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Deafening silence: What’s made Harry appear to change his tune about ‘wonderful woman’ Camilla?

Eight months before her death, Princess Diana sat down to watch a television programme that had been billed as the biggest ever live debate on the future of the monarchy.

 

In reality, the show was a shambolic, ill-tempered and deeply unpleasant affair which even its contributors condemned as no better than a cockfight.

But Diana, in her Kensington Palace apartment that evening in early January 1997, was mesmerised. As were her two companions, sitting either side of her on the striped sofa — Prince William and Prince Harry.

As three of the nation’s best-loved royals, they had more at stake, of course, than perhaps anyone else who had tuned in.

The programme reached its raucous zenith when the audience, some 3,000 strong, were asked whether Camilla Parker Bowles could ever be Queen, and to respond by holding up cue cards — blue for Yes, red for No.

The vote resulted in a blizzard of red cards and a resounding No, but in Diana’s sitting room the moment was broken by the then 12-year-old Prince Harry.

‘Who’s Camilla?’ he asked in a small voice. As a knowing William smothered his laughter, Diana told her younger son that it was something he had to ask his father about.

This week, 25 years after that ITV debate — denounced by the late, great broadcaster Sir Robin Day as ‘the most contemptible programme I have ever watched on a serious subject’ — the single most contentious issue it raised, the future of Camilla, has been all but settled.

In an announcement to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Her Majesty spoke of her ‘sincere wish’ that when the time comes, the Duchess of Cornwall will be known as Queen Consort, not Princess Consort, as announced on her marriage to the Prince of Wales.

But while a poll with the first test of public opinion showed enthusiastic support for the idea of Queen Camilla, the reaction of the two princes, who had no vote that long-ago night, has been sharply different.

The danger for Harry is that this absence of any warmth towards the woman whom he once averred was not a ‘wicked stepmother’ could be seen as a snub.

So was it calculated? And if so, why, when it was Camilla who was among the very first members of the Royal Family to offer the hand of friendship to Meghan?

The answer is complex, rooted in William and Harry’s lives in the years immediately after Diana’s death.

They were at first unwilling or unable to defend their mother’s reputation and she was in danger of being airbrushed from history.

The transition from having two loving parents to just one affected the boys in different ways. But in their attitude towards Camilla there was a more unified view.

Eight years after that nervous question, ‘Who’s Camilla?’, Harry was in no doubt. During an interview to mark his 21st birthday in September 2005, he said he and William ‘loved her to bits’.

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