LONDON — Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, are making made their final appearance as senior royals at Westminster Abbey, joining Queen Elizabeth II and other members of Britain's royal family Monday for an annual Commonwealth Day service.
The televised event was expected to be the last time the couple works alongside the entire Windsor clan before Harry and Meghan fly off into self-imposed exile in North America. The pomp-filled observance featured no hand-shaking, apparently due to the new coronavirus.
The service ended the two-month drama that began when the couple announced plans to walk away from their roles as senior members of the royal family and into a world where they will have to earn a living. It's uncharted territory for the House of Windsor, which only has the messy abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 as a guide to the potential pitfalls.
“(The Windsors) have lost a major attraction for the future,'' said Pauline Maclaran, co-author of “Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture.”
The Commonwealth service is a major event on the royal calendar, largely because the 93-year-old monarch has embraced the organization for much of her life. She became head of the network of 54 countries in 1952 when she was only 26-years-old.
Elizabeth has long considered supporting good relations among Commonwealth members to be her own particular political project, said Philip Murphy, the director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London.
"It’s not just what a lot of people would call Imperial nostalgia — a yearning for the good old days of the Raj,'' Murphy said. “The queen has always embraced an evolving Commonwealth and supported the notion of Britain as a multiracial country because it is part of a multiracial Commonwealth.''
The service departed slightly from plan.
Harry and Meghan were ushered to their seats before the monarch's arrival instead of awaiting the queen and walking through the church with her as they did last year. In a change from the order of service, Prince William and his wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, also did not take part in the traditional procession of the queen, making the outgoing royals' absence less glaring.
The queen gave Harry and Meghan the titles Duke of Sussex and Duchess of Sussex on their wedding day. Starting at the end of this month, the Sussexes will no longer use their royal titles as they pursue a new life of financial freedom in North America.
The couple are expected to earn their keep at least partly through speaking engagements, which can net as much as $400,000 per event for the most sought after speakers such as former U.S. President Barack Obama. They've already had at least one speaking engagement, at a JPMorgan investment conference last month in Florida, but it isn't known whether they were paid or how much.
Among the things they may have to pay for is security after the Canadian government said it wouldn't cover the cost of the couple's security detail once they step back from royal duties.
Danica Kirka, The Associated Press