By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Prince Harry has spoken of his sadness at being forced to give up his royal duties in a deal with Queen Elizabeth and senior Windsors, saying there was no other option if he and his wife Meghan were to seek an independent future.
Buckingham Palace and the queen announced on Saturday that Harry and Meghan would no longer be working members of Britain’s monarchy, no longer use their “Royal Highness” titles and would now pay their own way in life, freeing them to forge what they call a “progressive new role”.
The new arrangement was struck to end a crisis the couple sparked by announcing earlier this month they wanted to cut down on official engagements and spend more time in Canada and the United States, while remaining active royals.
In a speech to the Sentebale charity on Sunday, a clearly upset Harry said the final outcome was not what he and his American wife, a former actress, had wanted.
“Our hope was to continue serving the queen, the Commonwealth and my military associations without public funding. Sadly that wasn’t possible,” the prince, the sixth-in-line to the throne, said.
“I’ve accepted this knowing it doesn’t change who I am, or how committed I am. But I hope that helps you understand what it had come to, that I would step back from all I have ever known to take a step forward into what I hope can be a more peaceful life.”
Under the arrangement, Harry will remain a prince and the couple will keep their titles of Duke and Duchess of Sussex as they begin a new life split between Britain and North America, where they will spend the majority of their time. But they will not take part in any future ceremonial events or royal tours.
Royal commentators said it amounted to an “abdication” from the “firm” – as the royals are known – and showed that, beneath the warm words in which she said Harry and Meghan were much loved, the queen had taken a decisive line by insisting on a clean break.
“It brings me great sadness that it has come to this,” said Harry. He said the decision to step back had followed months of talks and had not been a decision he had come to lightly. They were not walking away, he explained.
“As far as this goes, there really was no other option.”
He told the audience at the charity he co-founded to help children with HIV in Africa that he wanted them to hear the truth from him “not as a prince, or a duke, but as Harry, the same person that many of you have watched grow up over the last 35 years but with a clearer perspective”.
“The UK is my home and a place that I love. That will never change,” he said.
The couple’s plans for independence, announced after a long break over the Christmas period in Canada, caught the rest of the royal family by surprise and left the queen and other senior members hurt and disappointed, according to royal sources.
However, in a TV interview aired in October, both had made it clear how they were struggling with the immense media attention. The couple had also started legal action against a newspaper for printing a letter she sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle.
Harry said he felt his wife had faced “bullying” from some tabloids similar to that faced by his mother Princess Diana who died in a car crash while trying to escape paparazzi photographers.
“When I lost my mum 23 years ago, you took me under your wing. You’ve looked out for me for so long but the media is a powerful force and my hope is one day our collective support for each other can be more powerful because this is so much bigger than just us,” he said.
Buckingham Palace have said the couple would no longer receive public money and that they would repay the cost of refurbishing their cottage in Windsor, which official figures show amounted to 2.4 million pounds ($3.1 million).
But certain details, such as their future security arrangements or whether the couple could continue to use the “Sussex Royal” title for their website and branding, have either not been finalised or publicly revealed.
Meghan is currently in Canada with their baby son Archie and Harry is expected to join her soon.
The royal crisis, which has dominated the British news agenda for almost two weeks, overshadowing Brexit and tensions over Iran, exposed a deep rift among the Windsors and poses questions about its role in the modern world.
The Sun newspaper said Harry and his elder brother William, with whom he acknowledged he had fallen out, had ended their feud but he remained at loggerheads with his father Prince Charles, the heir-to-the-throne.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he believed the whole of Britain would want to wish the couple the very best.
However, Meghan’s father was less generous, accusing them of damaging the monarchy.
“They are destroying it, they are cheapening it, they’re making it shabby,” Markle told Britain’s Channel 5.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alison Williams)