Prince Harry has said he and his wife Meghan Markle had “really no other option” but to step back as senior royals after “many years of challenges”, even as he expressed “great sadness” after being stripped of their royal titles.
In his first personal statement on Sunday night after a formal split from the royal family was finalised by Queen Elizabeth II over the weekend, the 35-year-old Duke of Sussex said when he and his American actress wife were married they were “excited” and “hopeful”.
He spoke of his “great sadness” at a decision which he said was not taken lightly and that the UK would always be his home even as the couple divide their time between Canada and Britain.
“The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back, is not one I made lightly,” the Prince said in a speech at a dinner event for charity Sentebale, co-founded by him in 2006 to support those affected by HIV in Lesotho and Botswana in southern Africa.
“It was so many months of talks after so many years of challenges. And I know I haven’t always got it right, but as far as this goes, there really was no other option. What I want to make clear is we’re not walking away, and we certainly aren’t walking away from you,” he said.
In a visibly heartfelt message, he said he wanted to share “the truth” about the revelations of the last few weeks, insisting that he was still the same old Harry they have known “but with a clearer perspective”.
The speech came a day after the Buckingham Palace announced that the couple will be forsaking their His and Her Royal Highness titles and no longer receive any share of the Sovereign Grant, or the UK taxpayer funding allocated to senior royals.
It followed weeks of talks after Harry and Meghan, 38, had announced plans earlier this month to step back from the royal frontline and spend more time in North America.
“I was born into this life, and it is a great honour to serve my country and the Queen…It has been our privilege to serve you, and we will continue to lead a life of service,” Harry said.
Striking a personal tone, the Prince told the gathering: “The UK is my home and a place that I love. That will never change.
“I have grown up feeling support from so many of you, and I watched as you welcomed Meghan with open arms as you saw me find the love and happiness that I had hoped for all my life. I also know you’ve come to know me well enough over all these years to trust that the woman I chose as my wife upholds the same values as I do.
“We both do everything we can to fly the flag and carry out our roles for this country with pride. Once Meghan and I were married, we were excited, we were hopeful, and we were here to serve. For those reasons, it brings me great sadness that it has come to this,” he added.
Explaining how it had not been possible to continue serving his grandmother, the 93-year-old Queen, in any official capacity without public funding, Harry said he had to accept that reality but it did not change his commitment to his royal duty.
“Our hope was to continue serving the Queen, the Commonwealth, and my military associations, but without public funding. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible. I’ve accepted this, knowing that it doesn’t change who I am or how committed I am,” he said.
Referring to the tragic death of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997 in a car crash in Paris, he added: “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.”
Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is already in Vancouver Island in Canada with the couple’s eight-month-old son Archie and Harry is expected to join them soon.
Meanwhile, Harry will continue with his pending royal duties in the UK until the new agreement struck with the palace kicks in from spring towards the end of March and the couple begin their new financially independent roles.
The couple intend to repay 2.4 million pounds of UK taxpayer money for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their UK family home as they split their time between Britain and Canada.
The palace has declined to comment on security arrangements and who would foot that bill for the couple in future, an issue that has been at the centre of much of the debate since they announced their decision to step back as senior royals earlier this month.
Harry and Meghan have issued their own update on their official Sussex Royal website, which has been updated to remove references to the HRH titles on the opening page.
“We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages.
“This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity,” the statement on their website reads.