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Princes William and Harry unite to unveil Diana statue, but it's their relationship on display

The event in honor of their mother was only the second time the brothers have been seen together in public since Harry relinquished his senior royal duties.
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LONDON — More than 20 years after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, her two sons unveiled her statue Thursday on what would have been her 60th birthday.

Yet, for many, catching a glimpse of the statue in the gardens of her former home in London's Kensington Palace, took second place to looking for clues about the state of the relationship between Princes William and Harry.

It was only the second time the brothers have been seen together in public since Harry and his wife, Meghan, stepped back from their roles as senior royals last year. Harry's last visit to the United Kingdom was in April for the funeral of his grandfather, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who died at 99.

United in grief for their mother, who was killed in a Paris car crash in 1997, the brothers unveiled the figure of Diana, which showed her surrounded by three children who represent "the universality and generational impact of the princess' work," Kensington Palace said in a statement.

"The statue aims to reflect the warmth, elegance and energy of Diana," it added.

Prince William, left, and Prince Harry unveil a statue they commissioned of their mother Princess Diana, on what would have been her 60th birthday, in the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace, London, on July 1, 2021.
Prince William and Prince Harry unveil a statue they commissioned of their mother Princess Diana, in the Sunken Garden at London's Kensington Palace on Thursday. Dominic Lipinski / Pool via AP

Beneath the statue is a plinth engraved with her name and the date of the unveiling and a paving stone with lines of poetry.

The brothers commissioned British sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley to undertake the project. His effigy of Queen Elizabeth II already appears on British coins.

"Today, on what would have been our mother's 60th birthday, we remember her love, strength and character — qualities that made her a force for good around the world, changing countless lives for the better," William and Harry said in a joint statement.

"Every day, we wish she were still with us, and our hope is that this statue will be seen forever as a symbol of her life and her legacy."

Reports of a rift between the siblings have swirled in the British press since 2018, and Harry has previously said that he and William had "been through hell together," but were now on "different paths."

During their grandfather's funeral, the brothers were seen walking together and chatting after the service in St. George's Chapel, Windsor — the site of Harry's wedding to Meghan three years earlier.

Harry, Duke of Sussex, and William, Duke of Cambridge, were joined at the unveiling on Thursday by Diana's siblings, Earl Spencer, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, and Lady Jane Fellowes, along with other close family members. The statue's sculptor and the garden's designer were also in attendance.

Outside, fans lined up with flowers, signs, birthday balloons and flags.

The statue was placed in the area known as the Sunken Garden, one of Diana's favorite locations, according to Kensington Palace. It's also where Harry and Meghan posed for photos after their engagement in November 2017.

The garden was recently redesigned and replanted with 4,000 flowers including roses, lavender andforget-me-nots, the palace said in a statement.

Diana lived at Kensington Palace during and after her tumultuous marriage to Prince Charles and raised William and Harry there. It is now home to William's family.

The brothers commissioned the statue of their mother in 2017 to mark the 20th anniversary of her death. However, it's far from the only way they have invoked her memory.

Image: Princess Diana with her sons Prince William, left, and Prince Harry on a skiing holiday in Lech, Austria on March 30, 1993.
Princess Diana with her sons Prince William, left, and Prince Harry on a skiing vacation in Austria in 1993.Jayne Fincher / Getty Images

Since his departure from the U.K., Harry has often called on his mother's legacy.

He displayed a photo of himself as a child on his mother's shoulders prominently on his Archewell website, saying that he is "his mother's son" and stated in a recent Apple TV+ documentary "The Me You Can't See" that his mother would be proud of him "living the life she wanted for herself."

Meanwhile, in May, William made a rare emotional statement following a BBC investigation that found the journalist Martin Bashir had used "deceitful behavior" to secure a landmark interview with Diana in 1995 — wherein she famously said "there were three of us in this marriage," referring to Camilla Parker Bowles, who would go on to marry Charles in 2005.

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Both brothers have often spoken of the trauma Diana's death caused when they were aged 15 and 12, and how it affected their mental health for years afterwards.

William and Harry's charitable work and the causes they support seem to be guided by their mother's interests, according to Roya Nikkhah, royal correspondent for The Sunday Times newspaper.

"A lot of the charitable work that William and Harry have done over the past, you know 10 to 20 years, has been about honoring their mother," she told NBC News.

Following on from Diana’s commitment to helping those suffering from HIV/AIDS and the homeless, Harry set up Sentebale, which supports children in Botswana and Lesotho suffering from HIV. William is also the patron of the U.K. homelessness charity Centrepoint, as Diana had been.

Image: Princess Diana with her sons Prince William and Prince Harry at Wetherby School.
Princess Diana with her sons Prince William and Prince Harry at Wetherby School.Tim Graham / Getty Images file

Despite the fact it's been nearly 24 years since her death, Diana, has for many become a mythological figure of sorts, according to Melanie Kennedy, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Leicester, who studies celebrity.

"We look to media figures to worship in a way that in the past we would have gone to church," she said. "When she died, it solidified her status as this religious figure, this saint, and this has stuck."

William and Harry's father, Charles, the heir to the throne, did not join them at the event Thursday, nor did their wives.

Meghan gave birth to a girl in June in California where the couple now live. She was named Lilibet Diana, in honor of Queen Elizabeth II, whose nickname is Lilibet, and in memory of Harry's mother.