Prince Harry hosted the Rugby League World Cup 2021 draws for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments

By Stephanie Petit and Simon Perry
January 16, 2020 06:37 AM
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Prince Harry is keeping his sense of humor amid the ongoing turmoil in the Royal Family.

At his first official outing since announcing that he and wife Meghan Markle are exiting their roles senior royals, he managed a smile after he was abruptly asked how things were working out.

Appearing at Buckingham Palace in London on Thursday to host the Rugby League World Cup 2021 draws for the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments, the Duke of Sussex was asked by a reporter: “How are the discussions going on your future?”

He didn’t answer, but sources at the palace event say he laughed at the attempt to get his opinion on what’s going on behind-the-scenes since he and Meghan announced they are stepping down as senior royals.

Prince Harry
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Former Rugby League player Jason Robinson told reporters: “I’ve done quite a few things with [Harry] over the years. Anything that I have ever seen Prince Harry involved in, he has been amazing. It was nice to see him today. We shook hands he gave me a hug. To have somebody like him to do this draw, at Buckingham Palace, it just does not get any better.”

“What happens between him and his good wife is nothing at all to do with me,” he added. “What’s great about this is that it does not matter what is going on in the background, wherever he goes he still delivers. He is very respectful, very warm, very endearing. This draw would not have been the same had he not committed to it. We are very grateful for his time.”

When asked if he hoped the prince would still stay involved in supporting the sport, he said: “I am not sure what the future holds, but one thing I am quite certain is that, if you look at what Prince Harry has done to date, he cares about people – physically, mentally. He has gone all over the world – inspiring, caring, looking after people. I don’t think that will change. What capacity he does that, going forward, will be up to it. When you’ve got that in you, it will go wherever he is.”

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Harry, 35, was announced as patron of the Rugby Football League in December 2016, succeeding his grandmother Queen Elizabeth who held the role for 64 years.

Ahead of the draws, which were streamed live across the Royal Family and Rugby League World Cup 2021 Twitter and Facebook channels, Prince Harry met with representatives from all 21 nations taking part in the tournament. He also watched children from a local school play rugby league in the Buckingham Palace gardens.

Later, inside the palace at the draw, Harry talked about the effect that sport had for him. — from his “my younger years but also through Invictus [Games] . . . the impact that it has on individuals playing but the community as a whole is remarkable.”

“And not only do I continue to see sport actually changing lives but it’s saving lives as well. For me, and many of you guys as well, whether it is Rugby League or sport in general, everyone given the opportunity it needs to be in everyone’s life if possible.”

Prince Harry
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The Rugby League World Cup is the pinnacle event for rugby league and will take place from in October and November 2021 in 17 cities across England. Twenty-one nations — including Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, France, Greece, Jamaica, Italy, Ireland, Lebanon, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Scotland, Tonga and Wales — will be competing to be crowned world champions. It will be the first time in tournament history that the men’s, women’s and wheelchair events are held simultaneously.

Prince Harry
Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex released a statement last week announcing their intent to “carve out a progressive new role within this institution.”

Though the particulars are still being worked out, Meghan and Harry want to focus on “their own causes with a little less constraint and still be supporting the institution and the monarch,” says a friend.

While Meghan returned to Canada to reunite with Archie, Prince Harry stayed in the U.K. this week to meet with grandmother Queen Elizabeth, father Prince Charles and brother Prince William to discuss next steps.

Prince Harry
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

“Today my family had very constructive discussions on the future of my grandson and his family,” the Queen, 93, said in a statement released after the 90-minute meeting. “My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family.”

She continued, “Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working Members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.”

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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry

Royal historian and biographer of the Queen Robert Lacey notes that the monarch’s statement was “incredibly personal.”

“I can’t recall a royal statement where one gets the sense so much of the Queen herself speaking,” he tells PEOPLE. “Using phrases like ‘my family and I’ is very moving. It clearly shows her wish to resolve everything.”

In this week’s cover story, a family friend tells PEOPLE that the couple felt they had no choice but to manage things the way they did, even as they went against the family’s “never complain, never explain” mantra.

“This is not how they wanted to handle this, but Meghan and Harry’s hand was forced,” says the friend. “There is so much bad blood in that family — it’s toxic.”