LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II was center stage on day one of Britain’s Platinum Jubilee festivities.
But all eyes were on Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, on day two as the couple made their first public appearance of the jubilee. They attended a service of thanksgiving for his grandmother at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on Friday, with the queen herself skipping the service due to mobility issues.
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The queen was at the heart of the nationwide party that began with pomp and pageantry Thursday, while Prince Charles stepped in to take a salute and even little Prince Louis stole some of the limelight on the Buckingham Palace balcony.
Notable by their absence from the opening day of the show were the couple who have made most of the royal headlines in recent years.
Although the Sussexes have become divisive figures since their decision to step down from royal duties and move to the United States, they were met by some cheers from the crowd as they arrived on their own for the church service early Friday.
Harry responded with a small wave.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who arrived before them, was met with audible boos as he climbed the cathedral steps with his wife — a sign of his political troubles in a country that has grown weary of its rulers but not its monarch.
The palace said in a statement late Thursday that the 96-year-old queen was suffering from “discomfort” and had decided “with great reluctance” not to attend the service after the “journey and activity” of the first day of celebrations to mark her 70 years on the throne.
The queen’s health had been a concern in the lead-up to the jubilee. She tested positive for Covid earlier this year and has been suffering from what the palace calls “episodic mobility problems.”
She was still able to make two appearances from the famed palace balcony as the nation began four days of events to hail her long reign.
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Harry and Meghan were not among the royals who joined her there to watch the Royal Air Force flypast, with that honor reserved for working members of the family.
But they did join other members of the royal family, as well as political and religious officials, at the cathedral in central London on Friday, though neither of their children were with them for the event.
The country’s largest church bell, Great Paul, rang at 11 a.m. local time (6 a.m. ET), marking the first time it was rung for a royal occasion.
The service included prayers, tributes, anthems and Bible readings.
After it was over, Harry and Meghan were the first to leave the cathedral, chatting briefly at the top of the steps before walking down while holding hands and smiling. They left in a waiting car.
The Sussexes had maintained a low profile since returning to London for the jubilee, appearing only in photographs shot through windows.
It’s the couple’s first appearance together on British soil since they stepped down from royal duties two years ago. The events offer the first opportunity for their daughter, Lilibet, to meet her namesake.
In addition to the queen, another royal who was not in attendance at the service was Prince Andrew, who has tested positive for Covid, according to the palace.