Prince Harry ventured stateside for his first official solo visit to the U.S. this past weekend, and for a good cause -- he played polo Saturday to benefit the American Friends of Sentebale, a charity he helped found to assist AIDS orphans and impoverished children in southern Africa.
"What we need is the opportunity to trade," said Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso of Lesotho, who also heads the charity. Acknowledging that handouts remedy problems in the short run, he said that in the long run, "it's not the best thing for Lesotho."
Joining Prince Seeiso to watch the Veuve Clicquot Manhattan Polo Classic from the VIP tents was celebrity royalty: Madonna, Marc Jacobs, Chloe Sevigny, Kate Hudson and LL Cool J, along with those who shelled out anywhere from $500 per head to $50,000 per table. From designated stands, the general public watched the match free of charge.
Festivities were held on Governors Island, a 172-acre mass located 800 yards off Manhattan's shores. "By chance we discovered that polo was played here 70 years ago," said Mark Cornell, CEO of Moet Hennessy USA, referring to an era when the island served as a military base and the sport became a pastime for the servicemen.
After a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Regina Wilson, a firefighter for the FDNY who says she has performed for former president Bush, and a ceremonial toss-in--the polo equivalent of the first pitch in baseball--by Michelle Paige Paterson, wife of New York Governor David Paterson, the game began.
Clad in stark white uniforms, team Sentebale featured His Royal Highness Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales uniformed as number one; the captain was Nick Roldan. Their opponents were team Black Watch, which was captained by Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras, an Argentinian polo player and the face of Ralph Lauren fragrances.
Within moments, Nick Manifold of team Black Watch scored the first goal, prompting Prince Harry to follow-up with a series of defensive maneuvers that prevented his opponents’ next goal attempt. "He has great hand-eye coordination," said one of his teammates.
Teams consisted of four players apiece, with each player mounted on a horse and using a mallet to hit the ball between two goal posts. Polo matches are divided into four "chukkers," or periods, each lasting seven and a half minutes with three minutes between each. A 15 minute recess occurs at halftime, when there is a ritual of "stomping the divots"--the old polo tradition of the crowd returning hoove-unearthed sod to its place. By halftime, the score was 4-3 in favor of Sentebale. Both teams remained confident about their chances of victory: "I fight very hard in the polo field," said Figueras.
Even the least familiar spectators were riveted by stampede of horses, mid-air hits, fast-paced action and the tie score, which kept all on edge until the last few moments of the game."That’s what’s nice about polo," said Larry Boland, president of Piaget North America, which sponsors several polo classics around the world. "You never know who is going to win."
But for Prince Harry, who traveled to the embattled region during a gap year between completing his schooling and joing the military, the day was more than about fun and games, for both princes empathize with the loss faced by Lesotho’s orphans: "Prince Seeiso and I both lost our mothers when we were very young," he remarked, referring to Princess Diana of Wales and Queen ‘Mamohato Bereng Seeiso. "They’re the ones who gave us sunshine today," Prince Seeiso said.
Tension escalated in the match's final moments, when the score was tied and a goal for either team seemed all but impossible. Harry to the rescue: the young royal deftly moved the ball past center field and passed it to his teammate, who scored the winning goal.