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Princes in an empty fairy tale: William and Harry must be wondering if they are loved, says Deborah Jackson

SO THE Royal Wedding was a marriage of convenience. Nothing so earth-shattering about that. This is what the landed classes have been doing for generations - marrying each other for the title, the money, the show, and for the land.

But what about the little princes in this empty fairy- tale? William and Harry may be partly shielded from the PR war raging between their high-profile parents, but soon they will hear gibes from friends, and one day perhaps dip into titles such as Princess in Love and The Prince of Wales. What effect will this acrimonious public battle have on their emotional development? And how must they feel when they hear that daddy never loved mummy?

From a child's point of view, divorce is not merely about parental differences. It reaches to the root of your existence and forces you towards an immature evaluation of the basis of life.

While your parents are together, however unhappily, the order of things is intact - there is always the possibility of harmony. When parents separate, some part of a child's life is shattered. 'After all,' goes the child's logic, 'if my parents don't love each other, why was I born?'

'This is a tremendously powerful question,' says Thelma Fisher, director of National Family Mediation, which represents 60 services for divorcing and separating families. 'A lot of our work supports parents in the task of maintaining their focus on the children, to give them safe passage through conflict, and security afterwards.

'Studies tell us that since mediation came in, parents are more aware of the need to sit down and talk together about the needs of the children. Despite their awareness, parents still find this difficult, and children are still bewildered.

'Children are very perceptive. They need an immense amount of emotional reassurance at this time. They need to know the truth, even if they can't always understand it.'

Dr Julian Boon, lecturer in personality at Leicester University's psychology department, believes the Wales's public bickering presages disaster for their sons.

'In the case of the boys, one might well imagine that what they will cling to is the stiff upper lip,' says Dr Boon. 'Children emulate their parents, and one might imagine them growing up to put their hands behind their backs and plant trees, but it doesn't bode well for them.

'They are getting conflicting messages that are not very healthy. And if they come to believe that their parents' was a loveless marriage, then that would carry negative connotations.'

However, the word 'loveless' may mean lack of affection on Charles's part, but not necessarily on Diana's. As the Prince put it before the wedding: 'I am very lucky someone as special as Diana seems to love me so much. I am already discovering how nice it is to have someone around to share things with.'

'If we accept that she was in love,' says Dr Boon, 'that will make a very different impact on the boys. Then they will pick up on the vibrations of a loving relationship. It may help them to value real love the more, and to get on with their mother.'

For Ms Fisher, it is Charles and Diana's ability to make time for their sons that could heal the wounds. 'The boys need to know that both their parents are committed to them,' she says. 'From what we know, both parents are loving and make special time for the children.'

We may tire of the royal saga, but Harry and William will have a long time to try to make sense of their strange, public upbringing and their parents' disastrous marriage. Perhaps one day they will authorise someone to write a book about it.