Prince William, Princess Kate, Prince Harry, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, reunited to greet mourners outside Windsor Castle on Saturday after the death of Queen Elizabeth II—and the internet is once again lousy with body language experts.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but this one has sparked a thousand hot takes, depending on how one feels about each couple. I’ve seen some admirers of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex emphasising their hand-holding as evidence of their love, while accusing Prince William and Princess Kate of a disconnect based on the physical distance between them on Windsor’s Long Walk. Meanwhile, fans of the newly-minted Prince and Princess of Wales (and critics of Meghan) speculated that Prince William and Princess Kate are so secure in their relationship, they don’t need physical touch to prove their bond.
The shot of the fleeting former “Fab Four” is a striking one: it’s the first image of them together since that infamously tense Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in March 2020, which also marked the Sussexes’ last engagement as senior royals. Their joint appearance, in all-black, was a solemn show of unity, however brief, between the beloved sons of Princess Diana and their high-wattage wives in the wake of their grandmother’s death. To be fair, because the royals are ostensible “silent film stars” (as Tina Brown aptly puts it in The Palace Papers) who seldom speak in public, followers are left to engage in the time-honoured tabloid tradition of analysing their every move for clues into their psyche and love lives. What could possibly go wrong?
Comparing the brothers, their marriages, and their attitude to PDA has long been a flawed (albeit seemingly inevitable) exercise. Even before the Queen died last week and Prince William was elevated in the line of succession, he was always marked as a future king, and, as such, has maintained a more conservative public profile, including abiding by the unspoken royal rule against demonstrative shows of public affection. Recall that Prince William and Princess Kate kissed almost bashfully on the Buckingham Palace balcony on their wedding day, but were seen hugging in their 2010 black-and-white engagement photo, as well as in a series of shots in honour of their 10th anniversary last year.
Meanwhile, Prince Harry, who remains sixth in line after stepping down from the inner sanctum of royalhood altogether, has enjoyed a bit more freedom in his public presentation, from the time he stuck his tongue out at the paparazzi as a boy. He has rejected the royal norm around limited PDA just as he has the golden rule of “never complain, never explain.” He and Meghan have been known to double hand-hold.
The royals, by design, are icons on which people can project whatever they please, but not every picture tells an epic story. How much of the couples’ public behaviour is due to their roles within the firm, and how much is simply a product of their personalities, which are entwined with said roles (William, the more measured and reserved first child, and Harry, the wilder, more emotive baby of the family?) It’s impossible to say for sure—hence, the breathless speculation.
The shot continually cited in much of the online comparison between the two royal couples shows a gulf of distance between Prince William and Princess Kate, but there were many, many more shots from the same walkabout. Lesser-published angles show the members of the former Fab Four appearing quite close-knit, despite years of strife. Pictures, while powerful, can also be deceiving.
This story was originally published on Vogue.com.