On March 29 this year the world let out a collective gasp followed by a very loud “what the dickens?!” followed by a resigned sigh when Queen Elizabeth appeared at Westminster Abbey with Prince Andrew by her side at the memorial service for Prince Philip.
Within minutes, literally, Andrew’s self-appointed starring role in the service, fresh off having paid a reported $20 million-plus to put an end to a civil sex abuse case, set off a media firestorm.
What was largely ignored in the days afterwards, as reams of frustrated invective flowed forth from the keyboards of every opinion writer with an interest in the House of Windsor and passable Wi-Fi, was another story: The conspicuous absence of Philip’s grandson Prince Harry at the service.
At another time, Harry’s non-attendance would have been a big story but instead was largely passed over in the face of the extraordinary display of Uncle Andrew’s blimp-sized ego and Her Majesty’s quiescence to her useless son.
But that moment, that while the royal family celebrated the life and work of the Philip, Harry was 8500 km away, and that subsequently the duke only made two brief trips to the UK this year have been cast in a new light after the Mail published extracts from royal insider Gyles Brandreth’s new book Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait.
Brandreth, who was friends with Philip, socialised with Queen Elizabeth and had Queen Camilla on his podcast, has revealed that he had heard that Her Majesty had a form of bone marrow cancer called myeloma and that “Her Majesty always knew that her remaining time was limited.”
(It’s worth noting here that more than 24-hours after the Elizabeth extracts hit the internet, Buckingham Palace has yet to dispute Brandreth’s claim. The Palace has not been shy when faced with a cancer report in the past. In 2008 when the Evening Standard reported that Philip had prostate cancer he went straight to the Press Complaints Commission.)
The exact timeline here is pretty opaque.
While it is not known when the nonagenarian workhorse might have been diagnosed, it was in October last year that the she was secretly admitted to hospital overnight and then pulled out a series of high-profile events including appearing at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow and attending the events at the Cenotaph for Remembrance Day.
By the time 2022 rolled around, Her Majesty’s advanced years seemed to be catching up with her, having started using a walking stick. In May, Queen Elizabeth, for the first time in nearly 60 years, withdrew from the state opening of parliament, deputising the then-Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge to take her place.
Clearly all was not well behind the walls of Windsor Castle where Her Majesty had decamped in 2020 when the pandemic hit.
So, if we assume then that Brandreth’s claim is correct that means that at some point this year at least, the Queen was diagnosed with cancer; the same year that Harry and wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex have spent no more than a week back in Britain.
In April the Sussexes made their first joint visit back to Blighty, post Megxit, popping in on their way to the Invictus Games in The Hague. Several days later, Harry sat opposite Hoda Kotb, the host of the American Today show, and explained he had wanted to go and see his grandmother to “make sure she’s protected and she’s got the right people around her”.
The implication of that comment, that Her Majesty might not be “protected” and that she might have the wrong people around her, rubbed many the wrong way in the UK and went down about as well as Philip being tasked with opening a university’s Gender Studies wing.
Then in early June, the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee rolled around and Harry and Meghan, this time with their young son and daughter in tow too, flew back to the UK again. They stayed only five days, reportedly, “avoided a family lunch with royal cousins,” according to the Telegraph, and were said to have turned down an invitation to the Party at the Palace.
On the final day of the Jubilee celebrations, they reportedly flew out of the UK, the same day that Her Majesty took to the Buckingham Palace balcony for what would be the last time.
During the stay, the Queen was introduced to the Sussexes’ daughter, her namesake Lilibet, however she, per the Telegraph, “personally intervened to prevent an official image being taken.”
By the time the northern summer rolled around, it was an etched-in-stone given that the Queen would make her usual passage north to hole up on her Balmoral estate to wear all the tartan she could find and to spend time with her family. In late July, the Sun said that she had extended an invitation to Harry and Meghan though a few days later, Page Six pushed back against this, saying they had not in fact been asked to stay.
At some point in August, the Queen held a “a wonderful, extended stay” for her grandchildren and great-children which was a “a big sleepover at Balmoral” royal biographer Katie Nicholl, to which the Sussexes were reportedly invited.
Still Harry and Meghan stayed in California, where he played polo.
Also at that time, the duchess’ first print interview in five years was released and contained lines which could be read as carrying with them a certain implied threat, including Meghan saying, “I’ve never had to sign anything that restricts me from talking,” and “I have a lot to say until I don’t.” In the same piece, she casually mentioned she had found a journal from her brief royal years while the family was back staying in the UK for the Jubilee.
Yet by this point ‘concerns’ about Her Majesty’s health were reportedly known, according to Elizabeth. As Dr Douglas Glass, who had been the Queen’s local Balmoral GP for more than 30 years, told Brandreth, “We have been concerned about the Queen’s health for several months.” Her death “was expected and we were quite aware of what was going to happen.”
By the time that summer was drawing to close, Harry and Meghan had not spent any time away from prying eyes with the Queen at her favourite retreat.
Now the big caveat here is that bodyguard issue.
Last year, the duke launched a legal claim seeking a judicial review over the decision for the removal of the Sussexes’ official security after they stepped back from royal duties. In January, a legal representative for the duke said that he was “unable to return to his home” because “with the lack of police protection comes too great a personal risk.”
The Sussexes returned to the UK to attend the One Young World Summit in early September but the Telegraph reported that they would “miss seeing the Queen” during that trip because the security dispute had not been ironed out. (She would pass away while the duke and duchess were back in Britain.)
So …. the Sussexes could go to a charity event in a Manchester arena but couldn’t go to Balmoral, where they would have been tucked inside what would have to be one of the biggest security cordons in the world?
What Brandreth’s cancer claim does is cast a less-than-flattering hue over the events of the northern summer. That in the final season of the Queen’s life, by which point insiders and one would assume her family knew she was battling myeloma, Harry was far away on the other side of the world; the plans for his memoir, which we recently learned will be called Spare, were progressing; and Meghan was making eyebrow-raising comments about NDAs and saying anything.
One of the consistent things that is reported about the duke and the Queen was just how much they adored one another.
“The Queen was devoted to Harry. She loved him, she thought him ‘huge fun’, and she truly wished him well in his new life abroad,” Brandreth writes. “Whenever Harry called his grandmother from Montecito, he was always put through to Her Majesty immediately.”
Harry himself during that Today interview said, “we have a really special relationship” and “we talk about things that she can’t talk about with anybody else.”
I find it sad that the duo did not get a chance to spend time together or the Queen with both Harry and Meghan (Brandreth says Her Majesty was quite the fan of the duchess). They paid homage to her by naming their daughter after her but were not able to find a way to visit her?
On the final weekend of her life, one of the guests at Balmoral was The Right Reverend Dr Iain Greenshields and as he told Brandreth, “She told me she had no regrets.”
Let’s hope the rest of the royal family can say the same.
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.