It was a dreary Monday morning when I received an invitation to Singapore for a polo match and gala hosted by Prince Harry. Lest you get caught up imagining embossed linen stationary and expert calligraphy, my invite consisted of an email from a publicist.
Naturally, I was skeptical.
Was this just a gimmicky PR stunt perfectly engineered to get my attention? The Town & Country equivalent of a Nigerian phishing scam? I searched the email for fine print. Perhaps there was a footnote explaining that the event wasn't actually in Singapore, but rather, a Singapore-themed restaurant in New York—and it wouldn't be hosted by the actual Prince Harry, but rather, a Prince Harry impersonator.
Because when things seem too good to be true, they usually are, right?
The invitation was not, in fact, a hoax. Each year, Prince Harry hosts the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup—a high-profile match to benefit his charity Sentebale, which raises funds for children with HIV—and a handful of media had been chosen to attend the 2017 event in Singapore.
And so, two weeks later, I embarked on a 27-hour long journey to the other side of the world to have dinner with (ok fine, like 200 feet from) the Prince.
Beyond the obvious appeal of the trip, I was honestly just curious to see how the whole process would work. Among my curiosities: Would he be surrounded by security the entire time? Who would he sit with at the gala? Would Meghan Markle be there? Would he fall in love with me? (My husband has been very understanding throughout this process.)
I arrived on Sunday, the day before the match, and checked into the St. Regis Singapore. A publicist asked if I'd be interested in touring the Presidential Suite (yes, please) and I was told that "for security reasons" it would only be available at a very specific time of day. (From what I heard, Prince Harry did not stay in the Presidential Suite—apparently the Palace has a policy about royals not choosing a hotel's premiere room—however, I'm guessing his suite was on the same floor.)
Given the Prince's impending arrival, I assumed the lobby would be a circus, what with all the security, local authorities, bodyguards, and police. To my surprise, there wasn't a single bodyguard or wand-waving officer to be found. Everything seemed so eerily normal that I began to think the Prince's plans had changed. Had I come all this way for nothing?
Later that evening, as I was sitting in the hotel bar, I happened to glance up from my glass of champagne... and there he was. Dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, Harry sauntered through the lobby alone as if he were just another hotel guest, and not, well, an heir to the British throne. It was a fleeting moment, but exciting nonetheless. (I later found out that he wasn't in fact alone. His security detail had walked in ahead of him and others trailed behind, but because they were all incognito, they right blended in.)
The next day, I headed to the main event. It would be Prince Harry's first time playing at the Singapore Polo Club, a venue that felt particularly significant given that both his father and grandfather had competed there in the past.
It was an oppressively hot 90-degree afternoon. All 300 attendees went through security before migrating toward the outdoor clubhouse, where men were sweating through their seersucker suits. Fans whirred overhead, ostensibly recirculating the humidity, and ladies sought refuge in an air-conditioned restroom. One woman even suggested that "using spray deodorant on your face" was a fabulous way to ensure your makeup didn't melt off.
In the moments leading up to the match, the chatter among all polo-goers centered on a single subject: Would Harry be OK in the heat?
"Even the most seasoned pros end up fainting when they play here for the first time," one club member told me, as we both fanned ourselves on the veranda.
If the Prince's performance was any indication, he handled the heat just fine. He scored two goals, and ultimately led the Sentebale team to a 5-2 victory over the opposing St. Regis team. The game lasted about an hour.
In a match like this, it's not about winning. It's about having fun and making sure that no one gets hurt. Especially him.
"In a match like this, it's not about winning. It's about having fun and making sure that no one gets hurt. Especially him," said Argentinian polo pro Nacho Figueras, a friend of the Prince's who played for the St. Regis' team. "If he falls off the horse or something, then the entire story—and all the photos—focus on him falling off the horse instead of it being about the charity."
Figueras had a point. Throughout the match, all 300 guests—and a few dozen photographers—had their cameras fixated on the Prince's every move. At the gala that followed, however, things were quite different. We received strict warnings in the days leading up to the party about protocol:
AT THE REQUEST OF THE PALACE
Photos are encouraged at the polo match and trophy presentation, however, the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup Dinner is a private event. Kensington Palace has given strict guidance that no photography is permitted during the dinner. Security may confiscate your phone or ask to delete pictures taken within the ballroom.
This was not a suggestion to be taken lightly. Sponsors, guests, and hotel executives were told that if anyone so much as approached the Prince's table, his security team would be forced to remove him immediately. Though many people (myself included) did manage to sneak in a few photos of the gorgeous ballroom, guests generally respected the no-phone policy.
Just before the first course was served, Harry took the stage and made an impassioned speech about the importance of giving a voice to children whose lives have been affected by HIV and AIDS. He returned to his seat for dinner after a rousing applause, and spent the remainder of the meal chatting with his tablemates.
Everyone, for the most part, kept a respectful distance from "Table 18." But as the night wore on and guests became increasingly... lubricated (the event was, after all, sponsored by a liquor brand), people could be seen inching closer and closer to the Prince's table. When the staff began clearing our main courses in preparation for dessert, a small group (perhaps emboldened by liquid courage) appeared to be approaching Harry's table.
And just like that, he was gone.