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Harry makes first official appearance since decision to quit

The Duke of Sussex was at Buckingham Palace for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup draw.

The Duke of Sussex meets children in the Buckingham Palace gardens (Yui Mok/PA)
The Duke of Sussex meets children in the Buckingham Palace gardens (Yui Mok/PA)

By Tony Jones and Laura Elston, PA Court Staff

The Duke of Sussex has carried out his first official public engagement since he and his wife quit as senior royals, triggering a major crisis for the monarchy.

Harry was at Buckingham Palace – the official residence of his grandmother the Queen, who has now sanctioned his decision – where he was hosting the Rugby League World Cup 2021 draw.

Dozens of photographers lined a makeshift mini rugby pitch on the manicured lawns in the palace garden, waiting for the duke to arrive.

Harry, dressed in a smart suit and tie, smiled and joked when he was welcomed by RLW2021 chief executive Jon Dutton and non-executive director Stuart Cain.

Children from a local school gave a rugby demonstration as the duke chatted enthusiastically to the executives.

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

Posing for a team picture, he teased them, saying: “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.”

Royal aides are working around the clock to find solutions to the crisis caused by Harry and Meghan’s plans to step back as senior royals, become financially independent and split their time between the UK and Canada.

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Harry at Buckingham Palace (Yui Mok/PA)

The duke chatted to the youngsters from St Vincent de Paul Catholic Primary School in Westminster during a pause in their exhibition match, shaking each of their hands in turn.

As he posed for the group photograph in front of the large crowd of photographers, camera operators and journalists, one of the reporters shouted out: “How are the discussions going on your future?”

Harry, who was making his way into the palace, just smiled at a member of his entourage and did not reply.

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Harry posed for a photo with children who played rugby in the Buckingham Palace gardens (Yui Mok/PA)

The duke is remaining in the UK into next week, taking part in meetings as talks continue on his future.

The Queen, who made a statement supporting Harry and Meghan but expressing her regret, has called for final decisions on the complicated arrangements to be made in the coming days.

Meghan has been staying in Canada with baby Archie, where she has carried out visits to charities in Vancouver including to Justice For Girls, which campaigns for an end to violence, poverty and racism for teenagers.

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.

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The Duke of Sussex chats with pupils from St Vincent de Paul Catholic Primary School (Yui Mok/PA)

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 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.

The duke was announced as patron of the Rugby Football League in December 2016, but it is not yet known what will happen to this patronage and his 13 others as he carves out his new life.

In the palace’s grand throne room, the live 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.

Harry spoke about sport having the power to save lives.

The duke said: “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, … 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.”

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

PA

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