Outside London’s Mansion House venue, all eyes were on Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan as the dozens of cameras clicked away for their arrival at one of their final royal engagements.
But inside this year’s Endeavour Fund Awards, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex did all they could to ensure that the night—which celebrates the achievements of wounded, injured, and sick military personnel—was not about them.
Arriving at the evening ceremony, Harry quickly put the focus back on the servicemen and servicewomen who have spent the past year taking part in remarkable sporting and adventure challenges. “This is all about you guys!” he told wife of rowing marine Lee Spencer, Claire, during a reception for guests.
Both Harry and Meghan handed out awards at the annual ceremony, which was hosted by former Invictus Games medalist JJ Chalmers. The duchess was first to announce the Celebrating Excellence prize, honoring Guinness World Record holder Lee Spencer, who became the world’s first physically disabled person to row from Europe to South America solo and unsupported.
“It’s very nice to be back,” Meghan said of her return to the U.K., adding that she and Harry carried out their judging commitments from their Canada home. “It’s the most inspiring space … so I will say when we were watching the videos all the way from Canada we were like, ‘Who are we going to choose?’”
Prince Harry was on-hand to present the Henry Worsley Award to veteran Tom Oates, who is overcoming severe PTSD to dedicate his life to helping others through deptherapy—a specially adapted scuba diving program for injured military personnel and former members of the British Armed Forces.
“Meghan and I are so happy to be back here with you, to celebrate each and every one of you for your achievements, your service, and your resilience,” Harry, who served 10 years in the army, said in a speech. “For some, the military community represents a brotherhood or sisterhood that no other organization can provide, and for others, it’s a way of life which you never want to leave. For a lot of us, it’s both. Being able to serve Queen and Country is something we all are rightly proud of, and it never leaves us. Once served, always serving!”
The couple were left open-mouthed when the ceremony’s first winner, Danny Holland, was given the Recognizing Achievement Award for his success as a driver for “Mission Motorsport.” Holland, who has overcome mental health issues after being injured in an IED explosion in Afghanistan, got down on bended knee as he asked his “missus” for her hand in marriage. Both Harry and Meghan got up to cheer as the the audience applauded.
Since its 2012 launch, The Endeavour Fund has supported 108 projects with over $3.8 million in grants that has assisted over 6,000 servicemembers with opportunities to rediscover self-belief and fighting spirit through physical challenges.
As part of their agreement to step away from royal duties, Harry’s military appointments have been put on hold, but during his speech the duke reinforced his commitment to working with his patronages and organizations such as the Endeavour Fund. “[The fund] came from seeing the gaping hole that can be left after taking off that uniform,” he explained. “I firmly believe that there is an even greater future ahead. Our ambition is to build on what has been achieved—to expand the Endeavour Fund further so that its impact can be felt around the world.”
Harry’s speech coincided with an announcement that the Endeavour Fund will be working much more closely with the Invictus Games in the future. On Wednesday, March 4, Harry privately attended an Invictus Games Foundation and Royal Society evening reception after the two organizations hosted a conference on the future of trauma recovery earlier in the day. Leading figures from academia, industry, the NHS, armed forces, and voluntary sector came together for the one-day event.