Prince Harry carries out first public engagement since royal crisis

  • Video report by ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship

The Duke of Sussex has conducted his first public engagement since announcing that he and his wife Meghan will be stepping back as senior royals.

Prince Harry hosted the Rugby League World Cup 2021 draw at Buckingham Palace, where he met with representatives from the 21 nations taking part.

He is to remain in the UK into next week, despite rumours claiming he was preparing to fly to Canada to be reunited with Meghan and their baby son Archie.

The Queen has agreed to Harry and Meghan's wishes to wind back their royal duties, become financially independent and split their time between the UK and Canada.

Sources 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.

  • ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship says there may be an announcement on the future arrangements for Meghan and Harry on Friday

Harry’s official engagement on Thursday saw him host the Rugby League World Cup draws for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments.

The tournament itself runs from October 23 to November 27 in 2021 in 17 cities across England.

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.

It was the first time Harry was seen since his bombshell news. Credit: PA

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."

Prior to the draw taking place, Harry – who was announced as patron of the Rugby Football League in December 2016 – watched children from a local school play rugby in the palace gardens.

Harry had joked with the youngsters playing rugby, telling them to look after the palace grass or he would get in trouble.

He told the children as they posed for the group picture: "Some of you are really warm... some of you haven't been running around."

As he headed inside, he quipped: "Look after the grass though yeah? Otherwise I'll get in trouble."

Harry chatted to the youngsters during a pause in their exhibition match and then the group posed for a photograph in front of a large group of photographers, cameramen and journalists.

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.

The Duke of Sussex and Jon Dutton (left), Chief Executive of the Rugby League World Cup 2021, with children playing rugby in the Buckingham Palace gardens. Credit: PA

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

The schoolchildren have been Westminster champions in tag rugby, a non-contact form of the game, for the last three years.

Mr Simpson made Harry laugh when he said: "We started without you."

The Duke of Sussex at the Buckingham Palace gardens as he hosts the Rugby League World Cup 2021 draws. Credit: PA

In another sign that the Duke is attempting to carry on as normal, he launched the next leg of his Invictus Games, for wounded and injured service personnel and veterans, with an Instagram video on Wednesday evening which announced the event will be held in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 2022.

Harry's official engagement on Thursday comes as more was revealed about Meghan's stay in Vancouver.

Justice for Girls, a charity which focuses on issues facing vulnerable young women, such as poverty, homelessness and violence, said that the Duchess of Sussex visited them on Tuesday.

"Meghan Markle visited to discuss climate justice for girls and the rights of Indigenous peoples," the charity wrote on their Twitter page.

"Was great to talk about the importance of a holistic approach to social justice, and the power of young women's leadership."

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.

  • The Royal Rota: Our royal team on Harry making his first public engagement since he and Meghan dropped their bombshell