Injured troops from around the world are to do battle in London this week at Prince Harry’s Invictus Games, which get under way Wednesday with a vibrant opening ceremony.
The prince, a British army captain who served two tours in Afghanistan, is the driving force behind the four days of competition across nine sports.
More than 400 wounded troops from 13 countries — both serving and veterans — will go for gold at the Olympic Park, site of the London 2012 Games.
Though there will be plenty at stake for the injured service personnel, there is also a lot riding on them for Harry, who turns 30 on Monday.
Fourth in line to the throne, Harry — who will be pushed down to fifth by his brother Prince William’s second child, due next year — is trying to carve out a more mature role for himself, away from the wild-child image of his younger days.
“I don’t feel too old, I think I am always young at heart,” the royal said.
The prince has taken up the cause of rehabilitating injured troops, trekking with maimed veterans to the South Pole in December.
“It’s about supporting these individuals who have signed up to serve their country and wherever it takes them,” Harry said.
The prince said the worry that people might forget about the troops suffering the effects of conflicts such as Afghanistan once those wars faded from the headlines “should be a fear for everybody”.
“We are going to see lives that have been changed by the way they have been injured — and then changed by this,” he said, referring to the inaugural Invictus Games.
– Prince to play ‘murderball’ –
Six months ago, Harry was inspired to set up the event by the United States’ own Warrior Games.
The countries taking part are Afghanistan, Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States.
The nine sports are athletics, wheelchair rugby and basketball, archery, indoor rowing, road cycling, sitting volleyball, powerlifting and swimming.
The Games kick off with Wednesday’s opening ceremony in front of 5,000 spectators on the Olympic Park’s South Lawn.
Harry, William and the Duchess of Cambridge were all due to attend, though William’s pregnant wife is suffering from acute morning sickness and has had to pull out.
The ceremony will see a performance of the official anthem, penned by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, while the Red Arrows aerobatics display team will fly overhead.
The Games wrap up Sunday with a closing concert headlined by the Foo Fighters, before 26,000 spectators.
During the Games, Harry is to put himself on the line in an exhibition game of wheelchair rugby — nicknamed “murderball” for its ferocity.
The prince admits the Games have given him “sleepless nights”, and the stakes are high for royals putting together high-profile events on their own initiative.
His uncle Prince Edward organised a slapstick TV game show event in 1987 featuring costumed younger royals and celebrities indulging in mediaeval buffoonery and struggled to live it down.