When Lilibet meets little Lilibet… the image that could still heal the royal breakup, writes RICHARD KAY

When Lilibet meets little Lilibet… the image that could still heal the royal breakup, writes RICHARD KAY

It is not the first time in the Queen’s long reign that all eyes will be on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at lunchtime today as the Trooping the Color ceremony gives way to the deafening roar of an RAF flypast.

Over the years, this painting has offered a captivating insight into who’s in and who’s out, as once-familiar characters have been moved to the fringes of royal life.

This time, however, the show is set to be rivaled by another event, with far more results.

Because it will give us the fascinating sight of Prince Harry and Meghan reunited publicly with other members of the royal family for the first time since their chilly departure from Britain more than two years ago.

It should also offer a view of their children: Archie, three, and his daughter Lilibet, a Saturday, who is due to meet her great-grandmother for the first time. Although her grandson and children are excluded from the pageantry of the palace gathering, the Queen has insisted that they receive the same courtesies extended to wider members of the royal family.

They will join the Duchess of Cambridge and her three children, first cousins ​​of Archie and Lilibet, with a view of the stand at Horse Guards Parade, where Trooping takes place.

Harry and Meghan, along with his mother Doria Ragland, introduce Archie to the Queen and Prince Philip in May 2019

Harry and Meghan, along with his mother Doria Ragland, introduce Archie to the Queen and Prince Philip in May 2019

The first photo of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's daughter (above) published in a Christmas card last year

The first photo of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s daughter (above) published in a Christmas card last year

The importance of this olive branch invitation cannot be overstated. For it offers the real chance not only to mend the rift between the Sussexes and the Royal Family, but also to mend the House of Windsor brand, which, in America at least, has been badly tarnished by the Harry and Meghan estrangement.

What’s more, it could ensure that the couple, who can’t be sure what reaction they’ll receive from the public during the four-day Platinum Jubilee celebrations, will be met with warmth rather than stony indifference.

Goodwill is far from guaranteed. The couple’s latest approval ratings can’t have escaped their attention: according to YouGov poll data, the Duke is viewed positively by just one in three Britons, while more than half see him as a negative day, giving her a net approval rating of minus 26. Meghan fared even worse, with her approval rating falling from minus 39 in March to minus 42.

So if there’s going to be a rapprochement, it’s going to take more than just a photoshoot, no matter how cleverly arranged. With their accusations of racism, claims of cold indifference from family members and staff, and the memory of the Oprah Winfrey interview still strong, trust in the Duke and Duchess remains rare.

But the Queen is determined that the Jubilee will be a time to put aside differences and unite both the country and her family – hence her offer of front row seats for Harry and Meghan.

Harry and Meghan pictured during their controversial interview with Oprah Winfrey last year

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

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 host a small party for Lilibet which the Queen may attend.

The Sussexes are expected to stay at Frogmore Cottage, where they will host a small party for Lilibet which the Queen may attend.

Baby Lilibet’s role can be crucial. When the couple announced they were naming their daughter 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 end of the world, speaking with an American accent.

Courtiers saw it as a sassy and somewhat cynical exercise in securing the Sussexes’ long-term future as senior royals. Some wondered if they even asked permission from the Queen.

But time is a great healer and I know the Queen, 96, can’t wait to meet her 11th great-grandchild. Although such a meeting could take place today, it could be delayed until Lilibet’s birthday on Saturday.

If so, it would almost certainly take place in the Queen’s private apartments at Windsor Castle. But the timing would depend on whether there was a late change of plans and the Queen eventually made it to the Derby, despite reports that she was not expected to attend.

And if that happens, imagine if a photo was posted. 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 put aside his animosity towards the Duchess of York and pose alongside her for photos at Princess Eugenie’s wedding was seen as a sign of compassion for the wayward Fergie.

It’s surely no coincidence that, to mark great-grandson Archie’s third birthday last month, the Palace re-released this memorable photo of Harry and Meghan presenting their newborn son to the Queen and Philip at Windsor Castle, with the Duchess’s mother Doria leaning on.

It’s one of the Queen’s favorite photos at a time when the bitterness of Harry and Meghan’s departure for California was long gone and the image of the Royal Family seemed inclusive and diverse. How times have changed.

Harry and Meghan landed at a London airport this afternoon, along with a small team of staff, Page Six reported

Harry and Meghan landed at a London airport this afternoon, along with a small team of staff, Page Six reported

With their TV interviews, the couple portrayed the royal family as aloof, indifferent and out of touch. Nonetheless, other family members, including Prince Charles, are supportive of the Queen’s magnanimous gesture towards the Sussexes – although there are nerves among senior figures in the Royal Household.

These concerns center on what is happening with Harry’s “intimate and heartfelt” memoirs. It was originally said to come out this fall, but there’s no sign of it in any pre-release book listings. Aides are unsure whether the manuscript has been sent to publishers or is still being worked on by the prince and his ghostwriter.

Influential commentator and author Tina Brown has suggested the Palace take steps to persuade the prince to drop the book. “Somebody has to go to Harry and try to say, ‘We’re going to give you a check for the fee you negotiated for the book and in return we’re asking you not to. ‘

Considering that Harry is said to have secured a £16m advance for the book, it could even be beyond deep royal pockets. But at the very least, they could perhaps encourage him to soften the content.

Aides are also considering reports that Harry and Meghan may be tempted to return to the royal fold if their media careers turn out to be less sustainable than they had hoped. Their deals with pressured streaming giant Netflix no longer look so promising, while the deal with Spotify is yet to materialize.

For now, there is no doubt that the couple are on probation during their four-day stay.

What no one knows is how, however generous the Queen may be, Harry and Meghan will react to their roles as much reduced extras 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’s entirely possible that the girl he named after his beloved grandmother, and her son, could still hold their way home.

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