Major Kate Philp will be spending more than two weeks with Prince Harry when they trek to the South Pole next month.
The 16-day trek will see the royal’s British team race their American and Commonwealth counterparts to reach the world’s southernmost point.
With 21 team members, including 12 injured servicemen and women, they will cover a distance of 208 miles in temperatures as low as -50°C.
Kate spoke to ! before the departure about how Prince Harry “gives the banter as much as he gets” and what it’s like working with “down-to-earth” royal.
The 35-year-old had her left leg amputated below the knee as a result of an injury sustained while serving on operations in Afghanistan in November 2008.
The armoured vehicle she was commanding was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device and she underwent 16 months of rehab, determined to return to work and pursue her professional ambition.
Following further revision surgery, she was inspired by Walking With The Wounded to give a new focus to her rehab and take on the challenge of the South Pole.
In an exclusive interview with ! she talks about working with Prince Harry, how she’ll deal with her ‘stump’ on the 200-mile Antartic trek and what she’s most looking forward to about the expedition.
What’s it been like working with Prince Harry
It’s been fantastic. Prince Harry is a really, really good guy. He’s a strong, fit guy himself as an army officer. He has some polar experience from having a done a few days with the charity a couple of years ago. He’s so busy, he’s got a full military career and all of his royal commitments to balance and he absolutely throws himself in to this wholeheartedly. I think he really genuinely enjoys it. He feels very passionately about the cause, Walking With The Wounded, and he knows that he can bring a lot of publicity and raise awareness.
He’s very easy to get on with, he’s an equal member of the team and he uses his military training to good effect. He’s good fun, he’s down-to-earth, he gives a lot the banter as much as he gets it and it’s just really nice that we all feel very much at ease with him and hopefully he does with us.
Does he seem like Prince Harry to you or is he just Harry
He doesn’t really seem like a Prince. And that’s not to put down his royal status, I very much respect the royal family but I think if anyone has any connotations of him feeling he’s more important or above anyone because he’s a member of the royal family, he’s absolutely nothing like that. He’s extremely down to earth so in and among the three teams he’s Harry. Of course we’d never cross the line but you never feel like there’s a line to be crossed which is a nice thing.
How much training have you done with him
We did a few days in Iceland with him in July and we did the overnight stopover in a cold chamber in September and there have been a couple of events here and there. When we trained in July the weather was really bad so we had one day where we were tent-bound and unable to ski so actually that was a good opportunity for us all to get to know each other a bit better and to get to know some of the drills and skills theoretically. Luckily the training opportunity wasn’t lost but it also gave us the social time which is as important.
Have you bonded as a team
Absolutely, yes. That was one of the important criteria for being selected – that you as a team got on. We’ve obviously all got a shared military background and we’ve all got the experience of being injured. We’ve all either known or met each other previously within the British team anyway. When we met the other teams in March when we went out to Iceland for the final selection we all went out there as individual wanting a place in the final team but actually by the end of the two weeks it was a case of whoever makes it you wish them the best and we all just bonded together as one big team. Now there is a bit of healthy competition between the three teams but much more than that it’s a case of just wanting everyone at the South Pole together.
What will be the biggest challenge for you personally
I’m hoping my military training will have set me up for the lack of sleep and harsh environment. We’re all used to that sort of routine and administrating ourselves – I might eat my words I suppose. The obvious answer for me is my leg and trying to prevent rubs on it. If you imagine blisters on your feet you might get from walking it’s the same thing for me but on my stump with the socket potentially rubbing.
I’ve had some really good prosthetics support so it’s down to me to try to manage that and keep on top of it on a daily basis. If you feel a hot spot coming then on your ten minute break you need to deal with it.
I may well find that the mental challenge is the bigger one. You’re skiing for about two hours in single file and all you’ve got is your own head so you can listen to some music or whatever.
What are you most looking forward to about the expedition
Finishing! It’s such a monumental, iconic place so to go somewhere that very few people have been is such a privilege, I’d love to know the percentage of the world’s population who have been there because I’m sure it ‘s tiny. To think that we’re going to be among those favoured few is incredible. It’s going to be really tough to get there but things are the most rewarding when you’ve really had to work for them.
What are you most looking forward to about coming home
Probably decent food and a glass of wine! I really like my food so getting back to some good home cooked food. It sounds really simple but the basic simple things are really important out there. Food is just going to be fuel and we’ve got to get as much on board as possible and I think I’ll struggle to eat the rations we’ve got and it’s about 6-6,500 calories that we’ve got to fill up on and I’m not the biggest of people.
I hear it takes about five to seven days for your body and metabolism to adjust and for you to actually be able to start taking in that number of calories. We’ve all been bulking up a bit for the last month or so which has been a fun bit of the training I must admit – as long as we do lose it otherwise I’ll be a little chubster for Christmas!
Can you imagine how you might feel when you reach the South Pole
It’s interesting to know whether it’ll be massive excitement or pure relief and feeling exhausted and quite emotional. Each team will probably arrive separately, clearly our team will be there first, hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for the other teams to come in! I think for our own team’s arrival it will be really exciting initially then probably quite emotional. When the other teams get there, there will be huge rounds of applause and big hugs and that’s when it’ll start to be really exciting. I reckon there will be a whole mixture of emotions spanning the whole scale – tears, laughter and all the rest of it.
How’s the training going
The training’s been fantastic. A lot of the onus has been on ourselves to follow our own programme and get ourselves to where we need to be. We had our final medicals last month and the results were really good and they were a massive improvement on the ones we had in January. We’ve had a few team training opportunities over in Iceland and in the cold chamber which have proven our training and the kit and helped us to get to know each other better and work our team drills out so with good training, good kit and hopefully a good attitude we’re ready to go.
Can any amount of training ever prepare you for this challenge
I think you can be physically but the mental preparation is a different issue. It’s such a different place, I can’t really begin to imagine what it’s going to be like. Day after day of skiing for 10 to 12 hours with white nothingness around you could be quite mentally tough. There’s a lot of excitement but while we’re still in the familiar environment of the UK it doesn’t seem real yet. Ask me again in a few days time when we’re down on the ice and you might get a different answer.
Have you experienced a similar environment before
We’ve done a couple of trips to Iceland and the first time we went out there in March the temperatures got down to about -35°C or -40°C with the wind chill factor In the cold chamber the wind got up to about 75mph which took the temperature to about -59°C but only for about 10 minutes so we’ve had a little bit of a taster of what the cold or wind might be like. In terms of the bleakness of the environment though we’ve had absolutely no experience of anywhere like that. I don’t think there’s anywhere like that anywhere in the world.
Do you think it might get boring How will you deal with that
It could well get boring, yes. You might think that we’ll be so exhausted that we’ll sleep for hours and hours a day but actually when you’re in a tent it’s not that comfortable. It’ll be nice to take the leg off and give that a bit of a breather and really make the most of having time with each other especially the other two teams. It’ll be really weird saying goodbye to them and not really knowing when we’ll see each properly all together. If you tot up the number of hours we will have spent together it won’t actually be that many but because we’re doing what we’re doing we will become really close so it’ll be like saying goodbye to family at the end.
What kind of training can you do for this sort of challenge
It’s dependent on your injury and what stage of rehab you’re at. It’s been fairly individual from that point of view. Time on skis is the best thing you can do and that’s why we’ve done our trips to Iceland. Personally I’ve worked on basic strength and conditioning in the gym, particularly weighted stuff to build all over strength but particularly in my legs and core strength is really important too so I’ve been doing yoga and Pilates.
Endurance training is absolutely key. In the UK you can put a bag on your back with a little bit of weight and go walking in the hills. You build up the hours you’re walking for to eight or nine hours which is hard from the point of view of fitting it in. I’ve done most of it on my hours because people are busy with work during the week but that’s probably quite good training mentally because of the hours you’re going to spend skiing. In the UK we’ve got beautiful places to walk in – so hopefully it’ll pay off but i’m yet to find out.
How much weight will you be pulling
We’ll be pulling 75kg or 80kg but Guy has upped it to about 90kg so I reckon he can take some of my kit in that case! Up until now the heaviest we’ve pulled is about half that so it’ll feel significantly heavier I m sure. Once you get going you get the momentum and you’ve got the glide so there’s less impact on the legs which is great for us with leg injuries. When we’re skiing there’s actually less impact than when we’re walking because we’re gliding rather than pushing weight down through your leg. Of course the ‘pulk’ will get lighter every day and obviously we won’t be carrying water so that’s good as well. If you get sastrugi, which is where the wind and ice form ridges, that can be quite tricky to get over and I gather that the condition of the snow down there is very different to what we’ve experienced in Iceland. I think that’s quite hard if you’re the lead person to cut the track but the advantage of that is that because you’re navigating a two-hour stint goes pretty quickly because you’ve got something to occupy you – so it’s all swings and roundabouts.
What’s your next challenge
People often say after this kind of thing that they’d want to go somewhere warm but I prefer the cold to the heat – that’ll come back to bite me as well no doubt! I’ll be miserable some point and someone will pipe up “I thought you preferred the cold”.
I want to join some of the veteran Lions players on a charity cycle next summer around the national rugby stadiums. I’m also thinking about doing Mt Kilimanjaro later in the year.
As much as it’ll be great to have achieved something like the South Pole, it is really nice to have something to look forward to next. Having worked so hard to train for this I really want to keep my fitness up and it’d be such a shame to lose it so it’ll be good to have another goal to work towards.
Ralph Lauren’s New Bond Street store will host a Christmas fundraising and shopping evening for Walking With The Wounded on 2 December, to launch the departure of the team and Prince Harry for their South Pole expedition. The evening will feature an exclusive recorded message from the team.