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Standing in front of the United Nations General Assembly to lead a keynote speech for Nelson Mandela International Day, it was clear to see just how far Prince Harry has come.
As he delivered a 15-minute talk – the longest of his career – honouring the anti-apartheid activist and former South African president's storied life, the Duke of Sussex called on world leaders to draw on Mandela’s legacy during this time of global uncertainty and for countries to take urgent action on climate change.
“Right now, the water is rising all around us—in some places, quite literally,” he said, with a level of confidence I’m not sure even he could see on the horizon a decade ago. “So it’s more important than ever that we seek a purpose greater than ourselves… and get to work.”
It was the highlight of a whistle-stop visit to New York for the duke and wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, which also included meetings with the deputy secretary-general of the UN, Amina Mohammed, and prolific social justice advocates.
As a “spare” heir born without a defined role, seeking a life of greater purpose has been a long and mostly solitary journey for Harry, going back as far as the day he signed up to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2005 to start a decade-long military career.
Stepping away from his royal role – and the tight restrictions of a life within the institution of the monarchy –has been the latest step in that journey, finally opening up a world of potential previously unavailable to him as the sixth-in-line.
But not everybody believed in Harry’s decision. Few within his own family and the palace thought it was a good idea, many had their own dramatic predictions about how disastrous a move to the US could be.
“Honestly, he’s setting himself up to fail,” a very senior aide told me in early 2020. “Without all of this, it’s impossible,” they continued, gesturing to the walls of Buckingham Palace.
As numerous others within the bubble of the family claimed at the time, Harry’s ambition to cut himself off from the publicly-funded Sovereign Grant and continue a life of service would be impossible without the risk of accepting money from the “wrong” places (a situation several family members know all too well).
But two years later, and without a penny from the British taxpayer, Harry has created the life he has long dreamed about. A life that, dare I say it, he couldn’t have achieved if he remained a working member of 'The Firm'.
The proof is in the pudding. After co-founding the Archewell foundation with Meghan in 2020, Harry has become involved in a variety of issues that working royals famously steer clear of, including the fight against misinformation and disinformation, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, supporting the Stop Hate For Profit movement, and even candid conversations about racism.
Harry’s global initiative for sustainable and ethical travel, Travalyst, is currently moving out of its pilot phase and already helping customers choose greener options while browsing flight listings on the likes of Google and Skyscanner.
Just like the positive impact Sentebale has had on those affected by HIV/Aids in Southern Africa, and his Invictus Games on the global military community, Travalyst has the game-changing potential to help solve tourism’s contribution to climate change and environmental damage.
Major contracts with digital coaching platform Better Up, Netflix and Spotify (his own podcast series is on the horizon) have also seen Harry remain true to his promise that any commercial endeavours he commits to will still be rooted in a desire to help others and illuminate unheard stories.
And off-duty is no different. This summer, the duke joined close friend Nacho Figueras to form their own polo team, Los Padres.
Not just for fun, the four players quickly raised considerable funds for Britain’s CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) charity and helpline, the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County and Heal The Ocean.
Of course, whether you are a working member of The Firm or not, drama will always be lurking around the corner for any royal, whose private lives are rarely that. His forthcoming memoir – which is now finished and has completed legal checks – will no doubt invite some of it in, even if, as sources have told me over the past year, it doesn’t include those much-reported “attacks” on his family.
The book will be Harry’s biggest chance to tell his side of the story – and paint a clearer picture of the man, husband, father and global citizen he is today. Just like his late mother, he too has spent considerable lengths of his life misunderstood.
It’s one of the many parallels in his life Harry has with Princess Diana, who he spoke about warmly as he stood at the UN HQ on Monday. A woman with boundless potential, but who the Royal Family were uninterested in harnessing the potential of.
We’ll never know just how much Diana could have achieved if she was still alive today. But, seeing Harry continue much of her legacy while also creating his own, it's clear the duke has plenty of unfinished business.