LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s top royals came together on Monday at Westminster Abbey in their last public family gathering before Prince Harry and his wife Meghan set off on a new career path devoid of official duties.
The annual Commonwealth Service was also the first time Harry and Meghan had been seen with Queen Elizabeth, his elder brother William and wife Kate, and father Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, since the couple thrashed out an exit deal from their royal roles in January.
Harry and Meghan smiled and she waved at William and Kate as they arrived at the abbey. The couple chatted and laughed with his uncle, Prince Edward, who was sitting next to them.
“I imagine everybody will be on absolutely best behaviour,” royal biographer Penny Junor told Reuters. “But goodness knows what they will all be thinking privately.”
The January agreement, which comes into force at the end of the month, will see the couple – the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – seek to carve out “a progressive new role”, mainly in North America, that they aim to finance themselves.
Harry, 35, and Meghan, 38, will stop using their HRH titles – His or Her Royal Highness, will not use “royal” in their branding and Harry, who remains a prince, will relinquish his military titles.
Their announcement that they wished to step back from some royal duties sent shockwaves through the monarchy. It led to a crisis meeting involving the 93-year-old queen, her heir Charles, William and Harry that concluded he and Meghan would have to give up all their royal duties.
The couple have since spent most of their time in Canada, but returned this month for a farewell round of engagements. Their baby son Archie has remained in Canada.
Monday’s event was their last official royal appearance and came less than two years after they married in a dazzling ceremony watched by millions.
“Our hope was to continue serving the queen, the Commonwealth and my military associations without public funding. Sadly that wasn’t possible,” the prince, sixth-in-line to the throne, said in January.
‘GIVING UP EVERYTHING’
Polls show Harry, whose mother was the late Princess Diana, is one of the most popular royals and the couple were greeted with a standing ovation at an event on Saturday.
Junor said his leaving would be a huge loss for the family and the monarchy.
“I thought that he had absolutely embraced his destiny as a member of the royal family,” she said. “He recognised what he could do with his position, the power he had to change things for good. I think he will miss that ability to make people’s lives better.”
However, Harry, who served in the army for 10 years, has never hidden his discomfort with his royal role and the attention of the media. He has spoken candidly about his mental health struggles following his mother’s death.
He has also been angered by the treatment his American wife, a former actress, has received from some British tabloids. She has also said how difficult she found it.
Junor said Harry might find it difficult living in the United States and Canada away from his family, friends and former life.
“He is giving up everything he’s known, a huge family that he’s very close to, and his work, to go and live in Canada where he actually knows nobody and he has no job,” she said.
Last weekend, Harry met the queen at Windsor Castle to discuss his future. A royal source confirmed a report in the Sun newspaper that the queen told Harry he would always be welcome to rejoin the royal fold.
“I could imagine Harry coming back,” Junor said.
“I hope that they will not wake up one day and think ‘what on earth have we done and what does life hold for us? We’re sitting in paradise … but what else do we have in life?’ I hope that doesn’t happen to them.”
Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Frances Kerry, Guy Faulconbridge and Giles Elgood