Why Meghan and Harry's Third Date Was So Important
After just two dates on two consecutive days in London in July of 2016, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took what the prince characterized in their official engagement interview as a “huge leap”—they went on vacation together.
For five days. And not to enjoy the predictable luxuries of, say, a private villa in the south of France, or on Lake Como, or in Seychelles. No. They stayed in a tent in what Harry described as “the middle of nowhere.”
Which is an accurate way to characterize the bush in
As Harry put it: “We camped out with each other under the stars, sharing a tent and all that stuff. It was fantastic.”
I get that.
There is nothing like the stars at night in the African bush. They look—an unavoidable cliche—like diamonds tossed onto black velvet: big, bright, and seemingly so close it feels one can touch them.
And the sounds. All you hear in the bush, be it night or day, is nature going about its business: the screech of a bird distracting a mongoose away from its nest; a hyena’s call; an elephant’s trumpet; a baboon’s bark; and other vocalizations unidentifiable to the untrained ear but intriguing. A snort? A snuffle? Whose?
With the help of a good guide, not only do your ears begin to hear as if anew, but your eyes to see—an oddly bent blade of grass, or the print of a large paw in the sand, signs of someone having passed right by your tent as you slept.
It is at once calming—the ego vanishes and you feel organically part of something intricate and mysterious and infinitely larger than yourself—and electrifying.“It’s like being plugged into the earth” is how Prince Harry described to me the effect Africa’s wilderness has on him.
I met Harry in late July 2016 in Malawi. (It was, I now realize in hindsight, right after his first two dates with Meghan and right before their mid-August sojourn in Botswana.)
We were both staying in small Mvuu Lodge, in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park, at the invitation of the conservation organization called African Parks, which was undertaking one of the most radical maneuvers in conservation history: sedating and translocating 500 elephants from Liwonde, where they were endangered, to another Malawian nature reserve, Nkhotakhota, where they would thrive under African Parks protection.
Prince Harry, as featured in Town & Country
Harry was there for three weeks to participate, one member of a crew of 10—wildlife veterinarians, truck drivers, helicopter pilots, and crane operators. I was there for a week, together with photographer Alexei Hay, reporting for Town & Country on African Parks, the elephant translocation, and Prince Harry’s role in it.
Harry and I talked on and off during the translocation action, and we sat down as well one evening over beers for a one-hour interview.
We talked about Africa. How he’d discovered and fallen for it soon after the death of his mother, Princess
Harry has made it one of his missions to help save the earth’s wild places. “We need to look after [them],” he said, “because otherwise, our children will not have a chance to see what we have seen. And it’s a test. If we can’t save some animals in a wilderness area, what else can’t we do?”
And he talked about what the African continent means to him personally. “I have this sense of complete relaxation and normality [here]. To lose myself in the bush…. This is where I feel more like myself than anywhere else in the world. I wish I could spend more time here….”
And Botswana? “I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been able to visit Botswana as many times as I have.” It’s not, for him, just about seeing the lions and elephants and the other so-called charismatic megafauna: “I get more excited about seeing two birds fighting than the Big Five…I feel rooted in Africa and everything about it.”
As impassioned as he was about the topic we were discussing, Prince Harry was also constantly alert, I sensed, to the environment where we were sitting—an open-air, palm-frond-roofed restaurant steps from the bank of the Shire River. It was dusk. Hippos were grunting loudly all about, and one could sense the wilderness stirring.
He froze at one point in mid-sentence and peered toward something he had spotted in what to me was undifferentiated darkness. “Oh, it’s an elephant,” he said, relaxing. “I thought it was a lion.”
It reminded me of an evening I had spent a year earlier in the Mombo camp in Botswana: Two lions had passed close by our campfire, clearly visible in the shadows just beyond the flames. “Remember that at night,” a guide had pointed out, “we humans are simply meat.”
It is such intimations of
Indeed. And what better sentiment on which to build a new life with a new partner. It’s no wonder Prince Harry took Meghan Markle to Botswana—it was a more valuable gift, in the
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.