Prince Harry Is All Smiles at Palace Event in First Appearance Since Stepping Down

Prince Harry is stepping out for the first time since announcing that he and wife Meghan Markle are exiting their roles senior royals.

The Duke of Sussex appeared at Buckingham Palace in London to host the Rugby League World Cup 2021 draws for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments. Harry, 35, was announced as patron of the Rugby Football League in December 2016, succeeding his grandmother Queen Elizabeth who held the role for 64 years.

Ahead of the draws, which were streamed live across the Royal Family and Rugby League World Cup 2021 Twitter and Facebook channels, Prince Harry met with representatives from all 21 nations taking part in the tournament. He also watched children from a local school play rugby league in the Buckingham Palace gardens.

The Rugby League World Cup is the pinnacle event for rugby league and will take place from in October and November 2021 in 17 cities across England. Twenty-one nations — including Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, France, Greece, Jamaica, Italy, Ireland, Lebanon, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Scotland, Tonga and Wales — will be competing to be crowned world champions. It will be the first time in tournament history that the men’s, women’s and wheelchair events are held simultaneously.

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex released a statement last week announcing their intent to “carve out a progressive new role within this institution.”

Though the particulars are still being worked out, Meghan and Harry want to focus on “their own causes with a little less constraint and still be supporting the institution and the monarch,” says a friend.

While Meghan returned to Canada to reunite with Archie, Prince Harry stayed in the U.K. this week to meet with grandmother Queen Elizabeth, father Prince Charles and brother Prince William to discuss next steps.

“Today my family had very constructive discussions on the future of my grandson and his family,” the Queen, 93, said in a statement released after the 90-minute meeting. “My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family.”

She continued, “Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working Members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.”

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Royal historian and biographer of the Queen Robert Lacey notes that the monarch’s statement was “incredibly personal.”

“I can’t recall a royal statement where one gets the sense so much of the Queen herself speaking,” he tells PEOPLE. “Using phrases like ‘my family and I’ is very moving. It clearly shows her wish to resolve everything.”

In this week’s cover story, a family friend tells PEOPLE that the couple felt they had no choice but to manage things the way they did, even as they went against the family’s “never complain, never explain” mantra.

“This is not how they wanted to handle this, but Meghan and Harry’s hand was forced,” says the friend. “There is so much bad blood in that family — it’s toxic.”

Author: Anchorman

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