The making of Prince William’s TED Talk

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Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge, speaks at the Countdown Global Launch on October 10, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

In a park close to Windsor Castle, to the West of London, is an old oak with a large protruding root. It’s sitting on that root that Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge, gives his first TED Talk as part of Countdown, TED’s climate initiative launched on October 10, 2020. 

Prince William’s climate engagement is known. Just two days before the Countdown Global Launch, he escalated his commitment by announcing the Earthshot Prize, a new global award for the environment to incentivize change and help repair our planet over the next ten years — a critical period for changing climate change. “The science is irrefutable. If we do not act in this decade, the damage that we have done will be irreversible and the effects felt not just by future generations, but by all of us alive today,” Prince William says in his thoughtful talk. 

A talk of this nature requires careful preparation. We asked Bruno Giussani, TED’s global curator and the person responsible for the Countdown program, how it came to be.

What are the core messages of The Duke’s TED Talk?

Bruno Giussani: It is an optimistic talk. Very clear on the nature and the scope of the climate challenge, but also optimistic that we can rise to the biggest challenges of our time. He takes inspiration from President John F. Kennedy’s Moonshot in the 1960s, which catalyzed, around the goal of putting a man on the Moon within a decade, the development of solutions and technologies that have then percolated into daily lives. Think, for instance, of breathing equipment, CAT scanners and solar panels. Prince William urges us to harness that same spirit of human ingenuity and purpose, and turn it, to use his words, towards “the most pressing challenge we have ever faced: repairing the planet.”

From Moonshot to Earthshot. Tell us about the Earthshot Prize.

BG: It is a compelling and ambitious vision. The Prize is centered around five clear goals — or Earthshots — underpinned by science-based targets to trigger and accelerate new ways of thinking as well as new technologies, policies and solutions for the planet. The five goals are: protect and restore nature; clean our air; revive the oceans; build a waste-free world; and fix our climate. Starting next year and until 2030, the Prize will be awarded every year to five winners, one per Earthshot. The awards are each worth £1 million GBP (about $1.3 million USD). 

And the Earthshot Prize is a strategic partner of Countdown.

BG: Yes, the two initiatives are quite complementary, both global in nature, built on a collaborative approach and rooted in science. We look forward to continuing the collaboration with Prince William and The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. 

How does one go about inviting Prince William to give a TED Talk?

BG: We had been thinking about inviting Prince William for a while, we were just waiting for the right opportunity. When a member of the TED community alerted us about the work The Duke’s team is doing on the Earthshot Prize and how it mapped onto the aims of Countdown, we felt that the moment had come. We engaged preliminary discussions with his brilliant team, which rapidly led to his decision to accept the invitation.

Why do you think he agreed to doing this talk?

BG: He is very focused right now on the climate and ecological emergency. The Earthshot Prize has a real chance to contribute to accelerating solutions, and it could change the narrative to one of excitement and opportunity. In the talk, Prince William was able to set out his vision of how we can bring a sense of optimism and hope to meet the challenge of this moment. In his own words: “I’m determined to both start and end this decade as an optimist”.

Did Prince William write his own talk?

BG: Like every person in his position, The Duke has collaborators helping prepare his public speeches. This was no different. We discussed ideas, drafts and framing, and we had a very productive discussion with him — via videoconference of course. At the end, obviously, he decided what he wanted to keep in the talk and what not. If you watch it, you will immediately appreciate the genuine and deeply felt nature of the message he’s conveying from under that old oak.  

What is The Duke of Cambridge like?

BG: Prince William is remarkably humble and approachable for someone who has spent his whole life in the public eye. His constant focus on how to get things done gives the strong impression of someone who is very determined to make an impact on the world and will use all resources he has available to him to do it. He asks good questions and listens carefully to the answers. 

Who filmed the talk?

BG: You are right to point that out: the talk is filmed in an intensely simple — a man under a tree — yet very powerful way. It was filmed by great British documentary producer, Alastair Fothergill. Among other titles to his credit, he was the series producer of world-famous nature documentaries such as The Blue Planet and Planet Earth.