Prince Harry returns to the palace for first public engagement since 'Megxit' crisis

16 January 2020, 16:02 | Updated: 16 January 2020, 16:06

The Duke of Sussex at the palace
The Duke of Sussex at the palace. Picture: PA

The Duke of Sussex has hosted the Rugby League World Cup 2021 draw at Buckingham Palace in his first public appearance since the 'Megxit' crisis began.

Prince Harry is carrying out his first public duty since the shock announcement last week that he and his wife, Meghan Markle, will be "stepping back as senior royals".

It is his first appearance at an official event since the couple plunged the monarchy into crisis by announcing they want to become financially independent and live part of the year in Canada.

Harry is at the palace to host the Rugby League World Cup 2021.

He will be meeting representatives from all participating countries and watch local children play rugby in the palace gardens.

The duke, who wore a suit, smiled and joked when he was welcomed by the RLW2021's chief executive officer Jon Dutton and its non-executive director Stuart Cain in the palace gardens.

The duke, who was announced as patron of the Rugby Football League in December 2016, later met representatives from all 21 nations taking part in the tournament in the palace's green drawing room.

Among them was Adam Hills, representing Australia and host of the Channel 4 satirical show The Last Leg, who was born without a right foot and who plays physical disability rugby league for Warrington Wolves.

The presenter said Harry chatted to his group about rugby league great Rob Burrow, who was recently diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

He praised the royal's dedication to the sport revealed by his knowledge of Burrow's story despite his turbulent week, saying: "That for me shows the kind of duty and commitment to rugby league that he has.

"That in amongst everything else that's going on in his life that he is aware of the rugby league story of the year."

Prince Harry met with James Simpson
Prince Harry met with James Simpson. Picture: PA
Prince Harry met with children from a local school
Prince Harry met with children from a local school. Picture: PA

In front of the group were 12 children from St Vincent de Paul Catholic primary school in Westminster, playing on a mini rugby pitch.

The children are Westminster champions in tag rugby for the last three years.

Harry chatted to the youngsters during a pause in their exhibition match and then the group posed for a photograph.

He was also introduced to two ambassadors for the global tournament, James Simpson, England and Leeds Rhino wheelchair rugby league star, and Jodie Cunningham, a rugby league player in the Women's Super League for St Helens.

Harry, just ahead of the start of the draw, was asked about the impact of sport on people's lives and described it as having the power to save lives.

The duke said: "I think, from my perspective, certainly the experience that I've had in my younger years but also through Invictus, and all of the sporting events that I'm lucky enough to be able to go to or watch, the impact that it has, especially on young people, but the impact it has on the individuals playing with the community as a whole is remarkable.

"Not only do I continue to see sport actually changing lives, but it's saving lives as well, so I think for me and ... everybody in this room, whether it's rugby league, or sports in general ... it needs to be in everybody's life if possible."

It has been announced that Harry will remain in the UK next week, quashing rumours that he was preparing to fly to Canada to join his wife and their son Archie.

The Prince has also spoken out in support of the tournament's decision to adopt a mental health awareness programme.

In a video, he said: "This charter will build on the brilliant work already happening in rugby league by committing to training and educating all those involved in the tournament."

The global tournament being staged by the UK is the pinnacle event for rugby league and will take place during October and November in 17 cities across England.

One of the reporters shouted out a question to the duke who has had a turbulent week trying to resolve questions about his future role in the monarchy.

The reporter asked: "How are the discussions going on your future?"

Harry, who was making his way into the palace, only smiled at one of his entourage and did not reply.

In the palace's throne room, the draws for the World Cup were staged, with Harry joined by rugby league and union great Jason Robinson and Dame Katherine Grainger, chair of UK Sport, who also took part in the ceremony.

The duke pulled the first ball, which decided the opening game for England's men's team and the country picked were Samoa.

For Harry's second pick more balls were added to the bowl in front of him and he made officials and guests laugh by turning his back to look away as he stirred the balls before selecting.

It is his first public engagement since the Sandringham summit
It is his first public engagement since the Sandringham summit. Picture: PA
The couple are stepping back from royal duties
The couple are stepping back from royal duties. Picture: PA

It is the Duke's first public appearance since the so-called "Megxit" scandal.

The Queen crisis talks at Sandringham between senior royals including the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince Harry.

Meghan did not join the royal summit at Sandringham with the Queen and senior royals by phone earlier, when Prince Harry put forward the couple's views for their future.

A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said: "In the end, the Sussexes decided that it wasn't necessary for the duchess to join."

Reports claim the duke is remaining in the UK to hold further discussions about his future role in the royal family, but Buckingham Palace has released no further updates since the Queen's personal statement on Monday.

A royal source said: "The duke has some meetings here early next week."

The duke and duchess have also dropped their claim to be "internationally protected people" from their website, indicating there may be an issue over their round-the-clock security funded by the taxpayer.

The classification entitled them to the same level of protection offered to heads of state, but the Times reported it was removed from a day after the new site was launched last week.

Meghan Markle visited the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre
Meghan Markle visited the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre. Picture: Downtown Eastside Women's Centre
Prince Harry announced the 2022 Invictus Games on Wednesday
Prince Harry announced the 2022 Invictus Games on Wednesday. Picture: Sussex Royal Instagram

The official engagement on Thursday sees him host the Rugby League World Cup draws for the men's, women's and wheelchair tournaments.

The draws will be streamed live across the royal family and the tournaments' Twitter and Facebook channels.

The world cup tournament runs from October 23 to November 27 2021 in 17 cities across England, with 16 men's, eight women's and eight wheelchair teams from 21 nations taking part.

Prince Harry appears to be attempting to carry on as normal, launching the next leg of his Invictus Games, for wounded and injured service personnel and veterans, with an Instagram video on Wednesday evening.

The event will be held in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 2022.

In the footage posted on the official sussexroyal account, Harry said: "I hope everyone in Germany is ready for what will be an incredible week of sport!

"I have no doubt that the German public will get right behind these Games and that every single competitor can expect a warm welcome and an amazing atmosphere."

Meghan, who flew back to Canada before senior royals met at Sandringham to discuss the couple's future on Monday, has been photographed in the province of British Columbia visiting the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre in Vancouver.

She discussed "issues affecting women in the community", according to a photograph posted on Facebook by the shelter.