In 2019, Prince Harry literally followed in his late mother Princess Diana’s footsteps, recreating her 1997 walk through an active minefield in Angola in an attempt to raise awareness about this ongoing issue and help establish an international ban on landmines.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of that first walk, and HALO USA’s Executive Director Chris Whatley told People that he is delighted to see the Duke of Sussex champion this important cause. “There’s no comparison to the public attention that we get in moments like that with Prince Harry to anything else, not just HALO does, but the entire cause of organizations who work to remove landmines or to assist the victims thereafter through medical services,” he said. “Nothing gets the attention, whether it be at the highest level of governments or whether it’s the boy scout troop that makes a small contribution on which we depend, and all of that is amplified and accelerated by Prince Harry because of this dynamic relationship between who he is as his own person, his own service, his own set of causes and his unique ability to connect with people.”
Whatley was able to accompany Harry on that trip to Huambo, a former war zone in Angola and the same town Diana visited two decades before. “He’s a very approachable and dynamic guy,” he said of his encounter with the royal. “He walked down exact same street and there’s a hospital on one side, there’s a school on the other. There are all of these kids in the white uniforms lined up to greet him and sing, and he’s there interacting with them. But then he pauses at the memorial, there’s a tree leftover from that moment and the memorial for her. And you could empathize with him. There was an authentic moment of connection to his mother and her cause.”
But in terms of lasting impact on the issue of landmines, the HALO executive says Princess Diana “sits out there as this continuing moral presence in the cause…As soon as Princess Diana made her walk, it became a front of mind issue. It took the convening power of Princess Diana to do that, to put it on the world stage to create that public momentum that, that allows for the political support, the rallying that continues to this day.” Whatley adds that the late royal’s impact on that town is still visible today. “You could see that the presence of all that infrastructure, all those people, the houses on one side, people on their balconies cheering, all of that is a result of her presence 25 years ago. Had she not showed up there, this would still be a bombed-out hulk of a street.” He continued, “It’s such a striking juxtaposition of the most famous woman in the world and this remote dangerous, desperately conflict setting. Angola was really at the sharp end of the stick of the global crisis at that moment in 1997. The imagery of that visit itself was just so compelling. Every American put that image in their head even if they’re not that interested in foreign affairs. It’s her voice that’s maintaining the drumbeat, echoed now by her son.”
And Whatley believes that the Duke could also acutely feel his mothers presence with him on his walk that day. “You could see it in his expression — there was a kind of tension between his connection to his mom and realizing that he’s in a place that was so much a part of who she was then and what her legacy is now,” Whatley says. “It was such a specific resonance to his mother who he obviously loves and continues to mourn. And then there was the kind of excitement and energy that you get when you see how much has changed and how much impact that she made and how much gratitude he was feeling.”
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