THE funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh brought home how our monarchy, and this country, has been built on the partnership of our Queen and her liege – man of life and limb, her strength and stay, her Philip.
Yesterday the Queen shed a single tear as she said goodbye.
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Prince Philip made her lonely destiny — Queen, head of state, mother of the Commonwealth, the most famous woman in the world — possible.
He made the second Elizabethan age work. And sometimes even fun. He made her laugh. He made sure she was never lonely.
Prince Philip’s funeral, choreographed every step of the way by the Duke himself, was the man incarnate.
Sombre, steeped in gravitas, yet it still contrived to make you smile.
Who else would take his leave on the back of a converted Land Rover?
And in the solitary figure of the Queen, you could feel a family’s heart breaking.
The last time the world turned its gaze to a royal event in Windsor was for the wedding of Harry and Meghan.
Our world has changed out of all recognition since May 19, 2018 — and so has the Royal Family.
On that sun-drenched wedding day it felt like Harry and William were best friends as well as brothers.
But as they walked behind the Duke of Edinburgh’s coffin yesterday, they seemed separated by infinitely more than their cousin, Peter Phillips.
They could have been total strangers.
Only when the funeral was over did they share some intimate moments, chatting as they walked back from the Chapel. As though that Oprah Winfrey interview never happened!
A real reconciliation or polite small talk for the cameras? Time will tell.
The stark and shocking contrast between Prince Harry’s wedding and Prince Philip’s funeral measures the hard road that we — and our Royal Family — have travelled in the past few years.
Coronavirus has inflicted scars that will never heal.
And frankly, the wounds inflicted on the Royal Family by that Oprah chat will not be quick or easy to heal.
It is bewildering to recall the unbridled optimism, the mass euphoria, we all felt in Windsor when Harry married Meghan.
Harry’s dazzling mixed-race bride made it seem like the start of a new era.
She sprinkled some Hollywood magic dust over the fusty old British Royal Family.
How gloriously promising the future seemed, for them and for us.
How desperately sad to see all that good thrown away.
Harry and Meghan could have stepped back from royal duties without spraying poison at the family and the country they deserted for a life of lucrative celebrity in California.
And let it be said, if they had stayed in this country, they would have been deeply loved.
BITTER FAMILY FEUD
That would have taken a life of duty, and service, and small talk with people who are perhaps struck dumb in your presence. It would have meant the kind of service that Prince Philip gave.
But yesterday the global catastrophe of coronavirus put the bitter family feud into perspective.
As the Royal Family honoured Prince Philip amid the spartan grandeur, we saw the suffering of millions.
At the still centre of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral was a small, dignified figure in black.
Prince Philip’s wife for 73 years, our Queen for 69 years and a widow for eight days.
Yesterday our head of state mourned the head of her family.
Heartbreakingly socially distanced from her family, Her Majesty was just like all the other mourners who have been bereaved during coronavirus, subjected to the strict rules around funerals even as their heart was breaking.
But here is the very essence of the British Royal Family.
They are our direct link to all that we were and everything we have lived through and everything that we are going through.
There was never a remote possibility that the Royal Family would expect one set of funeral rules for us and another set of rules for them.
When we rejoice — they rejoice. What we endure — they endure.
“I’m glad we’ve been bombed,” said the Queen Mother after they fell on Buckingham Palace during The Blitz. “It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.”
Beyond the palaces and privilege, the memories of the Royal Family are identical to the collective memory of this nation, from The Blitz and World War Two to the conflicts in the Falklands and Afghanistan, all the way to Covid-19.
We shared the giddy, unfettered happiness of Harry and Meghan’s wedding day.
And yesterday we shared the grief of Philip’s funeral, mourning this inspirational consort who has been a fixture of our national landscape for what feels like for ever.
A nation’s heart went out to his widow, who could not even be comforted by her grown-up children at her husband’s funeral.
The Queen has been so eloquent during coronavirus, promising, “We’ll meet again”, when those three words were exactly what her battered nation needed to hear.
She has shared the suffering of her people over this past year.
SHARE HER SORROW
We shared her sorrow yesterday.
How alone she looked. How moving, her modest bouquet of white roses and lilies adorning her husband’s coffin.
I remembered my mother at my father’s funeral, and there will be millions who felt that same sad echo of their own family bereavement.
“How small and selfish is sorrow,” said the Queen Mother after the death of her own husband, King George VI. “But it bangs one about until one is senseless.”
If Harry and Meghan’s wedding day felt like the start of a brave new world, then the funeral of Prince Philip felt like the curtain was coming down on the world we knew.
That glorious wedding felt like a bright new dawn where race would no longer matter, where glamorous young royals would be symbols of post-Brexit national unity and forces for global good.
William and Kate and Harry and Meghan! The Fab Four!
But all bands break up in the end — although rarely as soon as this one — and the bitterness they leave behind frequently lasts a lifetime.
Anyone who thought that William and Harry might hug and make up at this funeral was a tad optimistic.
Yet it was very easy to imagine Prince Philip chuckling with amused satisfaction at yesterday’s proceedings.
No crowds, no Press, no Oprah.
Less than three years ago, Windsor was awash with people, pageantry, celebrities and world media for Harry and Meghan’s wedding.
'NO FRILLS, NO FUSS'
What a contrast between those lavish, £32million nuptials and yesterday.
With just 30 masked, black-clad mourners, the achingly beautiful St George’s Chapel looked almost empty.
But Prince Philip’s funeral was not quite the “no frills, no fuss” event that had been widely trailed.
Anyone who is seen off by the massed ranks of the Royal Marines, Royal Horse Artillery and band of the Grenadier Guards in the 1,000-year-old castle where Henry VIII is buried is hardly skimping on their send-off.
But just as Harry and Meghan had been perfectly at home at their wedding, surrounded by Clooneys and Beckhams, this funeral felt absolutely right for the Duke of Edinburgh.
This pared down yet still spectacular funeral suited Prince Philip like a white ceremonial glove.
He had personally crafted his own ceremony. And from hymn I Vow To Thee My Country under cloudless blue skies to the lamenting bagpipes and the dying notes of The Last Post, it filled the heart with emotion.
With the experience of centuries behind them, major royal events never hit the wrong note, whether someone is being hatched, matched or dispatched.
And yesterday was a day to be proud of our incredible monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. How impressively, at 94, she dealt with what must be unbearable loss.
What dignity. What courage. What grace.
And how brilliantly she resolved the row about which peevish Prince and disgruntled Duke could wear what military uniform.
“You shall all wear suits!”, a solution so wise that it was worthy of King Solomon.
Some said the funeral of an old warrior like Prince Philip was diminished by the lack of relatives in uniform. I disagree.
The Royal Family did not wear uniforms for the funeral of Princess Diana.
Nobody noticed then, nobody cared yesterday. Except perhaps Harry and Andrew.
Harry and Meghan’s wedding was a global event.
But Prince Philip’s funeral was ultimately an intimate, family affair.
The end of an era?
No, because there is still Queen Elizabeth II, more respected, more revered and more cherished than at any time in her long reign.
But our bonds to the best of us grow frayed and fragile now and this Queen will be an impossible act to follow.
Yet while the Queen lives, the chain is unbroken, and we remain bound to the generation whose sacrifice gave us all our freedoms.
We will recall Harry and Meghan’s wedding and think: “What a waste.”
And we will remember Prince Philip’s funeral and reflect: “What a life.”
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