He’s speaking out. Prince Harry attended his first public event since announcing that he and his wife, Meghan Markle, decided to step back from their duties as members of the royal family. The former Duke of Sussex addressed guests at an event benifiting his Sentebale charity at The Ivy Chelsea Garden on Sunday, January 19, and he explained that while he thinks this is the best decision for his family, it still brings him “great sadness.”

“Before I begin, I must say that I can only imagine what you may have heard or perhaps read over the past few weeks. So I want you to hear the truth from me, as much as I can share, not as a prince or a duke, but as Harry, the same person that many of you have perhaps watched grow up over the last 35 years but now with a clearer perspective,” the 35-year-old said during his speech. “The U.K. is my home and a place that I love. That will never change. I’ve grown up feeling supported from so many of you and I’ve watched as you welcomed Meghan with open arms as you saw me find the love and happiness that I’d hoped for all my life,” he continued. “Finally, the second son of Diana got hitched. Hooray.”

“I also know that you’ve come to know me well enough over all these years to trust that the woman I chose as my wife upholds the same values as I do. And she does. And she’s the same woman I fell in love with. We both do everything we can to fly the flag and carry out our roles for this country with pride,” he continued. “Once Meghan and I were married, we were excited. We were hopeful and we were here to serve. For those reasons, it brings me great sadness that it has come to this. The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly. It was so many months of talks after so many years of challenges and I know I haven’t always gotten it right but as far as this goes there really was no other option. What I want to make clear is, we’re not walking away.”

Harry added, “And we certainly aren’t walking away from you. Our hope was to serve the queen, the Commonwealth and my military associations but without public funding. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible. I’ve accepted this knowing that it doesn’t change who I am, or how committed I am. But I hope that helps you understand what it had come to. That I would step my family back from all I have ever known to take a step forward into what I hope can be a more peaceful life.”

“I was born into this life and it is a great honor to serve my county and the queen. When I lost my mum 23 years ago, you took me under your wing, you looked out for me for so long but the media is a powerful force. And my hope is one day our collective support for each other can be more powerful, because this is so much bigger than just us,” he explained. “It has been our privilege to serve you and we will continue to lead a life of service. So in that respect, nothing changes. It has also been a privilege to meet so many of you and to feel your excitement for our son, Archie, who saw snow for the first time the other day and thought it was bloody brilliant,” he said as the crowd laughed.

prince harry first public appearance after royal family exit
Will / MEGA

“I will always have the utmost respect for my grandmother, my commander-in-chief, and I am forever grateful to her and the rest of my family for the support they’ve shown Meghan and I over the last few months,” Harry concluded. “I will continue to be the same man who holds his country dear and continues to support the same causes, charities and military communities that are so important to me. Together you have given me an education about living. And this role has taught me more about what is right and just than I could have ever imagined. We are taking a leap of faith so thank you for giving me the courage to take this next step.”

Prince Harry’s appearance at the event was his first since Queen Elizabeth publicly gave him and Meghan, 38, her blessing for them to exit the royal family.

“Following many months of conversations and more recent discussions, I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family,” the statement read, which was posted on Harry and Meghan’s joint Instagram account on Saturday, January 18. “Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family. I recognize the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life,” the statement continued. “I want to thank them for all their dedicated work across this country, the Commonwealth and beyond, and am particularly proud of how Megan has so quickly become one of the family. It is my whole family’s hope that today’s agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life.”

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