When I was asked to host the Travalyst conference on sustainable travel by the Duke of Sussex , I genuinely thought it might be a wind up and got my agent to double check. I have been in a state of mild hysteria for the last three weeks, heightened by the fact that I had to keep my big gob shut, which you can imagine was a Herculean effort.
I couldn’t sleep the night before and was so nervous I couldn’t even eat breakfast. I know. I regularly speak at, and host big conferences but this felt different and more high pressured because of the media attention.
My natural presenting style is pretty casual and jokey so I wasn’t sure how to address the Duke, what was deemed appropriate and what to call him, especially because of the recent hoo-ha about the official titles. I just didn’t want to make a right royal gaffe in front of everyone.
As I was taken to have a private chat with the Duke, I had a sudden fluster about what to call him, whether to courtesy, bow or hand him a small posy of flowers. His aide reassured me — “just call him Harry .” I walked in feeling a bit awkward but he greeted me with a big, warm open smile and said “I feel I already know you” and gave me a huge hug. Apart from almost passing out, I felt instantly at ease. And that’s what he does so well.
So when it came to introducing him on stage in Edinburgh, I followed what had been said to me… that we’re to just call him Harry… I genuinely didn’t realise that those words would have such an impact and get broadcast around the world. I had no idea that, at that moment, I had turned Harry from a prince into a commoner. I have that effect on people.
I thought it just was to make everyone at the conference feel relaxed and to make it clear that he was one of them and accessible. And that was true. Apart from his speech at the start, he sat at a table like other delegates, scribbling notes, chatting away with folk and stayed for the whole day from around 10am until 4pm. I’ve worked for politicians who don’t give that much of their time to an event.
But of course, it was also an artful way to send a bigger signal to the world (and I do mean that — I was on the news in New Zealand) that he’s moving into a different zone.
Of course his critics are complaining about why he was there and because he flew in from Canada. He organised the event which brought key players together, so it was important for him to attend in person and he got the train up from London but let’s get real… he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.
I saw a young man confident and assured about who he is and what he believes in, with box office charisma and a down-to-earth charm. I think he’s priced in the hate because he knows there’s a bigger prize. The freedom to be who he wants to be and to champion the things he loves. Good luck to him.