Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex and wife Sophie, the Countess of Wessex completed a short five-day tour of Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas earlier this week.
The royal couple undertook engagements in relation to their many patronages, which included visiting the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, a Coral Nursery, a Youth Centre, and the YMCA Field of Dreams. Between them they also attended an annual Agricultural Show, as well as a Women’s Leadership and Empowerment event; presented certificates to Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award holders; met some Commonwealth Games athletes, and saw first hand the protection programme of indigenous wildlife and the barrier reef.
The youngest son of the late Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Edward also delivered messages from his big brother: King Charles III, in which he praised the islands development, resilience and good governance, and reiterated how valued the relationship with all of the Overseas Territories was to the UK.
First stop The Cayman Islands
The first stop on the tour saw Prince Edward receive a Royal Salute and his wife, Sophie, given flowers by the Girl Guides. They were officially greeted at Owen Roberts International Airport, on Grand Cayman, by Governor Martyn Roper, his wife, Lissie, Premier Wayne Panton, his wife, Jane, and the rest of Cabinet, before heading off to Government House for an invitation-only reception; where some members of the island communities, as well as various officials, got the opportunity to mix with the royal couple in a relaxed gathering.
Message from the King to the islanders
It was here that Prince Edward read out a short message from King Charles III, part of which read: “My wife and I recall with great fondness the warmth of our welcome to the Cayman Islands in 2019, and how inspiring it was to see at first-hand the remarkable development of the Territory over the past few decades.” It also added that the islanders should be proud of their culture and heritage, their modern and dynamic community, together with their determination to protect their environment and grow their economy sustainably. He ended his brief communication by stressing that “The Cayman Islands, like all of our Overseas Territories, are much-loved and integral members of the British Family and I look forward to strengthening yet further our relationship in the years ahead.”
The main focus on the Wessex’s short visit was on gaining a greater understanding and entering into discussions, on sustainability and climate issues in the region. With time at a premium, the couple went in different directions once the tour got down to serious business.
A short flight to Little Cayman was where the Earl was taken, as he visited the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) to mark the 20th anniversary of his Royal Patronage of that research centre, which works to conduct and facilitate not just research, but also education, and outreach that will sustain marine diversity for future generations. He also visited the Coral Nursery on the island.
Countess gets stuck in
Meanwhile, the Countess attended the 100 Women in Finance event, as one of their Global Ambassadors, where she joined a panel discussion on empowering women in the workplace. Following that, Sophie visited the YMCA Field of Dreams, where she met local community volunteers and joined children making ice cream and taking part in activities like archery.
Prince gets to see natural disaster contingencies
Back on Grand Cayman, The Prince met the Island’s Regiment, Cadet Corps and Coast Guard, seeing first hand the equipment that can be deployed in the event of a natural disaster, including water purification technology and a field kitchen. The Countess was taken to the Annual Agricultural Show at Savannah, where she officially declared the show open, and met local farmers and vendors. After attending separate functions the royal couple were reunited, when they both presented certificates to Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award holders.
Onto Turks and Caicos Islands
The next stop on the tour took the royals to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), where having landed at JAGS McCartney International Airport, the couple were greeted by a guard of honour, accompanied by some splendid trumpeting from the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force band, waved at by lots of excited, flag bearing children from local schools and clubs, and received a gun salute, to properly signal the duos arrival.
This was followed by an under the stars reception at the Governor, Nigel Dakin’s residence at Waterloo, in Grand Turk. There were national costumes on display, and a chance to chat freely beneath the setting sun to invited guests, which included TCI Youth Parliament, House of Assembly, Permanent Secretaries and District Commissioners. There was also opportunity for Edward and Sophie to talk with representatives from local churches, as well as civic groups, educators, uniformed services, and some local heroes.
Another message from the King
The Prince once again delivered a message from King Charles III, in which he recalled fondly visiting Grand Turk and South Caicos in 1973. He congratulated the islands on their remarkable transformation over the past few decades, mentioning in particular the ingenuity and resilience shown after the hurricanes it has endured. He highlighted that this was testament to community spirit and hard work, as well as the vibrancy, good governance and natural beauty of the archipelago, which he pointed out, so many people were now discovering. Just as he had said in the Caymans, he stated how much he values the special relationship with The Turks and Caicos, and pledged to “stand with you in the years ahead.”
Impressed by local initiatives
They moved on to Providenciales, where the Earl headed to the Edward Gartland Youth Centre and met and spoke at length with representatives who are mentoring the “100 Black Men” and “Boys to Men” initiatives, which work to empower underprivileged young men and boys.
He moved on to where more than 500 children were waiting for him at the Gustarvus Lightbourne Sports Centre. The Prince was introduced to the TCI’s top sporting stars, which included their first Olympian, Delano Williams, and he witnessed the Royal Cup High School All-Star Basketball game featuring two teams, made up of the top 24 young men from schools all across the island.
He presented the trophy to the winners and commented: “What an absolutely fantastic display of basketball.” He suggested that the Royal Cup become a new TCI tradition. Before departing the Prince Edward was presented with a token for his time with the youngsters; which was a Turks and Caicos minted coin and a pin from his mother’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, as a keepsake.
Sophie gets up close with the iguanas
Elsewhere, the Countess was being introduced to the Turks, and Caicos’ natural beauty and spectacular environment. At Blue Haven Marina she was able to see first hand the country’s mangroves, iguana species, and barrier reefs, and got an introduction to the country’s sea life, via brand-new underwater cameras. It was clear from her reaction, just how much she had both enjoyed and learned from the experience.
Countess Sophie then spent some time with local trailblazing women and girls including Arielle Neely, CARICOM Youth Ambassador and Chelsea Been, TCI Junior Minister of Tourism. She was also able to launch a youth mentoring program, known as the ‘”Wessex Scheme”, which involves a commitment of community and business leaders to mentor young women.
Finally the Bahamas
The final days of the royal tour took the couple to the Bahamas where they joined a Governor General’s Youth Awards (GGYA) Gold Award Ceremony. These are what the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Awards are called in Bahamas.
The late Prince Philip brainchild aims to help young people with life skills make a difference in their own lives and communities. Prince Edward is the Chair of the Awards Foundation, which is active in 130 different countries, and who have funded five projects in The Bahamas, and on his stay on the islands he visited three of them.
The couple met with the Governor General, Sir Cornelius A Smith, and Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Phillip Davis, and also engaged with volunteers and young people participating in the GGYA, which has been active on the Islands since 1987.
During the visit, Their Royal Highnesses visited the Willie Mae Pratt Centre for Girls in Nassau, and also had the chance to attend a range of community events that showcased local businesses and organisations, as well as meeting people from right across the Islands.
The eventful trip was felt to be a resounding success, having made many new friends, as well as reacquainting with some older ones too. They were also able to set up some programs that will be beneficial moving forward.