Namely, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry would get together and strike some bizarrely contrived pose for their annual family Christmas card.
Let’s review shall we.
There was the 2003 number which saw them posing in a dovecote like a trio of Welshman folk singers or 1999’s offering that saw them don bizarrely matching crisp white slacks. One highlight was 1996’s take which featured them larking about with shepherd’s crooks in Scotland. My, what japes those three fun-loving lads had!
Kilts also often feature prominently as do shots of Windsors propped on farm gates as if to suggest they are simple down home rural folk.
RELATED: William’s thinly veiled comment about Harry and Meghan
RELATED: Official indicator of Princes’ ongoing feud
Essentially, the cards from that era are equal parts hideously naff and heartwarmingly delightful. Charles is hardly known for his touchy feely, demonstrative parenting style, but each year’s festive missive showed him in a doting, affectionate and paternal light that was positively charming. (Clearly this was by design not accident.)
Still, those cards were an antidote to the prevailing image that the Prince of Wales was a cold fish who would rather talk to his rhododendrons than bond with his kids.
Since then, all three men have married and built their own families and thus their Christmas cards now reflect this.
However, this week we were treated to a delightful throwback to those old shots of Charles in proud Dad mode.
On Tuesday, the two men – along with their wives, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall and Kate Duchess of Cambridge – joined them for a rare joint outing during which the couples visited a rehabilitation centre for wounded military veterans.
During one moment, William tried his hand at wheelchair basketball, trying to take a shot. Struggling to reach the net, Charles pushed William forward before affectionately squeezing his shoulders, the duo laughing and celebrating.
It was a brief but surprisingly tender moment, which spoke volumes about their relationships, the close bond between the two future Kings glaringly and lovingly self-evident.
And it is an image that must surely have stung when it was seen by the third Wales bloke – Prince Harry.
Long gone are the days when Charles, William and Harry appeared to be so comfortable and happy in each others’ presences in public.
While Charles and William were trying their hand on the basketball court, the younger Prince was more than 7500km away on the west coast of Canada. It is now a month since Harry, the sixth in line to the throne, flew out of the UK to start a new life with his wife Meghan Duchess of Sussex and their baby son Archie in Canada.
The reasons for their decision to step back as full time working members of the royal family were widely raked over in the UK press at the time, however one of the key alleged factors was Harry’s reported fractured relationship with his family.
For more than a year reports have swirled, suggesting that the Wales boys were on the outs, an impression not helped by such things as their 2018 church appearance during which the two Princes managed to not speak to one another.
Likewise, the Sussexes decision in June to split from the Royal Foundation – the organisation the Princes set up in their 20s to maximise their charitable efforts – seemed only to add more credence to the rumours of a widening rift between the brothers.
In October, Harry seemingly confirmed this during an interview with ITV’s Tom Brandy, saying in part, “inevitably stuff happens. But look, we are brothers, we will always be brothers. We are certainly on different paths at the moment but I will always be there for him and, as I know, he will always be there for me.”
After which he and Meghan ditched the UK for a six-week break in Canada where they holed up in a borrowed $20M mansion on Vancouver Island.
While the impression at the time was that this was a bit of a breather for the new parents, a chance to relax and recharge far away from the leering press, clues have come to light of late nights they were already planning their permanent exit.
Earlier this week, the Mirror’s Russell Myers reported that in November, Harry started talks with Goldman Sachs about working with the bank.
And then Harry and Meghan’s bombshell announcement, Meghan’s speedy exit from London and the now famous Sandringham Summit during which the Queen, Charles, William and Harry hammered out the Sussexes’ exit deal.
Days later, the Times reported that William told a friend, “I’ve put my arm around my brother all our lives and I can’t do that anymore; we’re separate entities.” (The brothers soon after put out a rare joint statement denying another report that the Sussexes’ felt they had been bullied out of the royal family.)
At the end of the day the chips have fallen thus: William is in Old Blighty gearing up to assume the top job one day while Harry is on the other side of an ocean and an entire continent building a new life.
While there have been reports that Harry and William patched things up before he left London, other reports have disputed that.
No matter where the truth lies, this week’s shots of Charles and William showcased the bond between father and son – and in turn, highlighted Harry’s absence.
By all accounts, Charles and William have become increasingly close in recent years, as the Duke of Cambridge has taken on more responsibility and started learning the ropes to one day assume the role as Prince of Wales.
And Harry? How can it not hurt, at least a jot, to see your family so happy without you and just cheerfully getting on with things? As Charles and William shared a tender moment, photos of that brief interaction seem like a glaring reminder of the ocean – both literal and figurative – that now reportedly exists between Harry and his family.
Harry and Meghan are believed to be returning to London for the Commonwealth Day service on March 9, a red letter day on the Windsor calendar that sees the family turn out in force. Significantly, it will most likely be the first time all of the Wales men will be seen in public together for months and months.
Unquestionably, the world’s eyes will be trained on Charles, William and Harry. Will there be smiles and laughter? Or just a whole lot of awkward milling about the place?
In the meantime we wait. However, I am sure I am not alone in fervently hoping the future will hold numerous father/son shoulder squeezes – and definitely for both boys.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.