Capt. Harry Wales came to America in May, and like many soldiers traditionally have done, he paid his respects to comrades-in-arms, serenaded a pretty girl and made time for children. But he also had some R&R – if you can call the high-speed, high-stakes world of polo rest and relaxation.
Wales is better known, of course, as Prince Harry of Wales, and he culminated a week of conquering the colonies with charm and compassion by playing for the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup at the Greenwich Polo Club May 15 against a team led by Argentine star Nacho Figueras.
Sentebale, which means “forget me not,” is the name of the charity Prince Harry founded with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho in 2006 in memory of their mothers to help children there who face the challenges of poverty and HIV/AIDS.
The event – which featured 400 invited guests and half as many members of the media – set normally sedate Greenwich (along with many a feminine heart) aflutter, with stores like Atelier360 on Greenwich Avenue flying the Union Jack, featuring British designers and serving tea and Pimm’s Cups, the iconic Wimbledon drink.
Prince of players
Did it live up to the hype? Did it ever. The match was a taut affair that reflected the dynamic power of polo, a game that originated with the military elite of ancient Persia. This latest incarnation showcased good defense by Figueras, captain of the St. Regis team, and aggressive play by teammate and match MVP Dawn Jones, wife of actor Tommy Lee Jones, who more than held her own with the guys and demonstrated that equine sports can be a level playing field for both sexes. She played the No. 4 position normally reserved for Peter M. Brant – polo club co-founder, publisher, art collector and, on this day, umpire. But fittingly in the end, the Sentebale Land Rover team prevailed, 4-3, with Prince Harry scoring the winning goal.
One person who foreshadowed the outcome was natty Sentebale team captain Malcolm Borwick, who scored two goals and had played with Prince Harry thrice before. Walking the red carpet before the event, Borwick told the press he expected a close, competitive match. This would be no casual exhibition. But then, he said, Prince Harry was no token athlete:
“He’s a very good player, who plays all over the world in support of his charities.”
In a sense, the seesaw match was a metaphor for the elements that two- and four-legged creatures endured all day – sun, rain, sun, rain and, for a change of pace, sun with rain followed by wind. Guests and members of the fourth estate took it all in stride, however.
“Let me pretend I’m not cold,” said Gayle King – co-anchor of “CBS This Morning,” Greenwich resident and BFFOO (Best Friend Forever of Oprah) as she slipped off a shawl to reveal a silky, sleeveless print dress that caressed her curves. When Delfina Blaquier – the gamine wife of “Nacho, Nacho Man,” as the press dubbed Figueras – found her billowing dress threatening to turn her into Marilyn Monroe in “The Seven Year Itch,” she smoothed it down with a gesture that said “ooh-la-la.”
Few were more amiable than the prince himself, who joked with Figueras, with whom he seems to have a real camaraderie, and posed for post-match photographs with teammates, opponents and their family members. As one British TV journalist noted in his stand-up, gone were the “naked antics” of Prince Harry’s last visit to America. In their place was a growing maturity that revealed a real prince among men.
Perhaps like all road trips, Prince Harry’s was a mixture of fun and poignance. On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where the prince began his official visit, he and U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, toured a photographic exhibit on efforts to rid the world of landmines – a cause dear to the heart of his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. Prince Harry visited with wounded U.S. servicemen at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and, in a particularly touching moment, laid a wreath at the grave of Michael L. Stansbery in Arlington National Cemetery. Stansbery, who was chosen for the honor at random, was a 21-year-old Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, killed by an explosive device on July 30, 2010 while on foot patrol in Afghanistan. Prince Harry, who served two tours there, left a note reading, “To my comrades-in-arms of the United States of America, who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of freedom. Captain Harry Wales.”
The prince, wearing a ceremonial British Army uniform with a sky-blue beret, also placed flowers near the eternal flame of President John F. Kennedy’s grave and paid his respects at the grave of British Major Gen. Orde Wingate, a World War II pioneer in guerilla warfare who died in the crash of a U.S. bomber in 1944.
But there were light hearted moments in the capital as well, as when the prince surprised first lady Michelle Obama; Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and a group of military mothers and children at a White House tea, pitching in to help the kids make Mother’s Day gifts. (Clearly, Prince Harry was sharpening his uncle skills for the pending arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s baby next month.)
In Colorado, he helped kick off the Warrior Games for wounded servicemen, tried his hand at sitting volleyball and American football and serenaded Olympic swimmer and four-time gold medalist Missy Franklin on her 18th birthday.
Then it was on to Manhattan to promote British tourism with Prime Minister David Cameron and show his adaptability to another American sport, baseball. But not before the prince toured areas of the Jersey Shore ravaged by Hurricane Sandy and greeted first responders with Gov. Chris Christie, who presented him with a Christie classic, a fleece jacket. The governor and the prince even took part in a quintessential boardwalk game, throwing plastic balls through holes for prizes they gave to the children they partnered with. In Prince Harry’s case it was Allie Cirigliano, 7, of Middletown, N.J. When the prince suggested she pick a blue penguin as her prize and she demurred – preferring a Hello Kitty stuffed doll – he said, “Don’t listen to me,” with a laugh.
Such self-deprecating humor – and ginger good looks – went along way with older members of Allie’s sex, who flocked to, tweeted, Instagramed and Facebooked every stop on the prince’s route. Like 17-year-old Camilla Bowdon – who came to the Jersey Shore probably for the same reason that she’s visited London and studied royal history: “’Cause he’s my future husband.”
Ah, well, a girl can dream, can’t she?