Tuesday 26 September 2017

Reconciliation sealed by Princess Di's ring

The shared presence on the Buckingham Palace balcony of Camilla and the engagement ring that was once worn by William's mother Diana dispels forever any memories of rift and retribution, writes Patrick Jephson

WHAT a day. To see and hear William and Catherine take their vows was a privilege made no less special by sharing it with an extended congregation of a billion or so. As a wedding production, this one surely scored as high marks for technical merit and artistic interpretation as any in Westminster Abbey's history.

Grace was a word and a gift that kept coming to mind, especially when attention moved from the solemnity of the Abbey to the jubilation of the Mall. For the first time in nearly 20 years, Diana, Princess of Wales's engagement ring returned to the Buckingham Palace balcony.

To its lustrous blue eye, the view of cheering crowds must have been reassuringly familiar. Poignant, too, if you recall its first visit to this place. Looking slightly to its right, however, it would have spotted something new and probably -- in that location -- rather bewildering: the distinctive silhouette of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, elegant in cream and aqua.

The symbolism is as deafening as the roar of yesterday's immaculate fly-past. The mother whose name has seldom been heard in polite royal circles for half of William's lifetime is now back on the approved list.

Even more firmly on the approved list, and in a more substantive form, is his stepmother. For those who like their gestures nice and clear, yesterday saw both women publicly reconciled in a way that brings nothing but credit to William and his bride.

A big family occasion is a great opportunity for such healing initiatives. We can guess that few will have been more pleased than the new Duchess of Cambridge. The Windsors have a not entirely undeserved reputation for nursing grudges -- sometimes even against their in-laws. So if his wife has helped William demonstrate the benefits of reconciliation, then everyone -- but mostly he -- can be the happier for it.

Of course, reconciliations seldom take root unless the original perceived offence has been purged. An honest acknowledgement of past failings is essential if bygones really are going to be bygones.

I remember a fraught afternoon in Diana's cheerfully cluttered, flower-scented sitting room. It was late 1995, more than three years after her formal separation from the Prince of Wales.

With a look I had come to dread -- partly truculent and partly apprehensive -- my boss was waiting for my reaction to the bombshell she had just exploded.

She had secretly recorded an interview for the BBC's 'Panorama' programme. It was going to clear the air, set the record straight and generally put us on the path to a less complicated future.

And I was not to worry.

But I did worry. I also tried to find the right words to persuade her that an olive branch might be a better offering than what I guessed would be a one-sided repetition of past grievances.

The moral authority she would have gained from such a self-assured and magnanimous coup would have scored a knock-out in the unedifying contest for public sympathy in which she and her husband seemed permanently trapped.

SHE was not to be persuaded. Instead of reconciliation, a conclusive twist was added to the downward spiral of relations with her in-laws. For the remainder of her life, she moved inexorably away from the royal structure which, for all its faults, was always reliably protective.

Protection, we can be sure, is what William wants for his vulnerable new bride. Protection especially from the unhappiness, he must feel, that was so avoidably piled on his mother's slender shoulders.

Since the cornerstone of such protection will be a secure marriage -- in which success and failure are experiences to be shared, rather than triggers for distrust -- much of the responsibility will lie in his hands.

An even-handed and relentlessly polite relationship with the media will be the best protection against the dangerous illusion that the press are an enemy to be bested at every turn. The extent and tone of media coverage of this event should remind us of its power to unite as well as divide.

Protection from the loneliness of the royal road and from the corrosive search for "relevance" is best secured through a consistent programme of low-key hard work, with all the job satisfaction that royal status can unlock.

Most important is to find protection from the self-doubt that seems an inevitable by-product of being -- even theoretically -- always in the right.

The best protection might often be found in remembering that a moment of royal humility can achieve more than a week of icy royal looks. It really is better to be loved than feared. Without that regular acquaintance with humility, there's little chance of seizing those all-important reconciliation opportunities.

Even if only in the form of an engagement ring, William's mother has sealed reconciliation with the woman she had reason to hold responsible for her cruelly dashed marriage expectations.

In the words of William and Catherine's own prayer, there could be little better example of "what is real and important in life" than this evidence of grace.

That William has had the courage and wisdom to heal such a wound perhaps promises more for his eventual reign than anything else we saw in the wedding celebrations.

Patrick Jephson was equerry and private secretary to Diana, Princess of Wales, from 1988 to 1996. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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