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Boston welcomes Prince and Princess of Wales for Earthshot awards, in a showcase for Michelle Wu’s climate agenda

Prince and Princess of Wales sit courtside at Boston Celtics game
Prince William and Kate planned to leave the Celtics game early. But they were just having too much fun to call it a night.

On their first trip to the United States in nearly a decade, the Prince and Princess of Wales were greeted by cold rain and a warm crowd as they arrived in Boston on Wednesday for a three-day visit culminating with an international environmental awards ceremony Friday evening.

Thousands waited on a blustery and wet City Hall Plaza, taking shelter under umbrellas and waving British flags, to catch a glimpse of William and Kate on the first royal visit to the city since Queen Elizabeth II came in 1976. The couple will host the second annual Earthshot event, awarding five winners $1.2 million each for their leadership on combating the climate crisis.

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The British royals chose to host the event in Boston not only to honor the legacy of President John F. Kennedy, whose famous call for a “moonshot” was the inspiration for the new prize, but also due to the nation-leading efforts here to combat climate change.

Governor-Elect Maura Healey (left) and Prince William and Princess Catherine looked on as the Celtics Marcus Smart gestured in front of them on the court. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“It was that moonshot speech that inspired me to launch the Earthshot Prize with the aim of doing the same for climate change as President Kennedy did for the space race. And where better to hold this year’s awards ceremony than in President Kennedy’s hometown, in partnership with his daughter and the foundation that continues his legacy,” William told the crowd. “Boston was also the obvious choice because your universities, research centers, and vibrant startup scene make you a global leader in science, innovation, and boundless ambition.”

The trip marks an important messaging opportunity for William and Kate, who have not been to the United States since 2014. It also brings together, in Mayor Michelle Wu, William, and Kate, a group of millennial leaders united in their focus on climate issues and their efforts to modernize centuries-old institutions notorious for clinging to tradition. For Wu, this week offers another prominent appearance on the international stage, as well as a high-profile acknowledgement of her Green New Deal agenda.

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The royal couple touched down at Logan Airport on a British Airways commercial flight jet in the afternoon, where they were greeted by Governor Charlie Baker and his wife, Lauren. Other stops on their agenda included a Celtics game Wednesday evening, visits to Roca, a youth development organization in Chelsea, and Greentown Labs in Somerville. Kate will drop by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, while William is scheduled to take a tour of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester on Friday.

Before the public speeches on City Hall Plaza, William and Kate met privately with Wu, and also spoke with Governor-elect Maura Healey and City Council President Ed Flynn.

Britain's Prince William pointed to a 1970's photograph of Queen Elizabeth and then-Boston Mayor Kevin White with touring Boston City Hall with Catherine, Princess of Wales, and Mayor Michelle Wu and her family.Charles Krupa/POOL

During a brief meeting in Wu’s fifth floor office, in front of the picture window overlooking Faneuil Hall, the royals spoke with the mayor, her husband, and their two sons, 7-year-old Blaise and 5-year-old Cass, discussing environmental priorities and the city’s composting program, which the Wu family participates in.

Later, outside on the plaza, as rain poured in sheets off the white tent covering her and the other officials, Wu thanked “everyone who came out here to make sure that our honored guests could get a very special welcome, even as Mother Nature is determined to make the impacts of climate well-known and visible today.”

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“We are thrilled to have the great honor of hosting this year’s Earthshot awards, to advance [Kennedy’s] galvanizing commitment to the urgent action necessary to solve climate change and repair our planet,” Wu said. “Boston is fundamentally a city of problem solvers. . . . And for nearly 400 years, we’ve led the way on the biggest challenges of our time.”

Boston welcomes Royals on City Hall Plaza
Prince William and Kate joined Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Attorney General and Governor-elect Maura Healey at a welcome event at Boston City Hall Plaza.

The whirlwind push to bring Earthshot to Boston — which involved a hand-delivered letter and a pitch over lunch from former mayor Martin J. Walsh — started almost as soon as the prize itself was launched in 2020. Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of John F. Kennedy and the US ambassador to Australia, that year offered help and support in amplifying the prize’s goal and message. Then, last December, Kennedy wrote to William directly, telling him the awards ceremony belonged in Boston this year because it holds the same ideals as her father did.

“Next year is the 60th anniversary of my father’s moonshot speech, and it would mean so much to celebrate that anniversary with the winners of The Earthshot Prize,” Kennedy wrote in the letter.

Britain's Prince William, Prince of Wales, and Britain's Catherine, Princess of Wales, attended an event to formally kick off Earthshot celebrations at City Hall Plaza in Boston.ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

With more than one US city in contention to host the event, Boston worked to court the British officials in charge of selection. On a visit one Thursday in early March, JFK Library and Foundation executive director Rachel Flor took a representative from the Royal Foundation on a tour of attractions in the Boston area, with stops to meet climate leaders at MIT, Stone Living Lab, and Greentown Labs, as well as a tour of the JFK Library. The itinerary also included lunch at Bowery Bar in Dorchester’s Lower Mills with Walsh and two former City Hall officials, and then a dinner at Bondo at the ‘Quin House.

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Local leaders were trying to sell Earthshot officials both on the city’s work on climate and the symbolic resonance of Kennedy’s moonshot.

“It was important to the Earthshot Prize not only to have that history, but that the city itself was an example of that spirit,” Flor said in an interview this week. “Clearly, they left impressed with what they saw.”

It didn’t take long for prize officials to settle on Boston. In May, British Consul-General Peter Abbott hand-delivered a letter signed by Prince William to Wu at City Hall.

Britain's Prince William, Prince of Wales, and Catherine, Princess of Wales, arrived at Boston Logan International Airport in Boston.JOHN TLUMACKI/Globe staff

“We undertook a fact-finding mission earlier this year, visiting Boston, and believe there is a strong and compelling story to tell of the City’s mission to become truly environmentally friendly,” William wrote in the letter. “It is the Prize’s ambition that every Bostonian knows the Winners of the Earthshot Prize 2022 will be announced in their city, and that those around the US, and indeed world, see Boston as a leading City which is embracing a more sustainable and green agenda.”

Preparations started immediately, with Tiffany Chu, Wu’s chief of staff, forming an internal group to gear up for the event. City officials had input into the royals’ itinerary, and said they worked to highlight the efforts of local climate leaders and young people in the city. William and Wu spoke over video chat in October to prepare for the event and discuss Boston’s work on climate.

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By the time the royals arrived in Boston, Chu’s cohort of five had ballooned to about 50 people working on preparations, sprawling efforts including everything from street beautification to last-minute work to prepare City Hall Plaza to host large crowds despite the wind and rain.

Outside on Wednesday, spectators said the event had been worth braving the weather.

Nineteen-year-old Jane Clements, a “big fan” of the monarch who keeps a stack of royal magazines in her room and enjoys watching “The Crown,” said the best part about the visit was the message the Brits had come to deliver, though she wished there had been more specificity.

”They’re informing more people here about the mission of their work, bringing more awareness about climate change.” she said. “Tonight, they set a good tone.”

Eric Jaukkuri, 31, said it was encouraging to hear a strong stand for climate action — especially from “the future of the royal family.”

”That was so cool to see them taking a stand and speaking out for what’s important,” he said.

Brittany Bowker and Shannon Larson of the Globe staff and correspondent Camilo Fonseca contributed to this report.


Emma Platoff can be reached at emma.platoff@globe.com. Follow her @emmaplatoff.