[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/05/30/nyc.prince.harry.visit/art.harry.polo.afp.gi.jpg caption="Prince Harry playfully spits champagne to Nacho Figueras (R) after polo match Saturday at Governors Island."]
AC360° Associate Producer
As if by royal edict, the sun was shining on New York City Saturday, banishing a streak of bleak weather and bad hair days.
It was a perfect backdrop for the immaculate polo field on Governors Island, where Prince Harry of Wales was set to compete in a polo match. It was just one of the 24-year-old’s stops on his first official trip the United States.
Prince Harry played in the Veuve Clicquot Manhattan Polo Classic to raise money for his organization, Sentebale, a charity that helps orphans in the African nation of Lesotho. His team was up against a formidable opponent – Black Watch, captained by Ralph Lauren model Nacho Figueras.
I had the opportunity to meet Nacho prior to the match; I told him New Yorkers wanted to know if he intended to kick the Prince's ‘butt’ in the game. Although he was gracious, I got the impression he wasn’t going to go easy on his good friend, Harry.
Speaking with Nacho was just the beginning of a memorable afternoon. I had never visited Governors Island, never seen a polo match (my knowledge of the game is based solely on the movie "Pretty Woman"), and never been in the company of royalty. If you missed the event, here’s a quick primer on the fashion, the traditions, and the best possible ending for the Prince with a rebellious reputation.
Governor’s Island is a five-minute ferry ride from Manhattan. It was on the trip over that I got my first glimpse of the New York version of ‘polo chic.’
There were plenty of typical summer suits and colorful dresses, but the accessories definitely stood out.
Some women wore traditional hats with brims of all sizes, but others opted for accessories that can best be described as head ornaments. A bow or flower on the side of the head is cute, but a foot-high mobile of butterflies seemed a bit much.
The celebrities in attendance looked glamorous and summer casual all at once. I met dapper looking LL Cool J on his way to the VIP area and he told me he did research on the rules of the game, and what to wear.
"I don't know anything about polo,” he admitted, “I went online to try to learn the rules to the game, but it's not the NBA finals so I have to kind of watch and learn and check it out. It's new for me."
It was new for me too, so I should have done research like LL about appropriate attire; my personal fashion faux pas was wearing heeled shoes on the manicured grass. I left a trail of small holes in the lawn, which created a path leading to the Veuve Clicquot stand.
Speaking of champagne, on one side of the field was the VIP tent for ticket holders – home to endless Veuve Clicquot, shade, afternoon tea, and admission to the after party at trendy Manhattan club, Pink Elephant.
I watched the match from the other side, with the non-paying public, also known as the polo ‘ignoranti.’
Here is what we learned: A chukka is a period of play (we saw 4 chukkas, each about 7 minutes long), polo has a ‘no lefties allowed’ rule, Prince Harry is truly a skilled polo player, and divot stomping is a brilliant (yes, channeling my inner Brit) way to empower the spectators.
The divots are the clumps of grass overturned on the field from 14 minutes of horse hooves pounding away. During half-time, people are asked onto the field to put the divots back where they came from, restoring it for the second half. A friend who has seen many polo matches abroad told me the announcer always includes a joke about avoiding ‘steaming divots,’ a line that got chuckles from those hearing it for the first time. It was a successful divot stomping with only one blackberry left on the field.
The match was exciting, a bit confusing, and close. In an ending that seemed as scripted as Harry's press conferences in New York, the winning point was assisted by the Prince himself, breaking a tie of 5-5.
Later, during the prize ceremony Nacho sprayed Prince Harry with a bottle of champagne. After demonstrating reserved behavior throughout his visit, the Prince let loose and responded by spitting back a fountain of bubbly.
Finally, a glimpse of the fun-loving royal whom Americans have come to know.
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