Prince Harry and his wife Meghan on Friday joined the royal family for their first public appearance in Britain in two years, at a Platinum Jubilee service for Queen Elizabeth II’s record-breaking 70 years on the throne.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, as they are formally known, arrived mostly to cheers from the crowd outside St Paul’s Cathedral.
Former British Army captain Harry, 37, was dressed in a morning suit, complete with military medals, while Meghan, 40, was in an off-white dress and matching hat.
They took their seats inside among the 2,000-strong congregation, for the Church of England service, which ended with trumpet fanfares and the national anthem “God Save the Queen” plus a rare peal of the country’s biggest bell, Great Paul.
Hopes that the family would all publicly re-unite were scuppered after Harry’s grandmother the queen pulled out of the service after suffering “some discomfort” at Thursday’s kick-off to four days of celebrations.
The 96-year-old monarch said to have watched the service on television, has been dogged by difficulties standing and walking that have forced her to cancel a slew of engagements since last year.
On Thursday, she made two public appearances on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in front of huge crowds after the Trooping the Colour military parade.
In the evening, she was at Windsor Castle for a ceremony to light beacons across the country and the Commonwealth of 54 nations that she also heads.
Her withdrawal, which the palace said she took with “great reluctance”, puts her appearance at showpiece flat-racing event The Derby at Epsom racecourse on Saturday in doubt.
The queen has only missed the Derby three times in her reign, most recently in 2020 when spectators were barred due to Covid.
– ‘Staying the course’ –
The Church of England’s second highest-ranking cleric, Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, in his sermon thanked the queen for “staying the course”.
“Your long reign reflects the distance of Aintree rather than the sprints of Epsom,” he said, referring to the Grand National jumps course near Liverpool.
“We are sorry that you are not here with us this morning but we are so glad you are still in the saddle and… that there is still more to come.”
Outside the domed 17th-century cathedral, royal fan Stephanie Stitt, 35, said she was “a little” disappointed the queen had withdrawn.
But the events manager added: “It’s understandable because she’s 96.”
The queen’s disgraced second son Prince Andrew, sidelined from royal duties over his links to two convicted sex offenders, also missed the service after testing positive for Covid.
The queen’s heir, future king Prince Charles, 73, was again the most senior-ranking royal. He stood in at Thursday’s parade to take the salute from troops on horseback.
The congregation included some 400 health and social care staff, invited to give thanks for their work during the Covid pandemic.
The Bible readings, prayers and hymns were designed to reflect on and recognise what the palace said was the queen’s “lifetime of service”.
The queen has received congratulations for her record-breaking reign from leaders around the world, including North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, US President Joe Biden and France’s Emmanuel Macron.
– Harry, Meghan unpopular –
Overnight, the UK government confirmed post-Brexit plans to return the Crown symbol to pint glasses instead of the EU’s quality control mark, in what it said was a “fitting tribute” to the monarch.
It also launched a consultation to allow the sale of goods in imperial measures after EU law gave primacy to metric.
The jubilee has an end of an era feel to it, and focus is turning to the succession and the monarchy’s longer-term future.
Harry and US television actress Meghan, who is of mixed race, were once hailed as the modern face of the ancient institution after they wed in 2018.
But less than two years later they quit royal life and moved to the United States, launching a series of damaging broadsides, including of racism.
The couple have set up a charitable foundation but angered royal supporters for lifting the lid on royal life in a bombshell television interview.
A recent YouGov poll indicated nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the British public hold a negative view of them — an all-time low.
– ‘Not about them’ –
“I think they should probably just stay in the background,” said surgeon Roger Nagy, 51, who flew in for the celebrations from Denver, Colorado.
“They can do what they want with their lives but they probably shouldn’t say things. This is about the queen, this isn’t about them,” he added.
All eyes will be watching for signs of tension between the couple and Harry’s elder brother William, 39, and his wife Kate, 40.
Harry said in an October 2019 that he and William were on “different paths”, apparently confirming a rift that opened up after he began dating Meghan.
The pair were last seen in public at the unveiling of a statue to their late mother princess Diana in July 2021, and at the funeral of their grandfather, the queen’s husband Prince Philip, that April.