Thursday, June 13, 2024

Prince Harry’s book says wonderful things about Botswana

Botswana’s tourism will get its biggest boost ever courtesy of a historic tell-all book by an English prince who has fallen madly in love with the Okavango Delta. This past week (Tuesday to be precise), a book by Prince Harry (Spare) was officially published in the west and could be hitting the shelves of local bookshops in no time. Prince Harry is the son of King Charles and younger brother to Prince William, who will succeed the former. William is the heir and Harry is “the spare heir”, hence the title of a book that generally pays glowing tribute to Botswana. The Okavango Delta is a game-rich tourist hotspot and one very popular with European royalty and Hollywood stars.

A fox that Harry encountered in London reminded him of “the leopard in Botswana” which “seemed like a messenger, sent to me from some other realm.” Harry has made some friends in the Delta and from the memoir’s description, these friends would be the proprietors of the luxury resorts that only the deep-pocketed can afford. In recollecting an encounter with an Australian friend called George Hill, he refers to his friends in the Delta as “the gang in Botswana.” He writes in Spare: “I’d point out to George what the gang in Botswana had pointed out to me. See that bright one next to the moon? That’s Venus. And over there, that’s Scorpius—best place to see it is the southern hemisphere. And there’s Pleiades. And that’s Sirius—brightest star in the sky. And there’s Orion: the Hunter. All comes down to hunting, doesn’t it? Hunters, hunted….”

The English prince became friendly enough with George and another man called Marko to bring them to Botswana. At the time, he was dating a Zimbabwean-born girl called Chelsy Davy.  Her family had left Zimbabwe when she was 14 amid political and economic unrest in the country, and moved to England. Elsewhere it has been stated that Harry and Chelsy holidayed in Botswana “where they shared their first kiss.” In Spare, Harry recalls an episode during this romance when “I told her [Chelsy] that George and Marko and I were all heading off the next day to Botswana.” It was from his Australian friends that Harry acquired the nickname “Spike.” In his younger years, Harry had a reputation as a hard partier and during one outing in Las Vegas, got very drunk and his head started “filling up with ideas.”

One was doing something with which he would always remember the Las Vegas trip. “I need something to commemorate this trip, I decided. Something to symbolize my sense of freedom, my sense of carpe diem,” he writes adding that he decided on memorialising this moment by getting a tattoo about something was important to him. “I thought and thought. What’s important to me? What’s sacred? Of course—Botswana. I’d seen a tattoo parlour down the block. I hoped they’d have a good atlas, with a clear map of Botswana,” he writes.

In his stupor, he had completely overlooked the fact that as a royal, he lived a regimented life and a tattoo was the last indulgence he could allow himself. Fortunately for him, his companions not only had the presence of mind to dissuade him but a plan of their own of how to do so: “In fact, they promised to physically stop me. I was not going to get a tattoo, they said, not on their watch, least of all a foot tattoo of Botswana. They promised to hold me down, knock me out, whatever it took.”

Ultimately, he gave in and the party trooped off to a hotel nightclub “where I curled into the corner of a leather banquette and watched a procession of young women come and go, chatting up my mates.” Where they had threatened to physically restrain Harry to avoid a tattoo scandal, the mates invited “four or five girls” who worked at a hotel along with two women who worked at the blackjack tables to his suite. In the wee hours of the morning, the party played strip pool – a game in which losers take off an item of clothing. “Ten minutes later I was the big loser, reduced to my skivvies. Then I lost my skivvies. It was harmless, silly, or so I thought. Until the next day. Standing outside the hotel in the blinding desert sun I turned and saw one of my mates staring at his phone, his mouth falling open.

He told me: Spike, one of those blackjack girls secretly snapped a few photos…and sold them.” Looking back on this incident, Harry determined the tattoo to have been a much safer option than the photos. “These photos would never go away. They were permanent. They’d make a foot tattoo of Botswana look like a splodge of Indian ink.” In the Delta, Harry met and became friends with Mike and Teej, a filmmaker couple that also own a safari camp. With the encouragement of this couple, Harry embarked on a four-month fact-finding trip to educate himself “about the truth of the ivory war.” Resultantly, he visited Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania and South Africa. Down the road, Harry would fatefully meet an American actress called Meghan Markle.

In Botswana, she would be called Coloured (her father is white, her mother black) but in the United States she is classified as black. Meghan is friends with Serena Williams, the tennis star and in a year that the book doesn’t mention, happened to have been in London to cheer on Williams at Wimbledon. When she met up with Harry later at a restaurant for dinner, he suggested that they holiday in Botswana. “I gave her my best Botswana pitch. Birthplace of all humankind. Most sparsely populated nation on earth. True garden of Eden, with 40 percent of the land given over to Nature. Plus, the largest number of elephants of any nation on earth. Above all, it was the place where I’d found myself, where I always re-found myself, where I always felt close to—magic?

If she was interested in magic, she should come with me, experience it with me. Camp under the stars, in the middle of nowhere, which is actually Everywhere.” At a point where Harry and Meghan had gone public with their romance and Queen Elizabeth had granted “permission” for the lovers to marry, he had a designer make a wedding ring for her. Along with two diamonds from a bracelet that had been worn by his mother, Princess Diana, Harry added a third – “a blood-free diamond from Botswana.”

Elsewhere it has been reported that Harry proposed to Meghan in Botswana but the book tells a different story. After getting the Queen’s permission to marry Meghan, he proposed to her in an intimate setting that was purposefully designed to look like his favourite place. “I led her out to the garden. Cold night. We were both wrapped in big coats, and hers had a hood lined with fake fur that framed her face like a cameo. I set electric candles around the blanket. I wanted it to look like Botswana, the bush, where I’d first thought of proposing.” The book is the first of its kind and is flying off bookshelves. The more people read the book, the more the world will get to know about Botswana.

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