There is so much that goes in to planning an event like the Invictus Games. I didn’t realize how many hours, volunteers, time and money it took to put on this massive event . Not until I interviewed Sir Keith Mills, Chairman of Prince Harry’s Invictus Foundation. I’m glad to share this chat with you. I hope it will give you, as it did me, a greater appreciation for these games and for those working behind the scenes both before, during and after the events. And especially admiration for these athletes; for all they’ve endured and overcame to get here, and for their futures.
Prince Harry personally chose Sir Mills to organize these Invictus Games. But as you’ll soon learn, Prince Harry didn’t rest and leave everything to him. Previously, Sir Keith was part of the organizing Committee for the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
What are the longterm plans for the Invictus games?
Prince Harry and I were in Toronto last Monday, and we announced the Canadian Games next September. We have some plans which haven’t been announced for 2018. The plan is we’ll have games for the next two or three years. Assuming that the casualties continue to reduce, then perhaps we’ll put the Invictus Games on the back burner. But we’re not making that decision yet. We’ll wait for another two or three years.
What are some of the things needed to make the games successful?
In the case of these games, the most important person, because he has the extraordinary ability to bring people together is Prince Harry. It was his vision. When he asked me to organize the games in London, it was his story and his passion that I really think brought everyone together. Everyone saw what an incredible concept these games were. Many or most of them gave up their time on a pro bono basis to make it happen.”
What is it like to work with Prince Harry?
“From the very beginning, I found him absolutely terrific to work with.”
Sir Keith told a story of his first meeting with the Prince. He was invited to have coffee with him at Kensington Palace. Although he had worked with, and had been introduced to members of the Royal Family previously, this was his first time he had the opportunity to work with them. But at the time, he didn’t know why he was invited to the palace.
“His vision was to put a games on in London with very short notice, just seven or eight months notice.”
After learning there was no venue and no funding, Sir Keith said to the Prince: “If we’re going to do this, you really need to be hands-on and involved. You can make things happen more quickly than I can. He really rose to the occasion.
“Throughout the planning of the London Games, and ever since, he’s been very much a hands-on part of the team. It’s great for all of us on the team, and I think for Prince Harry too. He’s really loved it.”
If you were competing in the games, what would be your sport of choice?
I tried to persuade one of the hosts to put sailing in the program because I’m a sailor.
How are sporting events decided on for each games?
The sports that help the guys in their recovery is probably the most important. Sport plays an important part in the recovery of these guys that are injured. We want the program to reflect that.
When asked what new sporting events have been added to the 2017 games in Toronto, Sir Keith said that so far, Sled Hockey is the only sport that has been confirmed. However, if any other events are to be added, they will be done so six to nine months before the start of the games.
Referring to the Canadian planning team, he said: “We’ve got a great team up there that are well-advanced in their planning. Like the US, I think we’ll have a stunning games.”
We chatted about how Invictus has taken over Walt Disney World. With Invictus signs nearly on every corner, the feeling of positive energy makes everything feel electric. Sir Keith also said that as in London, these Games aren’t just about the competitors, but their families too. “We recognize this is as much about the families as it is the competitors. They’ve been through trauma too. Bringing them to Disney is just about perfect for families.”
How are host countries chosen?
It’s become very difficult now since countries around the world have seen what we’re doing. Many would like to participate, but there’s a scale issue. If we invited every country in the world to participate, we’d be the same size as the Olympic Games. When we started, we decided we’d focus on those countries who fought together in Afghanistan and Iraq. We need to keep it contained. However, the great thing about these Invictus Games is that it’s not just about the competitors who are here. All around the world these images from television and the internet are being broadcast. It’s reaching hundreds of thousands of wounded people all over the world whether they’re here or not. We hope that what they’re seeing is inspiring them in their recovery.
Have their been any challenges you’ve faced bringing the Invictus games across the pond?
“I think when ever you export an idea from one country to another, we have to accept the US games will be different from the UK games and the canadian games will be different from the US games. Trying to find a balance where the experiences are of the same quality but accepting that the culture is different.”
Sir Keith provided an example by comparing the opening ceremonies in Orlando and in London in 2014. In London, they were more about celebrating the individual achievements of the competitors. The ceremonies of these current games focused more on the personal challenges and stories of injury and recovery of the athletes.
Were there any other challenges you faced in preparing for these games?
“The challenges I suppose, for the team, were for us to help our host, Ken Fisher and his team who organized the games. It was our job to help them from London. We faced challenges of a logistic nature in assisting the US team deliver these spectacular games. It’s come together very well.”
Has Prince Harry said what his vision for the future for the Games are?
We’ve created an extremely powerful brand in Invictus. Even if it’s not appropriate to continue the games in the longterm, I think there is a real feeling because we’ve created this Invictus community.
Sir Keith then discussed the symposium on invisible wounds of war which Royal Central has previously reported on. He said: “It demonstrated that if we can bring together the various experts from around the world, understand the trauma of mental illness and can help reduce the stigma, there are many lessons to be learned. I think Invictus stands for community that have served their country have come together to help each other in their recovery.”
How much does it cost to plan for an event on this scale? How are funds raised?
“t costs upwards of tens of millions of dollars to put on these games. The money comes from a combination of sponsors, foundations and donors.
Sir Keith also mentioned how in the UK and Canada, public funding was provided for the games. Each country has a different funding structure. In the US, fisher House is a huge sponsor of these games along with Jaguar Landrover, who also was a major sponsor for all the games.”
He explained how not all the funding is commercial. The President of the Walt Disney company said during the opening ceremony how important veterans are to Disney. “They have employed tens of thousands of vets that work at Disney. They think they’re great employees. And so getting behind the Invictus games is a logical thing for them to do. And it showcases their properties beautifully too.”
I can’t thank Sir Keith Mills enough for giving me some of his precious time. I must also thank the Press Operations team for these Invictus games for allowing me the opportunity to interview such a compelling and integral person behind the games.