Whilst the presence of Prince Harry on the latest Walking With The Wounded Trip – a trek to the South Pole which finally got underway yesterday – has undoubtedly been a remarkable boost for the charity’s fundraising and profile, it seems that, not for the first time, the support of the Prince comes at a price.
The first hint that Harry might in fact be something of a bad luck charm came when the three teams of wounded servicemen racing to the South Pole - UK, US and Commonwealth - tossed a series of coins to decide who chose their staring point first. Harry's team lost.
Indeed, some are now talking of the curse of Prince Harry, after this latest expedition has become mired in the kinds of problems and setbacks that seem to dog all the Prince’s practical efforts to help the charity. Yesterday the teams finally set off on the actual trek to the South Pole, almost ten days behind schedule and with the organizers having been forced to shorten the race by 20% to allow the teams a decent shot of completing the challenge and getting home in time for Christmas.
In an audio blog posted today, the prince spoke directly about the problems the teams have been facing, and the increasing anxiety among them that time is getting tight.
It is not the first time that a Harry-centric trip has flirted with disaster. In 2011, Harry joined part of a walk to the North Pole, but gale force winds at the landing strip meant that the runway wasn't ready in time leading to a crucial three day delay, and when the time came for Harry to head home, after four days (to complete a vital stage of his helicopter training, and later in the month to be best man at William and Kate’s wedding) the ice at the temporary runway split, with huge cracks forming in the centre. Another had to be built, causing even more delays for the Prince
The team of wounded servicemen did, however, make it to the North Pole in 13 days, an extraordinary achievement.
The next trip – an attempt to climb Everest - came much closer to disaster. Harry was not able to join the adventure, and was in Washington when he was forced to announce the news that the injured veterans of the Walking With The Wounded Everest 2012 Expedition, of which he was patron, had been forced to turn back, "frustrated from reaching the summit by the unusually warm weather, which brings particularly dangerous conditions."
In fact, Harry was downplaying the disasters which plagued the ill-fated mission significantly.
Walking With The Wounded issued a longer explanation of what happened, including the shocking information that the WWTW team was 'narrowly missed' by an avalanche, that they missed two rockfalls by 'no more than three minutes' and that a Sherpa had been killed on Everest at the same time and another, who was hit by an avalanche, broke his back after being swept down a crevasse.
The latest trip – to trek to the South Pole - is now over a week behind schedule after once again falling victim to extraordinarily inclement weather. Snowstorms have replaced the usual blue skies of the Antarctic, and the teams of wounded veterans were forced to spend much longer at base camp than had been originally planned.
Yesterday, however, a ‘window of opportunity’ opened up, according to the race organisers, and they were able to get underway, in temperatures far below freezing. However, in order to give the teams a decent shot at completing the challenge before Christmas, the race was shortened from 340KM to 280KM.
The organisers of the race are now hoping there will be no further delays - and the British team will no doubt quietly be hoping to themselves that Harry doesn't turn out to be a Jonah.