Prince Harry and The Mile-High Royal Road Trip


Warning: The following is a long, chatty memoir of my visit to the Warrior Games in 2013. If you want a real report and play-by-play of the event, you should check out Kelly’s blog. She’s better at that type of thing.

Prince Harry’s tour of the U.S. last May was exciting for everyone. I had taken a break from HWW a month before it was announced as I was feeling burnt out but quickly came back once Clarence House spilled the beans. He was hitting up DC, Colorado, NJ and NYC. It sounded epic.

Getting on a plane for real-life royal watching (unless it was something historic like a wedding) seemed ridiculous. But then my friend Kelly (@royalreview) and I started talking about it and it began to sound like fun. We did cover royals via blogs and Twitter and it was rare to have one visiting the states so extensively so… I agreed I would go to Colorado Springs for the Warrior Games if she did too. It was set.

At the time, my twitter feed was featured on the Royalist’s page at the Daily Beast. Since he wasn’t coming over to cover the events he agreed to let me be his boots on the ground in order to provide some social media input. Kelly also was dispatched for Celebuzz. Now we had real reasons to go!

On HWW, I love interacting with the royal reporters and getting a better insight into their jobs. Now I was actually going to get to meet them and, as one of them said to me and Kelly later, be an “honorary member of the royal press pack.” Oh, yeah, and Prince Harry was going to be there too.

Not ever having the need for press credentials past being on the odd band guest list for a local paper review, the application process was a novel experience. Getting credentials to the Warrior Games itself was not an issue. But for any event at the games where Prince Harry would appear – and any other appearances he made anywhere on this trip – you had to go directly through the British Embassy. I was hoping we’d could just tell them we wanted to do press coverage and then be sent something like this:Cat in fedora with press pass stuck in band

©www.atonkstail.com, used with permission

But we had to apply for each event separately and as an individual. If you were part of a crew being sent from the same news organization each of you had to apply under your own name, not just “Cat News Network.” Luckily there was just me but I can imagine what a headache this process could be for some outlets.

Many events were designated “pool.” Serious royal press watchers are probably familiar with this term. These are smaller, more intimate events like receptions and only one or two press peeps get into those, sharing their info with everyone else. Even though I had no delusions of being picked as a pool reporter I applied for those as well as the larger “fixed point” events. And, sadly, I only had time for the Colorado stops. I had to be back home to attend the same professional conference which I should be finishing up my presentation for right now instead of writing this. Ahem.

It broke my heart to know I would miss out on the polo match as seeing either Will or Harry play an incredibly dangerous sport reserved for rich people which sometimes causes horses to have heart attacks is on my bucket list. But it’s my career that pays the mortgage, not royal tweeting. Imagine that. I would just have to live through Kelly who was following all through the east coast leg. (She says it rained at the polo and there was interminable waiting. Meanwhile I was sitting through a presentation on JavaScript. I’ll let you decide who had more fun.)

So, official letter of endorsement in hand, I went through the embassy’s application process picking all the Colorado events I could. (In some places they would say, “you can only apply for A or B, not both!” Okay then.) And then I waited. And waited. I think the press office at the embassy got fed up with me and Kelly. We took turns emailing and calling because as the event grew nearer and nearer we still had no word on our approval. A true royal press packer said the approvals often came at the last minute but we had flight and hotel plans to make!

Finally, early one morning, (I think it was the day the royal trio went to the Harry Potter studios as I was up at an ungodly hour to live tweet it) we started getting one email for each event we applied for with a yay or nay. Initially I just got “no” emails for the pool events and nothing else so I was a sad panda. Then a rush of “yes” emails for the fixed points came in and I wanted to crack open a Coors and put on some John Denver.

Kelly and I planned to meet up in Denver and drive down to Colorado Springs together. On the quick flight out I sat next to an older woman who was on her way to Vegas to see the Rolling Stones with some girlfriends. “I haven’t seen them since the 70s,” she said. We were both quite excited about our weekends and had a lovely time chatting over drinks. When we landed, as she proceeded up the aisle, I called out “Enjoy the Stones!” She yelled back “Enjoy Prince Harry!” Every head on the plane turned around to look at me. Cringe de la cringe.

The next morning after appropriate gossiping over french toast, Kelly and I loaded into her rented Cadillac and headed towards the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where the Warrior Games opening ceremony was happening later in the day. (This chick knows how to roll. The rental waiting for me in CS was one of those square cars the hamsters drive. We never drove the hamster car.)

Media passes for the Warrior GamesWe arrived way early which is apparently how royal press things go. You get there hours before the event and wait. We picked up our press packets and headed in. Right away Kelly says “Look, that’s Harry!” Indeed, Captain Wales and his entourage were walking directly in front of us. They headed into a building (for a brunch with military families) before we could snap off a shot but that was a great way to kick off the trip. And let me say right off that in real life he looks pretty much like does in pictures, very tall and very lean, just, you know, 3-D. Which is pretty cool.

We didn’t even have a chance to get over our first Harry sighting before I spotted Max Foster from CNN. (I know I don’t have to tell you who he is. Everybody loves Max.) I walked up and said “Max Foster? Hi, I’m H Wales Watch.” (This is the odd way I chose to introduce myself for the first time to everyone as it seemed the most likely way they would know me.) Max was super excited to meet both of us and asked if we’d mind doing a quick interview with him. Right then. Uh…

Max writing a script on his BlackBerry.

Max writing a script on his BlackBerry.

He asked his producer to get a conversational shot set up and dabbed on a little makeup. I fretted about how I looked after an hour and a half in the car but he assured us we both looked fine. (And for the record, Max also looks just like he does on TV. Just more handsome and taller.)

His producer Brian and the camera crew led us over to some chairs taken from a nearby outdoor cafe area and faced us directly in the sun. “Try not to squint,” Max warned as I strained to see his face in the sunlight. Mics were attached all over me like I was Britney Spears except they were actually connected to things. Max said this was for a special airing later in the summer about the royal baby. He wanted me to talk about what kind of uncle Harry would be.

I started making stuff up as this was not a topic I had spent much time thinking about. It was sounding pretty good until Max stopped me and said people walked behind us and we needed to start over. “Uh, from where?” “From the beginning, you’re doing great.” Unsure about that I started over, trying to remember what I had said. Again I’m stopped after I mentioned him playing with a bunch of kids at the White House a couple of days previous. “Remember this is airing this summer, you can’t talk about something happening ‘this week'” “Max, you’re killing me,” I complained. He said I was doing fine and just to start from the top. At this point I was sweating not from the sun full in my face, but from pure anxiety. As soon as he was happy and we were done, I leaped out of my chair, forgetting all my wires. The camera crew freaked out and rushed to unhook me. It was just like when Harry jumped up from his interview in Afghanistan except I didn’t show my tummy or run off to an Apache. Otherwise, it was exactly the same. (And here is my five seconds of fame in a Max Foster report. The little girl talking before me definitely has more on-screen charisma.)

As soon as I walked away, a local reporter and camera crew stopped me, “Excuse me, can we talk to you for a few minutes? We saw CNN interviewing you so you must be someone important.” (I swear that’s what she said.) I assured her I wasn’t but would be happy to answer any and all questions about Harry for her report. That was good enough for her.

The next couple of hours was a rush of meeting people previously only known by their @s. Max introduced me to Paul Harrison who, I noticed right off the bat, was wearing some bravely-hued slacks. This was long before his trousers became a running Twitter joke. Rebecca English sought us out, coming out on the turf in the rain in a rather sensible pair of wedges despite her reputation for high heels no matter the setting. I stopped Arthur Edwards and asked for his picture because, Arthur Edwards. Chris Jackson gave Paul Harrison a run for his money in the finely dressed department. (He was definitely the only snapper I met that weekend wearing french cuffs.) I saw Camilla Tominey chatting with Ben Fogle and regretted not introducing myself to her. It didn’t occur to me that being a Sunday Express reporter she wouldn’t be sticking around for the rest of the weekend. We even got to chat with Twitter’s most beloved @royalreporter, Richard Palmer. He was as friendly and as genuine in person as online and told us that Rebecca was like “bleedin’ Imelda Marcos” with her shoe collection. (I’m sorry but I can’t fault a woman for proper shoes.) Is that enough royal press geekery for you? Well, then, back to Harry.

Paul Harrison, he of the brightly-hued chinos, had told me were Harry would be exiting his brunch so we hightailed it over to wait with the rest of the press. I chatted with a guy with a video camera who was from L.A. but complaining about the sun. I stood next to the BBC’s Peter Hunt (smartly wearing a hat as the sun was a bit much) but I was too shy to say hello to him. He didn’t seem interested in mingling with any other assembled press. Finally, Harry exited and hightailed it off to wherever he was being sheltered from the elements while all of us waiting tried to get a decent shot. I got a couple (see gallery below) but this was the best. A local news reporter managed to get a pic of me and Harry in the same frame. It’s like a selfie without the person who took it actually being in the picture!arrows pointing out the author, prince harry and the secret service all in the same shot.

The only complaint I heard about this part of the tour was that he had no interaction with the public. He was only focused on the military men and women participating in the games. There were a few instances where small public crowds were gathered to catch a glimpse of royalty (or to even just enjoy a very special VIP at their annual games) but he never really acknowledged any of them.

After all of that, the actual opening ceremonies were a bit anti-climatic. I was surprised that Harry didn’t speak. Plenty of other folks did but he just sat there until it was time to light the cauldron. He, Olympian Missy Franklin, and blind Navy Lt. Brad Snyder did the task together and the games were on!

We said goodbye to most of the royal press pack for the time being as they loaded into their chartered bus like a bunch of senior citizens being taken to Lake Charles to gamble. Meanwhile, we decided to waste time before the seated volleyball exhibition (which we weren’t sure we’d be able to get into as it was designated pool) by wandering around the Olympic training center grounds. In case you didn’t know, Kelly’s also a swimming fan and she was geeking out over the place (“Ryan Lochte stayed in these dorms!”) Finally it was time for the volleyball so went to the building and hung around outside for a bit. We saw the Sky News crew head in and debated whether we should try our luck. The Marines posted at the door were looking that everyone coming in had a pass and I figured it was worth a try as we did have media passes. I doubted they knew what pool meant or not.

Spot J-Lop!

Spot J-Lop!

They happily let us in the building (which was good as it had started to rain) and we followed the crowd into a gymnasium. There was a ROTC group on the basketball court doing a routine and I told Kelly that we must be in the wrong place. This was supposed to be volleyball. We took a seat on one of the bleachers and then she said “There he is!” Sure enough, Harry was sitting directly across the court from us. So easy to lose in a crowd, this one!

The seated volleyball was definitely the best part of the weekend. The Brits played the U.S. and friends and family packed the stands, cheering on the home team. For awhile Harry just sat on the sidelines watching but Kelly said, “Watch. I think he’s going to get in the game.” Sure enough he traded his fatigues for a Union Jack jersey and joined in. Now that the UK had a ringer, the Americans needed one too – bring on Olympian Misty May-Treanor! The game turned quite fun after that with Harry getting fouls for lifting his bum off the ground and at one point getting up to race May-Treanor around the net. Despite the announcers urging the American team to remind the Brits who won the war, the U.K. won this game. I think Team U.S.A. was just being nice to our guests.

I learned a hard lesson then. Despite being in the tech industry I obviously didn’t know how to properly manage my electronic devices. I failed to close all my apps and my iphone died. I had borrowed a nice camera but failed to realize that 1. you really need additional lenses for those things unless you’re just shooting someone posing right in front of you and 2. I should’ve spent time learning how to use it. All weekend I had issues with getting it to focus properly or keeping the people I wanted pics of in the frame. I also left my larger SD card in the car so when the volleyball game was over and everyone went out on the court to congratulate the teams, I had no room left to photograph Captain Wales as he stood a couple of feet in front of me. Which, like I said, was all that camera was good for.

Meanwhile, Ms. Royal Review had been smart enough to invest in a good point-and-click before the trip and it even had built in wi-fi! (Appreciate the fruits of her smart thinking over at her blog.) Luckily, this media device fail prepared me to ensure I had enough devices and juice to last me long, long hours documenting something way more important that went down in my state the next month.

While the British press went on to have a round on Harry, we retired to our nearby hotel which had an odd pool in the middle of the lobby. Nothing like having a bite and a drink in your hotel restaurant, while encased in the smell of chlorine and watching unsupervised children be, uh, children. (I’m not really into kids.) I was exhausted and after downloading the MBs and MBs of press pool photos, being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Harry-ness to consume, I called it a night. Kelly forced me to watch that Ryan Lochte reality show while she pounded out blog entries insanely fast. #queen Y’all are lucky if I manage 140 characters now and then.

The next morning was the final day of the games (well at least Harry’s part.) We arrived at the Air Force Academy stadium early in the morning with the rest of the media people. The Sky and CNN teams were doing “stand ups”, local news trucks were laying out wires. And we just kind of stood around, tired and increasingly hot. I’m Texan I can totally deal with heat but nobody explained to me that the sun was more harsh at high altitudes. I don’t think the Brits fully understood this either although Chris Jackson was smart enough to come over and ask to borrow my sunscreen. Kelly and I didn’t apply ours cautiously enough as at the hotel that night we discovered unfortunate sunburns. Mine was a ruler-width line between where my skirt ended and my tall boots began. For weeks I had to wear long skirts so people didn’t think I had been whipped.

During the long day of waiting I was able to meet and chat with two members of the American team that would later join Walking With the Wounded on their south pole trek and made friends with the guys in the news trucks when I needed to charge my phone.

This event was open to the public so a lot of Colorado Springs came out in the sunshine to see a prince. It was almost fair-like with roasted corn and cotton candy for sale. While wasting away in the media pit, tweeting, I saw a tweet saying they could spot the media section and wondered if @HWalesWatch was over there. I tweeted back to the girl asking what she looked like and then went out wandering until I found her. It was fun to meet someone who called themselves a “fan” of my twitter. (*cue Sally Field impression*)

Finally it was time for the cycling to start and out comes Harry, looking cool as a cucumber in a crisp Warrior Game polo. The announcer talks with him and for the first time the entire weekend we heard him speak! That was pretty cool. The announcer made a lot of cheesy jokes and encouraged Harry to call his grandmother as it was mother’s day. (I guess he didn’t know the British celebrated that on a different day than us.) Harry told him it was a bit late back home. (I have a video of this interchange somewhere amongst a million thumb drives and several laptops. Meh.) They gave Harry an air horn, which didn’t work. Then he tried again it worked, and off they went! And so did Harry. It was hot outside. He knew what was up.

After watching the races for awhile (hours) Kelly and I made our way over to where he would be giving out the awards. We ran into People’s Simon Perry who asked me straight away, “What’s it like to finally see the man you spend so much time writing about?” See it’s things like that which make me want to quit. I do have a life and other interests despite appearances to the contrary. I swear!

The best bit about the medals ceremony, besides seeing Harry give WWTW team member Margaux Mange a kiss, was when the announcer sees him approaching the medal stands from wherever A/C-enabled locale he had been stashed and announces, “And here he comes His Royal Highness Prince Harry!” The entire crowd turns to watch as Harry walks towards us and…goes into a porta-potty. It’s got to be a hard life for him. He heard the announcer. He knew hundreds of people were watching as he sat in a sweltering porta-potty. In that situation there’s no way I would’ve been able to go.

Finally when it was all over, Harry and his entourage disappeared into the setting sun. Kelly and I, exhausted,headed out to savor a bite and memories of the fun weekend we just had.yay

The next day as I sat on my plane about to fly out of Colorado Springs, Kelly texts me excitedly from the tarmac in Denver to say Harry had just stepped on her plane. Two rows up from me a woman had a barf bag over her mouth. Nonetheless, good times. Good times.

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