Diana's Friends Say They're "Shocked" by William & Harry's Latest Decision
"It's deeply disappointing, but they really had no choice," one told Best Life.
All eyes will be on Prince William and Prince Harry at the long-awaited unveiling of the statue of Princess Diana on the grounds of Kensington Palace on Thursday, July 1, marking what would have been their mother's 60th birthday. This will be the first time in well over a year that the brothers have stood together at any official engagement and the first time they've seen each other in two-and-a-half months, since they were spotted briefly talking after Prince Philip's funeral in mid-April.
While there has been rampant speculation over whether Harry would fly to England from California to attend the ceremony, it was confirmed earlier this week that Diana's youngest son was, in fact, attending the unveiling, despite the widening rift between the estranged brothers. Harry arrived in the U.K. on Friday, June 25, and, as first reported by Best Life, will stay at Frogmore Cottage, the home he shared with Duchess Meghan before the couple departed for America last year. Frogmore Cottage's current occupants, Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank, will host Harry while he self-isolates on the property, just as they did when he attended Philip's funeral.
The creation of the Diana statue was the last joint project William and Harry worked on together. Since then, nearly everything has changed between the brothers, particularly within the last few months. Harry's scathing public criticism of the Royal Family, particularly of the princes' father, Prince Charles, resulted in the princes barely being on speaking terms. All of this has affected the plans for the statue unveiling, which was plainly evident when it was revealed that William and Harry will both give separate speeches about Diana at the ceremony.
Many of Diana's friends and supporters worried that the ceremony was imperiled because of the brothers' acrimonious relationship and were relieved to learn things were to go on as planned. Then, days before the unveiling, William and Harry were forced to make a stunning decision that will dramatically affect the day so many of Diana's nearest and dearest have been waiting for. Read on to find out the princes' latest move that has shocked and saddened many of the Princess of Wales' greatest allies.
William and Harry have "drastically" pared down the guest list of those attending the unveiling.
William and Harry originally planned to host a large celebration of Diana's life and legacy at the unveiling of her statue, with a guest list of more than 100 of the princess' family, close friends, supporters, charity partners, and ex-staffers. Unfortunately, according to Diana's friend and confidant Richard Kay, the princes have now had to "drastically" pare down the list of already invited attendees to the ceremony due to circumstances beyond their control, he wrote in the Daily Mail.
Instead, in a statement released on Friday, it was announced a small group of guests will gather in the Sunken Garden (one of Diana's favorite spots on the grounds of Kensington Palace) for the unveiling, which will include the princes, Diana's siblings, the statue's sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, garden designer Pip Morrison, and some statue committee members. Although it has not been formally announced, Best Life has learned Duchess Catherine will also reportedly be in attendance, acting as a "bridge" between the brothers.
According to several published reports, previously invited guests—including Elton John and David Furnish (who made a sizable donation to the statue project)—were told that the big party to celebrate Diana will now take place some time in September.
RELATED: This Is Why Harry & Meghan's Baby's First Name Isn't Diana, Insiders Say.
Britain's COVID restrictions complicated the brothers' original unveiling plan.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced capacity restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID would be lifted on June 21, which made plans for a big celebration at Kensington Palace for the statue's unveiling on July 1 safe to go on as hoped. But, due to an uptick in the number of new COVID cases in the past few weeks, Johnson extended the restrictions on June 14. Now, the number of guests permitted to attend an outdoor event like the unveiling is still limited to 30.
"The princes worked very hard to create something that would be inclusive and truly honor their mother's positive contributions to the world," a source told Best Life. "Having to cut their list down to 30 guests would surely result in a lot of hurt feelings, which William and Harry certainly didn't want, but it's nonetheless disappointing."
Diana's friends find it "deeply disappointing" they cannot be there to honor the princess.
The change in plans came as something as a "shock" to many of Diana's closest confidantes, who had been looking forward to gathering together to celebrate her life. "I was shocked at first, but it's understandable that William and Harry would rather defer the celebration they planned rather than have a watered-down version of it," one friend of the princess told Best Life. "It's deeply disappointing, but they really had no choice."
Another friend of the Princess of Wales told Best Life, "This is a terribly sad development, especially given everything that's gone on between William and Harry over the past 18 months. Diana would never have wanted her sons to be estranged from each other and as her friend, I can say that everyone who loved her wants to see them heal the rift between them. Many of us were hoping that seeing so many people all together who meant so much to their mother could help them move towards that."
RELATED: 23 Facts About Princess Diana Only Her Closest Friends Knew.
Plans for the statue honoring Diana have been plagued with issues from the start.
Ever since William and Harry jointly announced plans for the statue in 2017, it has been plagued by challenges. Initially, the statue was to be unveiled that same year, but differences over the design and what the statue was to represent quickly surfaced. According to the Daily Mail, the situation became so contentious that the committee formed after Diana's death in 1997 to find a way to honor her concluded that a statue was not the proper tribute. One source told Best Life there were also reports that William and Harry and the Spencer family were worried Diana's "true nature and likeness" could not be "captured" by any one sculptor. Their biggest concern was that any type of statue of Diana would become a shrine.
Ultimately, William and Harry decided that a life-size statue of their mother, set on the grounds of her former home at Kensington Palace in the garden she loved, would be a proper tribute and sought out private donations to fund the project. The approved statue was completed in 2018, but the unveiling was delayed so as not to overshadow Harry and Meghan's wedding.
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Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.