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On a day of meticulous planning, it was the one and only off-the-cuff decision. And it turned out to be a masterstroke.

As the limousines drew up to take mourners from the Galilee porch of St George’s Chapel back to Windsor Castle‘s private quarters, Prince Charles used the briefest of gestures to send them, empty of their royal passengers, away.

Impromptu perhaps, common sense even, but it was a signal every bit as eloquent as the spine-tingling music that accompanied the coffin containing the earthly remains of his ‘dear papa’ to its resting place in the royal vault.

For instead of hiding behind the bulletproof glass of their chauffeur-driven cars, the family walked side by side together, ripped off their face masks and talked.

This could have been a moment of risk, instead it allowed us the first glimpse of the possibility that somehow William and Harry can put their bitter split behind them and rebuild that once whisper-close bond.

Sad return: Charles takes out his handkerchief as he follows Andrew

Sad return: Charles takes out his handkerchief as he follows Andrew

Sad return: Charles takes out his handkerchief as he follows Andrew

Chat: Kate Middleton, Prince Harry and Prince William talk as they walk away from the service

Chat: Kate Middleton, Prince Harry and Prince William talk as they walk away from the service

Chat: Kate Middleton, Prince Harry and Prince William talk as they walk away from the service

It is hard to read too much into this encounter, for it was all too brief, but if there is to be reconciliation between the brothers, this was surely the moment of its inception.

More than a year has passed since they were last seen in public together, a year in which so many assumptions about their relationship have been torn asunder.

The fall-out from Harry and Meghan’s Oprah Winfrey interview is still raw and its issues, not least the claims that a member of the Royal Family had made racist comments about the colour of their son Archie’s skin, remain unresolved.

That it should be Kate playing the role of peacemaker was significant too.

Her sister-in-law had discourteously referred to Kate’s pre-marriage ‘Waity Katie’ nickname during the interview and claimed that it was the Duchess of Cambridge who had made her cry over the bridesmaids dresses for her wedding – a claim that was met with deafening silence.

For Charles, who needs both his sons now as never before, this was the first sign of his new role as head of the family.

In the past week his life has changed utterly and he now must, above all, ensure that his own difficult and often misunderstood relationship with his father is not repeated with his sons.

Was this what was going through his mind as he led the sombre line of mourners out of the chapel into the sunshine?

Unscripted: The royals walk after Charles sends his car away after the service

Unscripted: The royals walk after Charles sends his car away after the service

Unscripted: The royals walk after Charles sends his car away after the service

By sending his car away he was laying down his first act as the Royal Family’s new paterfamilias. The others had to follow and did.

What it demonstrated was that, for all the military precision and formality of the funeral behind which bereavement could seek refuge, there was a willingness to show that the Windsors were as bereft as any family losing a loved one.

Clambering into cars to travel silently back to the castle might have preserved royal dignity, but going by foot allowed us to see them in all their vulnerability.

Crucially it also provided a chance to build bridges between William and Harry and it was Kate who seized the opportunity.

As they emerged into the castle precincts she was already chatting animatedly with Harry. With no cars to collect them there was no alternative but to walk.

Soon William, who had exchanged pleasantries with the Dean of Windsor, the Right Reverend David Conner, had joined them. 

And just as she had arrived at Harry’s side, Kate then melted away. 

Service over: Kate Middleton, Prince Harry, Prince William thank the Dean of Windsor

Service over: Kate Middleton, Prince Harry, Prince William thank the Dean of Windsor

Service over: Kate Middleton, Prince Harry, Prince William thank the Dean of Windsor 

By now both brothers had removed their Covid masks and there was just a flicker that the frost between them might be thawing as they began the walk up Chapel Hill.

‘Make no mistake, this was as much for the benefit of the cameras as anything substantial’, says a royal figure. ‘Don’t read too much into it. Baby steps maybe.’

All the same the fact that they were talking at all seemed anything but likely when they had emerged from the castle an hour or so earlier.

The distance between them then looked unbridgeable with the impassive Peter Phillips, their former rugby-playing cousin, sturdily between them.

This could have been a moment of risk, instead it allowed us the first glimpse of the possibility that somehow William and Harry can put their bitter split behind them and rebuild that once whisper-close bond.

This could have been a moment of risk, instead it allowed us the first glimpse of the possibility that somehow William and Harry can put their bitter split behind them and rebuild that once whisper-close bond.

This could have been a moment of risk, instead it allowed us the first glimpse of the possibility that somehow William and Harry can put their bitter split behind them and rebuild that once whisper-close bond.

Prince William was as inscrutable as on that September day almost 24 years ago when he walked behind his mother’s coffin. He looked neither left nor right, keeping his gaze steadily ahead.

For his part Harry seemed to be taking in the pageantry of the occasion, perhaps in the knowledge that it no longer plays any part in his life now he has stepped back from royal duties.

At the steps to the chapel’s west door the cortege paused for the national minute’s silence and Peter appeared to pull back as if to allow the brothers a chance to move together.

They did not and William proceeded to his seat along with Peter while Harry walked to his with their other cousin David (the Earl of) Snowdon.

Once inside the chapel they sat apart too. William and Kate on one side of the quire, Harry facing them directly opposite, but alone. If they did make eye contact, the television cameras did not record it.

If there had been hope that their grandfather’s death and funeral might mean some kind of royal reconciliation, the hopes at that moment looked to have been dashed.

Since his return to Britain a week ago, Harry had been isolating at Frogmore Cottage, the house given to him and Meghan as a wedding present by the Queen.

But his presence had brought about one change to Saturday’s proceedings: the royals’ decision not to wear military uniform. 

This was to spare Harry, who was no longer entitled to ceremonial dress since being obliged to give up all his military patronages.

There were reports that the brothers had exchanged texts but nothing more.

After the service as they walked back to the castle the two continued to talk and this time Kate was with them.

Making peace? Prince William and Prince Harry still in conversation after the service

Making peace? Prince William and Prince Harry still in conversation after the service

Making peace? Prince William and Prince Harry still in conversation after the service

For a moment it was just like turning back the clock to the years before Meghan came into his life when Harry shared everything – on and off duty – with William and Kate. But with no formal wake because of social distancing the funeral party broke up quickly.

‘Everyone stood around in the quadrangle chatting for a little while and then left,’ says one insider.

It is understood that Prince Edward and his family did stay for tea with the Queen.

For Prince Charles, his is a future of dizzying and perplexing family problems, not eased by his father’s passing but deepened by it.

He must be a rock for the Queen who will depend on him more than ever, but also find the will to restore the unity of the Royal Family by bringing his sons together.

Talk of a family summit and even of Charles taking his son for a walk round Windsor to look at the flowers left in tribute to Prince Philip – just as he did after Diana’s death all those years ago – are, I am told, wide of the mark.

As the limousines drew up to take mourners from the Galilee porch of St George¿s Chapel back to Windsor Castle¿s private quarters, Prince Charles used the briefest of gestures to send them, empty of their royal passengers, away.

As the limousines drew up to take mourners from the Galilee porch of St George¿s Chapel back to Windsor Castle¿s private quarters, Prince Charles used the briefest of gestures to send them, empty of their royal passengers, away.

As the limousines drew up to take mourners from the Galilee porch of St George’s Chapel back to Windsor Castle’s private quarters, Prince Charles used the briefest of gestures to send them, empty of their royal passengers, away.

Although Harry is understood to have an open return air ticket – meaning he could travel at any time – he is anxious to return to America to be with Meghan, who is thought to be seven months pregnant with their second child.

It is inevitable that Charles will look to William to take the lead in this.

The one hope is a date in the calendar both princes have – the unveiling of the statue of their mother on what would have been her 60th birthday on July 1.

   

More from Richard Kay for the Daily Mail…

It does not involve their father but it can surely only happen if the brothers are properly talking.

This week Charles has been concentrating on the wider family, speaking to them all and sharing memories of his father.

He has asked them all to pull together to help the Queen. Many watching on were shocked by the Queen’s apparent frailty at the funeral but the prince knows that his mother will not slacken her pace.

Life for her revolves around Windsor Castle. All being well, next year will mark her platinum jubilee, 70 years on the throne, and it is already being planned.

For Charles, as sad as his father’s passing undoubtedly has been, the priority now is the reintegration of Harry into royal life.

There was palpable tension at Windsor on Saturday.

Some reports yesterday said that neither his aunt Princess Anne nor his uncle Prince Edward acknowledged Harry before or during the service.

If there is to be a dividend from the sadness of Philip’s death, Charles will fervently hope that it will come thanks to his decision to send away the cars and force his sons to start to bury their differences. An awful lot depends on it.

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