LONDON — Crowds outside St. Paul’s Cathedral gave a round of hurrahs, as well as some jeers, for Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, as the couple made their first public appearance during Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee — and their first joint appearance in Britain since they quit their jobs as royals.
The couple remained behind the scenes on the first big day of jubilee celebrations. They weren’t invited to join the queen on the Buckingham Palace balcony. Photographers caught just a glimpse of Meghan playing with some of the queen’s great-grandchildren in a window above the Trooping the Colour military parade route.
But Harry and Meghan were allowed their moment on Friday, joining the family for a service of thanksgiving — though walking in separately from the working royals, and then being seated in the second row. It wasn’t the kid’s table, but it wasn’t the head table, either.
Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, got bigger applause from the crowd outside as they entered the Anglican cathedral in the heart of London. The church bells rang as Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, arrived.
There was a mixed reaction from spectators to the entrance of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie Johnson. Some booed.
Among those not attending the service: the queen, who watched on the BBC from her rooms at Windsor Castle. The palace said the monarch felt “some discomfort” during Thursday’s parade and would bow out of the church service and Saturday’s horse races at Epsom Downs. She has been struggling with what the palace calls “mobility issues” in recent months and has missed a number of engagements.
Another notable absence at St. Paul’s: Prince Andrew, the queen’s third child, who has been largely banished from public life since he faced accusations of sexual abuse and a scandal over his friendship with convicted abuser Jeffrey Epstein. The palace announced Thursday that he had also tested positive for the coronavirus.
The queen did make an appearance at Windsor on Thursday night. Dressed in aqua, she looked steady on her feet, but perhaps tired, as she placed a gloved hand on a glittering globe, to symbolically light ceremonial beacons in Britain and around the commonwealth.
“It had been an extraordinarily long day for Her Majesty, but she seemed determined to make this final appearance,” the royal reporter for the Daily Telegraph wrote.
In his Friday sermon, the archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, addressed the queen directly and told the congregation what they already knew: that Elizabeth is a lifelong lover of horses.
Cottrell made a joke that he had “no great tips” from on high for the derby on Saturday, where some of the queen’s horses will appear. Continuing the equine theme, the archbishop said: “Your majesty, we are sorry you are not here with us this morning in person. But we are so glad you are still in the saddle.”
People may forget, but the queen is also the “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” The archbishop praised her for a “staunch constancy and a steadfast consistency, a faithfulness to God, an obedience to a vocation.”
The prime minister read from Philippians in the New Testament.
“Rejoice,” Johnson read. “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
These days in Britain, of course, the political authority resides with Johnson and his government, while the queen, as head of state, holds powers that are symbolic and ceremonial. But there is a steady transition of responsibility passing now from the queen to her son Charles and grandson William, who are playing more prominent roles during the jubilee.
The BBC cameras mostly focused on them at St. Paul’s but occasionally cut away to show Harry and Meghan, who were seated on the other side of the aisle from the core members of the royal family.
The BBC commentator said it appeared Harry and Meghan were allowed “their own little procession” as they entered, which he suggested was the doing of the queen.
St Paul’s wasn’t the easiest place to catch a glimpse of royals, but that didn’t stop several hundred people from gathering outside, where the streets were lined with metal barricades.
Sue Wilmot, a Brit based in Connecticut, flew over with her three children to celebrate the jubilee. As the royals stepped out of the church, she hoisted her 7-year-old, Orlah, on her shoulders, who became an unofficial crowd photographer, taking photos on the phones being passed to her in the thick crowd.
Wilmot described the queen as “a rock in our lives — whenever things go wrong, she’s this stable swan that just floats through and keeps everyone calm.”
She said it was unfortunate that Harry and Meghan drew jeers.
“We saw Harry come out and was booed by some, we thought that was sad. We cheered. He’s got a small family he brought over from America, and thank God he did. For his kids to be part of this is amazing; they will be able to look back one day and say ‘we celebrated our great-grandmother.’ ”
Harry and Meghan’s popularity ratings in Britain have plummeted to an all-time low. According to a recent YouGov poll, 32 percent of people see Harry in a positive light, while 58 percent think of him negatively. Meghan is even less popular: Only 23 percent of the public hold a positive opinion of her, compared with 63 percent who have a negative view.
Also among those who got a glimpse of the royals were Ian Tuer, 64, a transport manager, and his wife, Valerie, 55, who works as a butcher. They traveled down from the Lake District.
Valerie said Harry and Meghan’s appearance will have gone down well with the British public: “I think there would have been a lot said if they hadn’t appeared. They’ve done the right thing coming back.”
Ian said it was good to see Harry and Meghan. “I think they wanted to be here no matter what people thought. They made their decision to be Hollywood A-listers, and that’s fine. They got a good reception, and they will be happy about that.”
As for Prince Charles, Ian said: “He’s a nice guy; he’s waited a long time to be king. I think he’ll be quite tolerant; I think he’ll be hugely approachable. He won’t be there forever; the future of the royal family was obvious on the [Buckingham Palace] balcony” the day before.
The Sussexes are in Britain from California with their young children, Archie, 3, and Lilibet, who will celebrate her first birthday on Saturday.
This trip marks the first time that the queen has met Lilibet in person. Harry and Meghan named their daughter after Elizabeth, using the queen’s childhood nickname.
Harry has made few public trips back to Britain. In April 2021, he went to the funeral of his grandfather Prince Philip, and last summer he returned to unveil a statue of his late mother, Princess Diana. He did not attend Philip’s memorial service in March.
Harry has said he does not feel safe when in the country and is bringing a claim against the British government after being informed he would no longer be given the “same degree” of personal protective security. The prince offered to pay for the security himself, but Britain’s Home Office declined.
In a surprise move, the couple announced in January 2020 that they were “stepping back” as senior royals. The queen rejected their “half-in, half-out” proposal and stripped them of their royal patronages, making it clear in statements that, while the Sussexes are much-loved members of the royal family, work came first.
The two sides agreed to a review of the situation after 12 months. But according to royal biographer Robert Hardman, the queen was not expecting them to resume their British life. Writing in his book “Queen of Our Times,” Hardman says that the queen knew that the Sussexes were unlikely to return as senior royals.
“Asked by one well-meaning visitor if she expected them to resume royal life, she replied firmly, ‘Of course not. They took the dogs.’ ”