LONDON — Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, joined other members of the British royal family on Friday for a church service honoring Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne, making their first public appearance in the UK since that they stepped down from their royal duties two years ago. .
The Queen skipped the event at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, which took place on the second of four days of festivities marking her Platinum Jubilee. The 96-year-old monarch has struggled to get around in recent months and felt “some discomfort” after smiling and waving to a crowd of supporters from the balcony at Buckingham Palace on Thursday afternoon.
But royal watchers quickly focused on Harry and Meghan, who held hands as they walked down the long central aisle accompanied only by a military officer in a scarlet tunic. Other guests craned their necks to watch the couple take their second row seat, highlighting their lesser roles as non-working members of the Royal Family.
Prince Charles, who represented the Queen, and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, had special chairs in the front row across the center aisle. Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, sat next to them.
Harry and Meghan sparked tensions within the royal family when they moved to California and signed lucrative media deals. The rift widened after he made allegations of racism and bullying in the royal household. But they returned to Britain for Jubilee celebrations, bringing their son, Archie, and daughter, Lilibet, who had never met her great-grandmother the Queen.
“It is, again, about Elizabeth II trying to come together, bringing her family together one last time, probably, during her reign, so that… handing over to the next monarch, we can see that she has done so unless publicly doing her best to try to unite the divisions that have opened up within the family group over the past two years,” said Ed Owens, author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy Mass Media and the British Public 1932-53” in an interview before the Jubilee.
The service of thanksgiving took place a day after the celebrations opened with the glittering military parade known as Trooping the Colour, an event which marks the official birthday of the sovereign for some 260 years.
After the event, tens of thousands of royal supporters cheered wildly as Elizabeth joined other senior royals on the palace balcony and 70 military aircraft roared overhead in a salute.
The Queen stubbornly appeared later that evening outside her home at Windsor Castle for the final moments of an international headlights ceremony. Moving slowly and with some difficulty, she pressed an illuminated globe that sent a river of lights pouring towards Buckingham Palace, where a sculpture of living trees was illuminated.
Although the Palace said she enjoyed the festivities, the Queen has apparently decided another trip from Windsor to London on Friday might be a bit too much. Prince Charles again replaced his mother at the church service, as he has often done in recent times.
But the Queen was still part of the service as attendees assumed she was watching on TV.
Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell spoke to him directly in his sermon, playfully recounting his love of horse racing.
“I’m afraid I don’t have any good advice for the Derby tomorrow, but since the scriptures describe life as a race ahead of us, let me observe that your long reign reflects the distance of Aintree rather than the Epsom sprints…,” he joked. “But with endurance, through times of change and challenge, joy and sadness, you continue to offer yourselves in service to our country and the Commonwealth.”
“Your Majesty, we are sorry that you are not with us this morning, but we are delighted that you are still in the saddle,” he added. “And we’re all glad there’s even more to come.”
Gallery: Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Day 2