Today’s post is guest-authored by a woman named Ashley who has shared with us our her account of being within close proximity to Prince Harry during the Invictus Games. Ashley offers incredible insight into Prince Harry, his warmth, sincerity and genuine commitment to his role as both a prince and a humanitarian. The photos Ashley took of the driving force behind Invictus are the end of her incredible account.
On Monday, May 9, 2016, my sister Amy and I were attending the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida. The Invictus Games were established by Prince Harry as a competitive international event for wounded veterans. We were able to attend the Opening Ceremonies on Sunday, May 8th at the ESPN Wide World of Sports venue at Disney, at which Prince Harry, Michelle Obama, Pres. George W. Bush, and Morgan Freeman made appearances and spoke. We’d already fully enjoyed that event, and as a sort of “cherry on top” we decided to attend two sporting events on the first day of competition – Monday.
On Monday, the first event we were scheduled to attend was the Indoor Rowing Finals, held in a large stadium called the HP Fieldhouse. We arrived at 1:45pm, about 15min after the event had begun, and as we entered the stands we showed our ticket to a worker who then let us know that we had the choice either of sitting in section 103, which was closest to the action, or in section 203, which was one level up. Since I had my larger camera with me and wanted to get some wide-perspective shots, I suggested to Amy that we sit in 203 first (which only had about 6 people seated there at the time) and then move to 103 later, as the competition was supposed to run for at least 3-4 hours and we knew we’d have plenty of time to move around.
When we were walking up the wide cement steps to section 203, we saw an Australian gentleman wearing an athlete’s jersey sitting a few rows up on the stairs, playing a gigantic didgeridoo. I was excited, because I’d never seen one outside of TV, so I made a mental note that I wanted to get a picture of him before we moved to the other section.
We sat about four rows up in the section, Amy in the end seat and I one in, and the Australian man was sitting just to the right of Amy, one step up. After about 10 minutes of taking wide-shot photos of the stadium, I decided to turn and ask the Aussie if he would take Amy’s and my picture with the stadium in the background – and I intended to also ask if I could get a pic of him with his instrument.
However, as I half- stood and turned to ask him, I suddenly realized there was another man who had come and sat next to him on the step. And after a split second, I realized it was Prince Harry!! First, my brain said, “That is Prince Harry!” then immediately I thought, “That’s not possible. It can’t be Prince Harry!” And then my brain did some sort of calculation that went “Red hair – beard – black Invictus polo shirt – lanky build – it IS PRINCE HARRY.” And for a second my heart stopped and my brain just about fried. And my next thought was “how am I going to tell Amy without making any noise??” because Prince Harry was less than a foot from her right shoulder, seated a step above, and I knew if I said anything above a whisper he would hear me!!
I sat down, turned to Amy, grabbed her knee and said in a very soft whisper, “Prince Harry is JUST behind your shoulder!!” Amy says she thought I was joking until she saw my face and realized that I was actually serious. I had to repeat myself for her to understand. And then it was so strange because even though she knew he was there, she couldn’t turn around to look because she was too close!! So we just sat perfectly still for a few seconds collecting our thoughts. I had both my big camera and my phone in my hand, and I debated whether I wanted to try to use the big camera, but it was so obvious that Prince Harry was trying to be incognito (up there in the non-lighted, empty stands, sitting on a cement step) and so I decided not to use the big camera. Instead, I took a series of pictures silently using my phone with Prince Harry in them. I’m sure his security detail noticed Amy and I taking cell phone pics, but we never interrupted him or made any scene, so they never said anything to us. A couple of people did step up and ask if they could take photos of him and Prince Harry allowed them permission – he even tried to play the guy’s didgeridoo but failed miserably and hilariously, so everyone was laughing. We found out later that one of the people taking pics was from the UK paper The Daily Mail, because they posted an article about it two days later.
Prince Harry continued to talk to the Aussie for over half an hour, and then they moved into the seats…and Prince Harry sat in the stadium seat DIRECTLY behind me. I was so freaked out and so nervous and excited, and all I could think about was that he had such long legs and I was terrified that if I moved I would hit him in the knees with my hair or my head!! So I just sat still and only leaned forward if I moved at all – I ended up with a backache from being so still!! But he stayed for such a long time and was talking about how strong the athletes are, and how he liked the music they were using, and just generally was so charming and friendly to the Aussie athlete. After a while, it became obvious that more and more people were noticing Prince Harry in the stands. Our section started to fill up with people, and several asked for photos with him. A couple of times I even had to stand up to let people into our row, and I actually had to lean back toward him which was so awkward and I felt bad about invading his personal space (although in a stadium it’s unavoidable). He did allow athletes and their families to get pics, but at one point when there were multiple people coming we heard him say (very nicely) “Ok, but please don’t make this a thing,” as in, please don’t start a chain reaction of people wanting pictures. Prince Harry spent the whole rest of the time cheering for all the athletes, especially the UK team, and at one point he let out a huge cheer for an athlete from Afghanistan who was there on his own. He was absolutely unfailingly polite and friendly to everyone we heard him speaking to.
Amy and I both went through basically the same mental process during this time, which was that we realized he was trying to be incognito, he didn’t want to have everyone trying to get pictures, and we both thought that for once it might be nice for him to just be able to enjoy a sporting event without everyone near him pestering him for pictures. And since this was his event, we both realized that the best thing we could do would be to demonstrate that we were there to cheer on the US team (which we were!) and that we were having a great time (which we DEFINITELY were!). So instead of trying to interact with him, we mutually agreed to just snap a few pictures with our phones but basically leave him alone and act as if he was just any other person there watching with us.
After so many people started coming to ask him for pictures, Prince Harry left with his team, and we were left in the stands to have our fangirl freakout in peace!! Amy and I immediately started texting friends and posting on social media, and just discussing the whole crazy situation.
And then, just about the time that the section had cleared of most of the other people and we had relaxed, Prince Harry came back!!! This time he came with about 6+ people, and sat two rows behind us and one seat to my left. He was sitting with a man we didn’t recognize, and his security detail created more of a perimeter for him that time, so that he wouldn’t be disturbed. Again, he just spent the time chatting and was so engaged and so animated talking about the athletes and venue and event – it seemed clear that he was enjoying himself! That time, they stayed for less than an hour and they left again…and then about half an hour later they came back AGAIN!
Amy says we must have passed the creeper test, because by the third time it was pretty obvious that both Prince Harry and his detail weren’t concerned about us doing anything crazy. In fact, one of his security team sat just in front of us and made eye contact and grinned at us as if to communicate that he knew they had made our day, but clearly they wouldn’t have come back if they thought we were weird creepy people!
The third time Prince Harry was near us, he spent more time standing on the steps and either chatting with his team or taking pictures. At one point he walked a bit lower and snapped a lot of photos on his cell phone before returning to a seat above us. By that last visit, we weren’t even taking pictures anymore because we were just so happy that he was back and weren’t worried about getting more – we already had quite a few!! He stayed for a shorter period of time then, and left with his entourage. A few minutes later, he handed out the medals in one of the Indoor Rowing medal ceremonies where the UK had placed, and the woman holding the medals for him was so flustered she accidentally fell down and dropped them! Prince Harry helped her up, but I felt for her because she was so embarrassed and I knew exactly why!!
In total, Prince Harry was within 5 feet or less of Amy and I for over two hours, and we could hear his conversation for the majority of that time.
Our impression of the Prince is that he is incredibly genuine, charming, friendly and unassuming. He laughs a lot, is extremely expressive when he talks, and is gracious to everyone with whom he interacts. One thing that really stuck out to us was how “in-the-moment” he was – he was near enough to us for us to hear about two hour’s worth of his conversation, and the entire time was spend chatting about the Invictus Games in general, about the athletes, about his team, about the venue, etc. He is definitely the kind of person who takes full advantage of the present moment!! He is good-looking (and smells great!), but to be honest his personality is really what makes him as attractive as he is; he was so charming even in that very low-key situation that it was pretty amazing.
There are very few people by whom I would be this star-struck, but Monday’s experience ranks as one of the most exciting of my life so far. And I’m not at all sorry that we didn’t attempt to interact with Prince Harry or get a picture with him, because it clearly resulted in us having a great deal more time in his presence – and I wouldn’t trade that for any picture! I just hope that our discretion did contribute toward his being able to more peacefully and fully enjoy the experience of the amazing Invictus Games he established. He deserves so much respect for making this amazing event happen!!