that occasion.