The columnist who introduced the Duke of Sussex to the stage at his travel conference as “just Harry” has said the prince seemed “relaxed” as he began a round of engagements before his new life in Canada.
Former Labour advisor Ayesha Hazarika introduced Prince Harry in Edinburgh on Wednesday as the duke held a conference for Travalyst, his sustainable travel project which he announced last autumn.
Hazarika told Good Morning Britain the duke she met was relaxed, and “chilled out”, despite the explosive statement which he and his wife Meghan released late Friday evening.
The statement confirmed the couple would stop royal duties on 31 March, noted that no one would replace Harry in his honorary military roles, and said they had been given a 12 month review period despite other titled members of the royal family having jobs.
Speaking on ITV, Hazarika said: “I was approached by their team to host this event. I was quite surprised, I’ve never met them before but it’s a subject I think is important, it’s about travel and it’s about sustainable travel.
“I was a bit nervous about how to introduce him because there’s been a big fandango in the press about titles, and I was walking into the room, and I didn’t know whether to curtsey or bow and I said to him team ‘what do I call him?’
“And they said ‘just call him Harry’.
“But he is very warm, he said ‘just come here’ and gave me a massive hug - which I didn’t resist!”
The Evening Standard columnist continued: “He was very relaxed, he was very warm and he was very friendly. He was very focused on the reason he was up there, which is this sustainability project.
“He didn’t look like a man wracked with anxiety. He was pretty chilled out.
“I did notice how informal his demeanour was, I’ve worked for senior politicians and there’s been more uptight in terms of arrangements, he wandered around very freely, with the delegates.
“He did a speech at the beginning but for the rest of the conference he sat with the delegates, he had lots of notes. he’s very passionate about this subject, it was a very well organised conference, this is a very serious thing.
“I got the impression he was really focussed on what he wants to do and pretty defiant, I didn’t sense that he felt this had all been a nightmare and they were going to hide away.
“He and his wife have a platform, as much as they have people who don’t like him, they have people who really support them and they know they are passionate about lots of issues which are generational and timely and good on them.”
When Hazza Met Hazza! Very honoured & BEYOND excited to be hosting a conference on travel & sustainability in Edinburgh organised by this chap. pic.twitter.com/th979PEMbR— Ayesha Hazarika (@ayeshahazarika) February 26, 2020
Hazarika and GMB presenter Susanna Reid clashed slightly as Reid made a point that her colleague Piers Morgan is “targeting the hypocrisy” around the way the duke travels.
But Hazarika responded by saying: “It’s unhinged trolling from a certain somebody, he even trolled me yesterday.”
Reid questioned whether the duke should have Skyped into the conference instead of flying in, but Hazarika defended his decision to come in person.
“Firstly, it’s about four pillars - accommodation, aviation, which is a big thing but not the only thing, communities and experiences as well.
“It’s looking at the industry as a whole, not just flying.
“Secondly, yes he flew from Canada here but he got the train up, so unless you’re suggesting he got a train from Canada.
“We are of a generation where we fly all the time, for work, to see friends, family, loved ones, that is not really going to change that much so the question is how do we mitigate that?” she said.
She said they were talking about hybrid electric planes, which could help with flights to Europe.
Hazarika added: “Take somebody like David Attenborough, where is the outcry there? He has said he will continue flying, some of the most prominent experts on climate change are still going to get flights.
“The question is what can we do - there’s public opinion, there’s politics, there’s tech, there’s a commercial desire to travel in a way which is more sustainable.
“It’s easy to take the obvious pop shot but it’s quite good that someone is trying to do something about it.”
Reid asked if Harry had made any comment about the couple not using the word ‘royal’ in their future branding, to which Hazarika said “no”.
She said: “There were tonnes of experts from across the industry and people were excited to see him
“I introduced him and we discussed the words I used, i introduced him as His Royal Highness, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, but he has asked us to call him Harry.
“Some of that was to highlight that this was an informal event and he wanted to be accessible and for people to come and chat to him but it was probably a nod to a bigger thing about their status.”
Hazarika said she thought the way Harry conducted himself showed “he doesn’t need a title to be a big deal”.
She said: “Everybody was thrilled that he had made the time to come.
“When I’ve worked for shadow and government ministers, [at conferences] you pop in, you speak for five mins, you glad-hand and then you leave
“He was there from 10 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon.”
She said he wasn’t solely on stage, but was with delegates, taking notes, and that because it was his project, he was important that he was there.
She said: “People said his time and his demeanour was really appreciated.
“He has always loved travel, he has done it his whole life and he’s very knowledgeable.
“There’s a really big story in terms of sustain and the communities which are affected, not just in far flung places in Africa, but like in Scotland.
“People appreciated his actual physical presence.”
Harry has had to defend his use of private jets in the past, but said he would fly commercial “99%” of the time, and sometimes had to “protect his family”.
The duke will be in the UK for several days, and has a mixture of engagements. On Friday, he will be popping into Abbey Road Studios where Jon Bon Jovi is re-recording his song Unbroken with the Invictus Games choir.
Next week his wife Meghan will join him for the Endeavour Awards and the Mountbatten Festival of Music. They will also carry out their own individual engagements.