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Hugs and elbow bumps as Harry and Meghan make last appearance as working royals

From March 31, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will no longer use their HRH styles.

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving the Commonwealth Service (Yui Mok/PA)

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving the Commonwealth Service (Yui Mok/PA)

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving the Commonwealth Service (Yui Mok/PA)

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex hugged and “elbow bumped” well-wishers as they effectively bowed out as working members of the monarchy.

Harry and Meghan’s last official appearance with the Queen, Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and Duke and Duchess of Cambridge saw them celebrate the family of nations at a Commonwealth Service, where they smiled and waved at the 2,000-strong congregation.

The couple have a few more weeks before they officially step down as senior royals, but as they left the event at Westminster Abbey it was the symbolic end of their life supporting the Queen.

Royal author Penny Junor said of the Sussexes: “I hope that Harry doesn’t feel bereft of everything that he loves – he will have his wife and child – but everything else in his life, when the door closes on this period of business.”

Despite the seismic change in their circumstances the couple laughed and joked with singers Alexandra Burke and Craig David, and world heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua, who had all taken part in the event.

The Abbey has advised all congregations in recent weeks to avoid shaking hands to limit the potential spread of the coronavirus and Harry bumped elbows with Craig David.

But Meghan had no concerns and hugged the singer who had performed his single Unbelievable and also embraced a little girl.

Members of the royal family at the Commonwealth Service
Members of the royal family at the Commonwealth Service (Phil Harris/Daily Mirror/PA)

Beneath the smiles, body language expert Judi James told the PA news agency she was aware of some issues: “It wasn’t the warm reunion that we were all hoping for. The tension in Harry’s body language especially was palpable.”

She added: “As Harry walked up the aisle, they both waved at the children, but his face otherwise was quite tense and unsmiling.”

When the royal brothers and their wives met, Meghan was seen to mouth “hi” and give a small wave to William and Kate, followed by a “hello”, as the Cambridges took their seat in the High Altar in the row in front of the Sussexes.

The Duchess of Cambridge speaks to children
The Duchess of Cambridge speaks to children as she leaves the Commonwealth Service (Yui Mok/PA)

Harry also said “hello” and smiled at his brother.

But Ms James interpreted the encounter as highlighting the past tensions between the siblings: “Harry and Meghan looked a lot more genuinely cheerful, and Harry especially, through a really affectionate smile at Kate.”

“But when it was William, you could see Harry was slightly more rigid and his lips were closed.”

The service brought to a close Harry and Meghan’s whirlwind UK farewell tour, where they attended the Endeavour Fund Awards, a military musical festival at the Royal Albert Hall and Meghan’s secret visit to a school in Dagenham, east London, to celebrate International Women’s Day.

From March 31, the monarch’s grandson and American former actress Meghan will no longer use their HRH styles as they pursue a new life of personal and financial freedom, mostly in North America.

On that date Meghan will bow out of royal life just one year, 10 months and 12 days – or 682 days – after marrying into the family.

She spent almost five years longer appearing on screen in the US drama Suits.

The Queen leaves the Commonwealth Service with her family
The Queen leaves the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey with her family (Yui Mok/PA)

In a change from last year’s event, when the Sussexes arrived they were shown to their seats and did not wait at the Abbey’s great west door to meet the Queen and senior royals and process together for the start of the ceremony.

The move is likely to be interpreted by commentators as their impending exit from The Firm – dubbed Megxit – although William and Kate, unlike last year, also took their places in the 2,000-strong congregation and did not process through the Abbey.

Stepping down as a working royal and starting a new life in Canada with his wife and child means Harry must leave his role as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador.

But he will remain president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and Meghan will still be the trust’s vice-president.

The couple are said to want to “collectively make a change in the armed forces arena” and will make the military central to their charitable work in their new lives.

Boxer Anthony Joshua
Boxer Anthony Joshua speaks during the Commonwealth Service (Ben Stansall/PA)

Joshua gave the service’s reflection and spoke eloquently about his Nigerian and British heritage and how his background reflected many in the Commonwealth.

He told the congregation, who included Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “Like me, so many children of the Commonwealth have two homes and two identities, two cultures and two ways of viewing the world. Some have more than two.

“These days we hear so much about division and difference that some might be tempted to see that as a bad thing. But on the contrary, it’s a beautiful thing, a thing to be celebrated and cherish, and a great source of peace and stability.”

Meghan and Harry’s baby son Archie, who is thought to have remained in their Canadian home, is the first mixed-race child to be born into the royal family in centuries and has been seen as a reflection of modern multi-cultural Britain.

The Queen in her Commonwealth Day message praised the diversity of the family of nations whose blend of traditions “serves to make us stronger”.

PA