I can’t believe we have come to the end of the 2023 Invictus Games. But what a finale. The closing ceremony was everything it should have been and more; emotional, uplifting, and all-around a brilliant homage to the inspiring week.
Each country paraded onto the stage one by one, and the whoops and cheers were non-stop. The British team was led by their captain James Rogers where Daisy the sausage dog, whom Prince Harry met earlier in the week, made her big screen debut and was captured coming across the stage with her proud owner Martha Prinsloo. I think that pooch needs an agent!
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex spent their evening dancing away, with Meghan being spotted blowing kisses to the competitors. The first musical performance was an electrifying performance from Eurovision runner-up, Sam Ryder – complete with his iconic bedazzled jumpsuit.
He set the tone perfectly, with his dulcet tones and sky-high ballads. His motivational lyrics felt even more poignant as I sat watching all the champions down below who have achieved exceptional things over the last seven days. It was one of those moments you wish you could have bottled.
There was a touching montage of competitors and their families played, and one person summed up the tournament perfectly, telling to camera. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have, it’s just a lot of love.”
One overwhelming moment saw the entire arena give Ukraine a standing ovation, and they were the focus of Federal President Frank Walter-Steinmeier’s speech who made a heartfelt dedication to the team.
Anna-Sophia Puzanov, who appeared in Prince Harry’s Netflix series, Heart of Invictus, also took to the stage to talk about her mum, Yuliia Paievska who was held captive in Russia.”I’m so proud of her,” said Anna-Sophia, and her mother even won a silver medal in the games this year.
Next, it was Prince Harry’s speech and it was a tear-jerker. He opened up about the meeting, Master Corporal James Gendron. “Some of you may know what bagpipes mean to me, so I couldn’t help but hope they’d be played!” he said to the audience.
The Prince was visibly emotional as he continued, looking at James in the crowd. “Yesterday I met with Master Corporal James Gendron from the Canadian team in the Invictus 2025 tent,” he told the arena.
“While we were chatting, I noticed bagpipes lying on the floor in the far corner. Some of you may know what bagpipes mean to me, so I couldn’t help but hope they’d be played!
“Little did I know that thirty minutes later, it would be James picking them up and offering to play – yet I had NO idea what they meant to him. Nor did I know what memories they triggered for him. In Afghanistan, he played 63 ramp ceremonies. For 63 caskets. For 63 souls. For 63 families.
“For four years after that last ceremony, he couldn’t touch them. This week he wasn’t sure whether he could bring himself to play them. But he did. What had once haunted him – dare I say it – may now be what helps heal him. Thank you, James, for your service, for your courage, for sharing your gift.” This was just one of many incredible stories.
Rita Ora was the closing act and lifted everyone’s spirits with six of her biggest hit songs. The mood was indescribable, and watching everyone dance the night away together after a grueling week of sports was second to none.
After such a moving experience at the games, I have been thinking long and hard about how hearing the undeniably thought-provoking stories has impacted me. And if there is one big takeaway from my experience it has to be, that no matter how many times a bad day comes my way, I will try to stop and say thank you for the experience. Because I have met so many people who have had the worst days imaginable and they have found the strength within themselves to carry on and do remarkable things.