Like many great ideas, it started somewhere between inauspicious and accidental.
It was March 2008, and a young army officer was flying home from Afghanistan: not because he wanted to but because he’d been ordered to. As he stewed, he saw a curtain at the front of the plane blowing open slightly. Beyond it were three comatose soldiers wrapped up in what looked like clingfilm and with bandages round the stumps of missing limbs. It was the first time this officer had seen seriously injured men, and the sight rattled him somewhere deep within himself.
That officer was Prince Harry.
He didn’t know it at the time, but he had sown the first seeds of what would eventually blossom into the Invictus Games, a multi-sport event for wounded, injured and sick service personnel whose third edition begins in Toronto on Saturday.
First came London 2014, then Orlando 2016. Next year will be Sydney. But right now all eyes are on Toronto, particularly given the worldwide interest in Harry’s relationship with California-born ’Suits’ actress Meghan Markle. The speculation about whether an engagement announcement is imminent will irritate Harry, who has put his heart and soul into the Games – this years being the biggest yet.
He will want people to concentrate purely on the competitors – more than 550 of them from 16 nations competing in 11 adaptive sports. They’ve lost limbs, suffered crippling injury, battled cancer, dealt with post-traumatic stress, and any number of other physical and mental ailments. For every competitor there, it’s the start line rather than the finish line which is the real achievement, an achievement which Harry will consider far more worthy of comment than the status of his relationship.
For the Invictus Games – ‘invictus’ is Latin for ‘unconquered’ – are not just Harry’s brainchild. They are his baby through and through: forged not perhaps strictly in his own image but certainly according to his own values. They are fiercely competitive, but they’re also fun. They give a voice to the damaged and the forgotten, just as he has done with the Sentebale charity in Lesotho for orphans and vulnerable children. And they leave no man or woman behind: there are gold, silver and bronze medals, but also medallions…