ROBERT JOBSON: It was a well meaning gesture. But I’m told Harry ‘took it upon himself’ to fly over… and Charles was left kicking his heels until he arrived

It’s easy to forget that the bond between King Charles and Harry, his ‘darling boy’, was once a source not just of affection but joy – a relationship even warmer than that between Charles and William, perhaps.

The distance between them has now grown to the point that their conversations, where there are any conversations, have become mere echoes of the past.

We have seen this, poignantly, in the last few days when, learning of his father’s shock cancer diagnosis, Harry jumped on a plane and flew 5,500 miles to see him.

Charles was widely reported to have been ‘touched’ by the gesture. Perhaps he was.

Yet I am told that the reality is both more complex and more troubling – that Harry caused some disquiet by ‘taking it upon himself’ to fly over unbidden and at such short notice.

Prince Harry arrives at Clarence House yesterday to visit his father King Charles after hearing of his shock cancer diagnosis

King Charles and Queen Camilla leave Clarence House yesterday, the day after his cancer diagnosis was announced

King Charles and Queen Camilla leave Clarence House yesterday, the day after his cancer diagnosis was announced

Put bluntly, the King was unhappy about what amounted to a fait accompli served up by an emotional but well-meaning son.

Charles just needs peace and quiet right now and had planned to fly off to the tranquillity of Norfolk with his wife, the Queen, much earlier on Tuesday.

Yet thanks to Harry’s intervention, their Majesties were left kicking their heels at Clarence House, their main London home, while they waited for the errant younger son to appear.

It is striking that Harry was not invited to stay at Clarence House or, indeed, at any other royal residence. So last-minute was the decision to fly, that he had to book a hotel room for the night.

And if the Prince had expected to spend some ‘quality time’ at Sandringham House talking about the good old days, perhaps, or rebuilding the paternal bond, he will have been disappointed.

 Put bluntly, the King was unhappy about what amounted to a fait accompli served up by an emotional but well-meaning son.

What was actually said between them, only His Majesty, the Queen and the Duke of Sussex know, but half an hour (I’m told it was a 30-minute meeting, not even 45) was hardly enough time to rebuild the many bridges reduced to cinders.

Not after all that disparagement of the Royal Family, all the misrepresentation pouring out of Montecito for a fist-full of dollars.

After barely time for a greetings kiss and perhaps a hug, the King was heading with the Queen to Buckingham Palace to board the monarch’s Sikorsjy S-76C helicopter.

I cannot blame Harry for flying over. Whatever soothing noises might come from Palace courtiers, his father’s diagnosis is a serious matter.

However, the Prince should also spend some time reflecting on the stress he has caused the King, not least when he was coping first, with the loss of his own father, Prince Philip and then, of course, his late mother, the Queen.

Who could be surprised if Harry were welcomed with something short of open arms?

This impromptu visit, while well-intentioned, has served as a sad reminder of the continuing rift within the family, a burden Charles can ill afford in his current state when all his energy must be focused on the challenge of his health.

There is also a question of trust or, rather, the lack of it.

The Prince finds himself in a position such that even those royals who are closest to him will be on their guard. Inevitably so.

It is as if everything ever said between father and son, particularly in the painful later years, has been divulged – first in Harry and Meghan’s painful-to-watch Netflix show, and then his excruciating memoir, Spare.

Today, as Prince Harry flies back to California, those exuberant celebrations of his 2018 wedding to Meghan Markle seem a million miles away.

One of the most touching moments had come when Charles stepped in for Meghan’s father, Thomas, who was in hospital following a suspected heart attack.

The Duke of Sussex waits in Heathrow Airport today for his flight back to the US after seeing the King

The Duke of Sussex waits in Heathrow Airport today for his flight back to the US after seeing the King

Millions of viewers still remember how – immaculate in a grey Anderson & Sheppard morning suit adorned with buttonhole from the garden of his Highgrove estate – Charles smiled at Meghan and gently placed her arm under his as she approached the quire in St George’s Chapel.

Charles had been delighted to welcome Meghan into his family. A moment that could have been awkward, was enchanting. Almost shaking with tension, Harry had turned to his father and whispered, ‘Thanks, Pa’ – a sign of the unaffected love between the two.

That night, the guests went outside to watch a spectacular firework display light up the darkness above Windsor Castle.

‘Who’s paying for that?’ asked Charles, half-jokingly, to one of the guests from the Royal Household, who responded, ‘I believe you are, sir.’

He just laughed.

Four days later, we saw the warmth between father and son played out once again – in still more heartfelt terms.

This was the occasion of ‘The Prince of Wales’s 70th Birthday Patronage Celebration’ at Buckingham Palace, with some 6,000 guests drawn from Charles’s 400 or so patronages and military associations.

Inevitably, the photographers concentrated on the new Duchess of Sussex, immaculate in a silk crêpe pencil dress and a Philip Treacy dome hat. This was her first official engagement since her marriage.

Harry played his part, too, however, delivering a speech of rare self-deprecation and heartfelt warmth towards his father.

‘Pa,’ he said, ‘while I know that you’ve asked that today not be about you, you must forgive me if I don’t listen to you. Much like when I was younger.

Instead, I ask everyone here to say a huge thank-you to you, for your incredible work over nearly 50 years.’

He went on: ‘It is your selfless drive to effect change, whether that is to improve the lives of those who are on the wrong path…or to protect a particular species under threat, which William and I draw inspiration from every day.’

This seems to have been the high point of affection between Charles and Harry.

Afterwards came the rants against the Royal Family, which took their toll on both Charles and the late Queen, who found the experience wearisome.

Yet, amid the chaos, there remain some glimmers of hope. I’m certain, for example, that the King still has a soft spot for his younger son, with whom he would once spend hours discussing the environment and sustainability among other things.

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Despite his own tribulations, and perhaps against his better judgment, Charles has extended olive branches aplenty and will continue to do so.

His generosity knows no bounds, even if his efforts seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. Until now.

Perhaps Harry is beginning to see more clearly: his father is just a human being, after all, a man who has always been there for his son and who won’t be around for ever.

And William? The fact that his brother accused him of bullying is bad enough, but I know he views the attacks on his wife by both Meghan and Harry as unforgivable.

Genuine, raw emotions have fanned the flames of discord of both sides while the recent health struggles of Catherine, the Princess of Wales, have only served to complicate matters further.

Yet, with their father undergoing cancer treatment, the onus now surely falls upon the brothers to make things good– and perhaps one brother, in particular. For I believe it’s William who might hold the key to resolution.

While it’s not an easy feat to swallow one’s pride – and I accept that the Prince of Wales might find it harder than most – some generosity on the elder brother’s part might well be the only way forward, for the sake of both his family and the nation.

Perhaps, with hope and perseverance, the fractured bonds can yet be mended and harmony restored.

In his ghost-written memoir, Spare, Harry recalls one moment following Prince Philip’s funeral at Windsor Castle in March 2021.

This was when Charles had stood between his flushed-faced sons and said: ‘Please boys. Don’t make my final years a misery.’

Surely, it is time for the princes to heed those words.

After all King Charles has done for them both, you might think it’s the least they could do for their father – in this hour of need.

Robert Jobson is the author of the bestseller, ‘Our King: Charles III – The Man and The Monarch Revealed’.

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