The Polar Prince
Words Robbie Stammers
He is the royal prince everyone loves: the one whom we all have watched grow up, from the distraught 12-year-old boy bowing his head in sorrow at his mother’s funeral, to the fun-loving rascal we love to read about – with his late-night antics and naked strip poker session in Las Vegas. Harry gets away with it all because one cannot help but feel he has earned his right to have some fun on the side; it makes the royals seem less smug and more human to the rest of us.
The other reason we cannot help but admire Harry in everything he does is due to his ability and determination simply to muck in and make a difference. As a member of the royal family, it would surely be more than enough to languish in his ‘blue blood’ privilege and merely do the odd royal visit around the globe, wave his hand slowly to passing crowds, play polo and drink copious amounts of gin and tonic.
But not this chap. Prince Harry has always been keen to continue the work of his mother, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who helped support people suffering from HIV/Aids in the United Kingdom and abroad.
In 2006, Prince Harry jointly founded Sentebale, a charity to help orphans in Lesotho. Together with his great friend Prince Seeiso of Lesotho – the younger brother of King Letsie III – Harry set up the organisation to offer long-term support to community organisations working with children and young people, and in particular to those working with orphans.
He has returned almost every year to Lesotho, and definitely has his mother’s knack of making people feel special – laughing, dancing and holding small children on his lap.
Harry has served two tours as a British Army captain in Afghanistan, flying over enemy lines and engaging in firefights in his role as an attack helicopter pilot. He has been extremely vocal in the past about not expecting any special treatment, but wanting to be up there on the frontline with the rest of the chaps, simply doing their duty.
So it came as no surprise when he enthusiastically accepted the patronage of Walking With The Wounded, a charity that provides rehabilitation services for military veterans. Although Prince Harry has travelled all over the globe as both a member of the royal family and a captain in the British Army, the 29-year-old was going to be going below, way below, where he had ever gone before.
The prince’s dip into the cold is not the first time the thrill-seeking royal has put himself in freezing temperatures. In 2011, Harry took part in the Walking With The Wounded trek to the North Pole for five days, where he spent the night in a tent while temperatures outside dipped to a chilly -25° Celsius.
“Is that all it was? Minus 25?” Harry joked at the time to ABC News’ Bob Woodruff. “It felt a lot colder than that in there.”
The South Pole, though, was to be a far greater challenge. This time around, the prince would be travelling to the Antarctic (in November 2013) to compete against teams from the United States and the Commonwealth in a 16-day race across the South Pole. Harry joined a team of injured British servicemen and women to raise funds for Walking With The Wounded.
When Prince Harry arrived at Novo airbase, where they were going to spend a few days to acclimatise before the trek, he joked that he had flown all the way to Antarctica to escape his four-month-old nephew, Prince George. Prince William previously acknowledged that his first-born child has “a good pair of lungs on him”, and his brother hinted that that was why William wished he, too, could take part in the 335-kilometre race to the South Pole.
“I think he’s quite jealous I managed to get away from his screaming child,” Harry said with a smile.
Harry also revealed how his father, Prince Charles, had been worried about his most recent adventure. “My father was a little bit concerned; I obviously tried to keep him calm by saying the North Pole was the dangerous one because we were walking on frozen ocean, whereas this time there are deep crevasses – but hopefully the guys will take us around that. Apart from frostbite and stuff like that, you should be able to look after yourself.”
The weather was not on their side, however, and each day the teams spent 12 hours skiing with 10-minute rest breaks every two hours; this was all done in temperatures of -50°C.
So tough were the conditions faced by the expedition that the competitive element, which would have seen the UK team race against the US and Commonwealth teams, was abandoned after the halfway mark.
Instead, the 335km Antarctic trek saw a group effort by the service personnel, who pulled 11 (70-kilogramme) sleds, or pulks, and who had all suffered life-changing injuries in conflict. It appears the decision by expedition director Ed Parker was the right one.
The mood in the group was significantly uplifted, as the teams were able to break their line formations and rigid race conditions. The team members have commented that, in the previous weeks, they had found themselves rushing each other and perhaps pushing themselves too hard, leading to individuals making impulsive decisions which, when in such a harsh and unforgiving environment, could have dire consequences.
Harry had this to say about changing the expedition to a group effort as opposed to a competitive one: “It is nice to see everybody intermingling with each other, not only every night because we camp together, but also during the day. People are starting to enjoy it and it gives these guys a good chance to consider how they feel, to think about friends at home, to think about fellow friends who are also injured.
"I think it is a really, really good thing that the guys have more time on their hands to think about stuff like that, rather than just ‘grit and grind’ and trying to push through the pain barrier as they race each other.”
He reportedly told dirty jokes along the trek to keep everyone’s mind off the unbearable cold.
“He told eye-wateringly rude jokes, which for a non-soldier like me was quite shocking,” exclaimed actor Dominic West, who was the celebrity patron of the Commonwealth team.
But apparently stand-up was not Prince Harry’s only talent, as West also praised his latrine-building skills. The teams had to dig latrine pits at each overnight stop during their journey, with a wall of snow around them to keep out the wind while in use.
“I remember thinking that Harry did art at A-level, and you can tell he is artistic,” said West. “He did one with castellated sides and a flag pole, a loo roll holder – and you’re sitting there thinking, ‘this is a real royal flush’! He must have spent about 40 minutes making it.”
Finally, on 13 December 2013, they reached the southernmost point on the globe. After 335km of treacherous terrain comprising glaciers, mountains and vast crevasses, and facing extreme cold and winds of up to 80km per hour, Prince Harry had officially become the first royal to reach the South Pole.
A total of 12 injured servicemen and women who have overcome life-changing injuries took part.
Some of the team members included amputee Major Kate Philp, 35, who lost her leg below the knee while serving in Afghanistan in November 2008 and Sergeant Duncan Slater, 34, who became the first double amputee to reach the South Pole during the trip. He lost both his legs after the vehicle in which he was travelling was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device) in the Babaji area of Afghanistan in July 2009. Captain Ivan Castro is an active-duty officer who has served tours from Desert Storm through to today’s war on terrorism. It was on a tour of Iraq in 2006 that he was blinded by a bomb blast.
The only female member of Team UK hailed Prince Harry as having been “fantastic from beginning to end”.
“Especially considering he hadn’t had as many training opportunities because he is so busy, he was a really strong, fit individual.
“Personally speaking, there were a couple of days when I was struggling and he was there every time, at rest breaks, helping me out, buoying me up and pulling me on. He was exactly what you would expect from a military man – no airs or graces, he just mucked in with everyone else,” Philp added.
“It was an amazing feeling,” said Harry. “Every single one of these 12 deserves it. I mean, they have dug out blind to get here … [I]t’s just remarkable the fact that someone with no legs [Duncan] has made it here, and to have done it in recordbreaking time, no doubt."
“And Ivan as well. When I look across, I see him being guided around, totally blind, from America, and absolutely hates the cold. And you know he’s not doing it for himself, he’s doing it for his buddies back home – and that goes for everybody, every single one here.”
Their achievement, said the newly bearded royal, “will just prove to everybody there is so much that can be made possible when you think that nothing is left”.
“But I am so proud. I’m so chuffed and I’m so privileged to be here with all these guys and girls. I think we’ll be having a few whiskies tonight and then everyone’s looking forward to getting home. Mission: success.”
After a long, cold journey the royal prince toasted with his comrades. “Most of us, Harry included, just went on a two-day bender with the Icelandic truck drivers who had brought some lethal home brew with them,” West recalled. We would expect nothing less from our fun-loving prince.
Harry joked that – competition or not – his team had won. “The conditions were a lot tougher than we necessarily could have expected. The wind and the storms proved horrendous. However, video doesn’t lie, and Team UK did win. We did. Those are the facts,” he said mischievously.
“On a serious note, inspiring others is one of the cornerstones of this charity, to demonstrate to those who have experienced life-changing injuries that everything is still possible. I hope this truly unbelievable achievement will remind everybody that they can achieve anything they want to,” he added.
Well done, Prince Harry. The Intrepid Explorer raises a glass to you and your compatriots.
Source: The Intrepid Explorer