Prince Harry is currently in Cape Town awaiting an improvement in weather conditions so that he, along with his fellow Walking With The Wounded team mates, can fly to Antarctica’s Novo Airbase and begin acclimating their bodies to the extreme conditions before their 208 mile trek to the South Pole. Weather would have to be positively equatorial in order for me to even consider setting foot on Antarctica, but as royal charity coups go this is a cracker. By committing to head to the bottom of the earth alongside his team, Harry is setting a whole new precedent in terms of royal charity involvement for the future.
Members of the royal family serve to provide continuity, promote British interests, and act as global ambassadors by representing all that is great about Great Britain, but a large percentage of their operational life is devoted to charity work. For decades royals have traveled the length and breadth of the country, and indeed the globe, on behalf of their many organizations. They act as patron or president, raise awareness of the cause, cut ribbons, unveil plaques, attend dinners, plant trees, and most importantly – raise money.
A royal patronage is about the best gift a charity can receive short of a wealthy benefactor bequeathing a billion dollars to the cause upon their death bed, and in times of recession and economic hardship the survival of many charities rests on the regal shoulders of its patron. At eighty-seven the Queen has over six hundred patronages and at ninety-two Prince Philip has around eight hundred. According to a recent Time Magazine article, Prince Charles raised $224 million for his charities between April 2012 and March 2013. Tickets to the upcoming Winter Whites Gala on behalf of homeless charity Centrepoint were going for the princely sum of £500 before selling out almost immediately. The reason for the large price tag and instant sell out? Prince William, Patron of Centrepoint, will be in attendance.
Charities can command top dollar when a senior royal rolls out. Along with said royal comes a legion of reporters and wealthy benefactors, and whenever Kate’s involved you can pretty much guarantee the occasion making front page news the following day. That type of attention leaves charity heads googly-eyed.
The royals have always approached charity engagements with enthusiasm, well aware that their presence allows for worldwide exposure. One need only to look at coverage of Diana shaking hands with an AIDS patient in 1989, or her walking through a partially-cleared land mine field in Angola in 1997, to understand the power of a globally recognized figure. William and Harry, however, have taken things one step further in recent years by rolling up their proverbial sleeves and throwing themselves in at ground level.
In December 2009 Prince William spent the night sleeping rough near Blackfriars Bridge. He did so in order to gain a better understanding of what the homeless community experiences night after night. Had he simply dished out soup and shaken hands with a few volunteers he still would have drawn attention to the work of Centrepoint, but by actually bedding down on the streets of Central London he significantly heightened public awareness.
In March 2011 Prince Harry joined a team of injured servicemen for the first five days of their trek to the North Pole. Yes, of course it was about raising money for Walking With The Wounded, but as Harry said at the time, it was also about raising an awareness of the debt the country owes to those it sends off to fight. Harry has made no secret of his dedication to the welfare of injured servicemen and women, and the money raised enables the charity to fulfill its mission; however, by taking part alongside his fellow soldiers, Harry gave them far more than a well-funded charity. He showed them that they matter, that their loss matters, and that their lives may continue to inspire.
Looking to the future of the monarchy, Charles has made it clear that he wants to push for a more streamlined royal family, but it is my hope that when the time comes he will make room for extended members of the family to step up and continue their efforts on behalf of their chosen charities. As the only blood-born princesses of their generation, Beatrice and Eugenie have already shown a readiness to support causes meaningful to them. Were the Queen to give them an “official” role, their potential could be enormous. It comes down to simple mathematics: streamline the monarchy, and funding to the smaller charities that rely on a royal patron slips down the tubes.
Royals and charity work will always go hand-in-hand…and may it be so. Plaques will remain, trees will grow, and the work of the charity in question will continue, but it is this new hardcore approach that is so exciting. It won’t work for everyone, and it would lose its impact if suddenly every engagement required rigorous training, compression chambers, hard hats, life vests and the likes, but we should salute Prince Harry on his epic polar endeavor. Harry’s physical disability may be limited to a broken toe, but walking alongside those brave wounded warriors will no doubt leave him with an unbreakable spirit.