Once upon a time, a prince arrived in America, riding into Santa Barbara atop a magnificent dark bay polo pony (after deplaning from a dark gray helicopter). The prince was clearly a confident, strong young man and had brought along his princess with him: 5-foot-10 beauty, a stunning combination of movie star and girl-next-door.
The occasion for their visit was two-fold: the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Santa Barbara Polo Club and a luncheon and polo match--a fundraiser for the couple’s charity, The American Friends of the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry. Within minutes of their arrival, the newly titled couple, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, had captured the hearts of the thousands there to greet them. That day, they were simply ‘William’ and ‘Kate,’ and the afternoon had just begun. The meet-and-greet was first on their agenda. With my daughter, granddaughter and son-in-law, Andy Busch, I was privileged to spend a delightful five minutes chatting with the royal couple. What could have been a nervewracking experience, they made friendly and easy with their warmth and cordial ways.
The spectacular setting of the Santa Barbara Polo Club--with the ocean goal at one end and mountain goal at the other--was transformed into a tented, fairy-tale panorama. Tables of ‘Tiffany blue’ graced the main tent where the luncheon, courtesy of celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis, was served alongside overflowing centerpieces of all-white hydrangeas, peonies and tulips. As main sponsor, Tiffany designed the beautiful hand-crafted trophy, fashioned of sterling silver and 18K gold vermeil with heads of polo ponies as handles. Other major sponsors included Audi, whose fleet of sleek A8s led the parade of horses and transported William and Kate around the field, and Royal Salute Scotch whiskey, which offered samples to anyone not drinking Champagne or Budweiser.
Ambassador Glen Holden, trustee of Santa Barbara Polo Club for 37 years and mastermind of the event, introduced the prince to the 600 luncheon guests.
When it was his turn at the podium, the prince proclaimed that the club has to be “one of the most beautiful polo grounds anywhere in the world,” adding that his father and brother were “as green as that grass outside when I told them I’d be here today.” Primarily on his mind was the enormous amount of money--more than $5 million--raised for the princes’ foundation. “We are focusing on helping military veterans and their families...We also want to give the most disadvantaged in society hope and confidence in their lives. We feel very passionately about this.” When asked if he would return soon, he replied, “It completely depends on the result today. I’m not a good loser.” Luckily for the prince and for Santa Barbara, he was not a loser. Teamed with Glen Holden, Jr., Santi Trotz and Andy Busch on the Royal Salute team, the prince scored four goals for a storybook win. Reflecting on the afternoon, Busch said, “In my mind, Prince William was no doubt today’s MVP.”
Later that evening, when I had a chance to talk alone with Andy, he expressed real joy at being part of an effort to raise money for the many worthwhile causes supported by the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry. As you know, the Busch family has a history of supporting similar causes, as well as conservation and environmental issues, over the years. I asked him how it felt to be besieged by media all afternoon about William and Kate. “They all kept prodding me to tell them something sensational, more interesting than what I kept saying about them,” he says. “But the fact is that the duke and duchess were kind, easy to be with, and very approachable young people--the kind of role models we need now--and that’s the truth.”
Walking the red carpet at the match were several celebrities, including California governor Jerry Brown, Pat Sajak, Molly Sims, Nicollette Sheridan, Billy Zane and Rob Lowe. But all eyes were on William and Kate: The Prince in polo whites and a navy blue blazer, Kate in a hand-painted chinoiserie silk dress by Jenny Packham, a sophisticated, floaty creation that fluttered charmingly all afternoon in the cool breeze off the Pacific. This was a very special afternoon in a very special place, with two very special people. May they defy the odds and live happily ever after.