(CNN) – Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, expressed “great sadness” Sunday evening in his first public statement since Buckingham Palace announced he and his wife, Meghan, would give up their royal titles and would not represent the Queen as working members of the royal family.
“The UK is my home and a place that I love,” Harry said in a speech at a charity event in London. “That will never change.”
“The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly,” he said. “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.”
“Our hope was to continue serving the Queen, the commonwealth, and my military associations, but without public funding,” he said. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.”
Earlier in this month, the couple announced they would step back from their roles as senior members of the royal family, split their time between the United Kingdom and North America and work toward becoming financially independent.
Under the agreement announced Saturday, Harry and Meghan will also pay back 2.4 million pounds (about $3 million) of British taxpayers’ money used to renovate their home, Frogmore Cottage, on the Windsor estate.
Harry made the remarks at a dinner for Sentebale, the charity he started in 2006 with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho to help AIDS orphans.
“I’ve accepted this, knowing that it doesn’t change who I am or how committed I am,” Harry said Sunday of his family’s future. “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,” he said, “and it is a great honor to serve my country and the Queen.”
“When I lost my mum 23 years ago, you took me under your wing,” he said, referring to Princess Diana, who died in August 1997 after a car she was in crashed while being pursued by members of the paparazzi.
“You’ve looked out for me for so long,” Harry said, “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.”