As King Charles celebrates his 75th birthday, with a party of his closest family and friends at Clarence House, he will undoubtedly be reflecting on his first year as monarch. With three state visits – to France, Germany and Kenya – under his belt, he is clearly relishing flexing his diplomatic muscles on a global stage.
Yet one key guest is missing from the party. Prince Harry is not attending the family gathering – a spokesperson for the Duke of Sussex said that there had been ‘no contact’ about an invitation. He was previously invited to Balmoral to see his father when Harry made a fleeting visit to the UK in September, but turned down the offer.
Family discord still reigns at the heart of the monarchy – and will be further reheated as the last, and perhaps most controversial, season of The Crown hits Netflix. The final season (there are two parts; the first released 16 November, the second on 14 December) starts with Princess Diana’s final summer and her holiday in the South of France with Dodi Al-Fayed in August 1997. The dramatisation of her subsequent death, funeral and its aftermath is sure to bring more pain and heartbreak to King Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry – and even Kate as the ‘new’ Princess of Wales.
As glimpsed in the trailer, The Crown revisits that ‘final’ phone call Diana had with a young William and Harry, while they were holidaying at Balmoral with Charles. When the brothers spoke about their mother in 2017 for an ITV documentary, they revealed they are still haunted by huge pain and regret at not knowing that the phone call was the last time they would ever speak to her.
The new season will also depict the royal family at church in Balmoral the morning immediately after Diana had died, with a young Harry weeping during a hymn. Also recreated is Prince William returning to school at Eton and struggling to deal with his mother’s death.
And, in a move that some have called ‘outrageous’, The Crown brings back Diana’s ‘ghost’ to appear to the Queen
and Prince Charles – although the show’s creator, Peter Morgan, clarified in an interview with Variety that there is nothing supernatural about her posthumous appearance, saying, ‘I never imagined it as Diana’s “ghost” in the traditional sense. It was her continuing to live vividly in the minds of those she has left behind.’
The themes of The Crown’s final season have, of course, reignited the hurtful rumours and conflicting conspiracy theories that continue to swirl some 26 years after Diana’s death in Paris, and suggestions that she was pregnant with Dodi’s child when she died. (One of the Queen’s doctors, who attended the post-mortem, went on record seven years after Diana’s death to confirm that she was not pregnant.)
The King’s aides have made clear his disdain for The Crown, calling it ‘trolling on a Hollywood budget’. As for William and Harry – few of us can forget the haunting image of the two boys, aged 15 and 12, trailing solemnly behind their mother’s coffin – how do they feel about the show?
Certainly, William, 41, finds the portrayal of his mother in the drama ‘cynical exploitation of the worst kind’, sources tell me. Prince Harry, meanwhile, told James Corden in 2021 that he’d seen it, commenting, ‘It’s loosely based on the truth. Of course, it’s not strictly accurate, but loosely it gives you a rough idea about what that lifestyle, what the pressures of putting duty and service above family and everything else, what can come from that.’
There is certainly a lot of historical ‘readjustment’ (Netflix bowed to public pressure last season to issue a disclaimer before every episode). The problem for those Windsors that loathe The Crown is that the still vastly popular series is at times more convincing (and certainly more compelling) than the truth.
Despite all the ‘mistakes’, this intrusive, impertinent and riveting series has been a great gift to the royals. As the late Queen said, ‘I have to be seen to be believed.’ Better to be seen through the prism of blockbuster drama than not be seen, not to be talked about at all. That really would be fatal.