The Duke of Sussex has spoken poignantly about how Africa became his second home, following the death of his mother Princess Diana, as he carried out a working visit to Botswana on Thursday. Prince Harry, 35, has left his wife Meghan, 38, and four-month-old son Archie in Cape Town as he spends the next few days travelling to Botswana, Angola and Malawi.
Speaking as he helped local school children plant trees for a community nature reserve on the banks of the River Chobe, Harry said: "Fifteen years I've been coming here, it's a sense of escapism, a real sense of purpose... I have some of my closest friends here over the years. I came here in 1997 or 1998 straight after my mum died, so it was a nice place to get away from it all. I feel deeply connected to this place and to Africa."
Watch: Prince Harry talks about how Africa helped in the aftermath of Princess Diana's death
He was just 12 and William, 15, when their mother was killed in a car crash in Paris on 31 August 1997. Prince Charles took Harry to Africa to offer his young son time and space to deal with his mother's death. Harry has since made happy memories in Botswana and took then-girlfriend Meghan to the Southern African country for the first time in 2016, just a few months into their relationship.
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During their engagement interview in November 2017, Harry revealed: "I managed to persuade her [Meghan] to come and join me in Botswana. And we camped out with each other under the stars… she came and joined me for five days out there, which was absolutely fantastic." The couple returned a year later to assist Dr Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders with his conservation work and in April this year, they shared previously unseen images of them fitting a satellite collar to one of the animals, on their Instagram account.
Prince Harry helped local school children plant trees
Meghan's engagement ring – which she hasn't worn on the royal tour - also contains diamonds from Diana's personal collection and a stone sourced from Botswana. She said (of the ring) during the engagement interview: "It’s incredibly special. And you know to be able to have this, which sort of links where you come from and Botswana, which is important to us, it’s perfect."
Harry is keen to continue Diana's legacy – his engagements on Thursday also included a visit to a Sentebale project working to support young people affected by HIV in Botswana. The Duke and Prince Seeiso founded the organisation in 2006 to provide care, support and education to children and young people living in Lesotho and Botswana, whose lives have been affected by HIV.
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It echoes the work of his mother to fight the stigma around the virus. In 1987, Diana became the first member of the royal family to have contact with AIDS victims. She famously sat and shook hands with an HIV sufferer upon opening a new AIDS ward at Middlesex Hospital. Diana didn’t wear gloves, sending the message that the virus couldn’t be spread by casual contact.
The Duke visited a Sentebale project supporting young people affected by HIV
During Harry's visit to the project, he joined Sentebale Let Youth Lead Advocates in a camp activity, which aims to instil confidence and peer support in young people who are coming to terms with living with HIV. Harry laughed as one young advocate gave a poem-style tribute to him. To smiles and laughter from dozens of young leaders, the young man said: "You make us feel like royalty. You left baby Archie and his mother to come and spend time with us, we appreciate you and love you." The duke then sat down with the young advocates to listen to issues they wanted to raise at a health centre in Kasane.
Earlier in the day, during the tree-planting event, Harry touched upon another cause close to his heart – climate change. He said: "This last week, led by Greta, the world's children are striking. There's an emergency ... it's a race against time and one which we are losing. Everyone knows it. There's no excuse for not knowing that and the most troubling part of that is that I don't believe that there's anybody in this world that can deny science - undeniable science and facts - science and facts that have been around for the last 30, maybe 40, years and it's only getting stronger and stronger. I don't understand how anyone in this world, whoever we are, you, us, children, leaders, whoever it is, no-one can deny science, otherwise we live in a very, very troubling world."
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He and Meghan were previously criticised for their use of private jets over the summer, something the Duke addressed during the launch of his initiative Travalyst in the Netherlands earlier this month. When asked about his decision to use private jets, the royal said he uses commercial flights 90% of the time but does make other arrangements at times to "ensure that my family are safe" and that he has always offset his C02 impact.
Harry concluded his day of engagements in Botswana by taking a boat trip on the Chobe River with service personnel to learn about the challenges the military and government face combating poachers by patrolling the waters.
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