Before a crowd gathered at City Hall Plaza on Wednesday, the Prince of Wales invoked the legacy of President John F. Kennedy’s “Moonshot speech” 60 years ago as the inspiration behind The Earthshot Prize, which will be awarded in Boston Friday to an array of environmental innovators.
“It was the 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,” Prince William said to an enthusiastic crowd gathered under a muddle of umbrellas on a rainy and windy afternoon.
He said the 35th president “laid down a challenge to American innovation and ingenuity,” and referenced a quote from Kennedy: “We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy but because it was hard.”
It was the first public engagement in Boston for the Prince and Princess of Wales, kicking off a whirlwind schedule of events leading up to Friday’s Earthshot awards. They were joined onstage by Mayor Michelle Wu and Governor-elect Maura Healey.
The prince said that in addition to the city’s ties to JFK, Boston was the obvious choice for the second annual Earthshot Prize ceremony “because of your universities, research centers, and vibrant start-up scene.”
William called Boston a global leader in “science, innovation, and boundless ambition.”
“Like President Kennedy, Catherine and I firmly believe that we all have it in ourselves to achieve great things, and that human beings have the ability to lead, innovate, and problem solve,” he said.
Mayor Wu invited the prince and princess to press a green button that illuminated the building in green light in honor of the event.
Before addressing the crowd, the prince and princess toured City Hall, where they met Mayor Wu’s two sons, Blaise and Cass. Catherine could be heard asking Wu’s sons about their studies. The prince and princess also had tea and cake with Governor-Elect Maura Healey and City Council President Ed Flynn. (US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy was supposed to be in attendance, but her travel plans were disrupted). During the tour, Mayor Wu pointed out black-and-white photos of Prince William’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, from her 1976 visit to Boston.
Prince William wore a single-vent navy suit, and Kate wore a Burberry dress, Alexander McQueen coat, and earrings by sustainable designer Shyla London, according to pooled coverage from reporters at City Hall.
Around 7 p.m., the prince and princess made their way to the TD Garden for the Celtics versus Miami game where they sat courtside.
The three-day royal trip marks the first time William and Kate have visited the United States since 2014. The royal couple was greeted at Logan by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
In an earlier statement Wednesday, William said the couple was “delighted” to be back in the US and that they were “extremely grateful to Governor Baker and The First Lady of Massachusetts for their warm welcome into Boston.”
“On this, our first overseas visit since the death of my grandmother, I would like to thank the people of Massachusetts and particularly of Boston for their many tributes paid to the late Queen,” William said. “She remembered her 1976 bicentennial visit with great fondness.”
During their time in Boston, the royal couple will also visit Roca, a youth development organization in Chelsea, and Greentown Labs in Somerville. Other stops include Kate dropping 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.
The visit will culminate Friday with William and Kate attending The Earthshot Prize, a star-studded awards ceremony at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway.
William recalled Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September, as being one of “life’s optimists,” and cited that shared trait as fueling his motivation to kick off the Earthshot Prize.
The royal couple stepped off the plane both dressed in navy suits. Kate wore a turtleneck tucked into belted navy pants and a sharp blazer. Hawk-eyed royal enthusiasts noted online that the Princess of Wales appeared to wear the sapphire and diamond earrings that belonged to Princess Diana.
The prince and princess flew into Boston on a commercial British Airways flight from Heathrow Airport. The royal family typically flies commercial, and British Airways is their preferred airline, according to reports.
It’s unclear where the royals sat aboard British Airways Flight 213. But during the seven hour flight, a passenger managed to snap photos of Kate and William that were shared on Twitter.
Yes, the British Royals do fly commercial. People on board British Airways Flight 213 from London-Heathrow to Boston saw Prince William and Princess Catherine next to them during the 7 hour flight. @wcvbrhondella is speaking with passengers on board. https://t.co/oWRnciL0YI pic.twitter.com/XyMY2UkMGn— WCVB-TV Boston (@WCVB) November 30, 2022
Royal watchers gathered in the rain at City Hall Plaza for the big event. Hundreds of umbrellas moved in the crowd, their owners jostling for a glimpse of the couple.
Rebecca Reubenstein, 26, said she was more than willing to brave the wet “just to catch a glimpse” of the royals.
“I was optimistic that the rain would keep the crowd size down,” she said, gesturing to the hundreds of people around her. “I guess we had no idea how to gauge our expectations.”
Tyler Washburn, 29, drove down to Boston from Orr’s Island, Maine, to show his support for the Prince and Princess of Wales, he said. He draped a Union Jack flag over the barrier between the public and the platform upon which the royal couple spoke.
”When I was in the eighth grade, my dad brought me down to Virginia to the state visit of the Queen in 2007 and that was such a memorable experience,” Washburn said. “I was able to wave it as a sign of support. Today in the rain, probably not as much waving, but I wanted to give a good New England welcome to the next generation of leaders.”
Patrick Snyder, 28, said he had been waiting out in the rain for nearly an hour before the royals were scheduled to speak. Instead of getting a view near the front, he stood huddled under his umbrella at the edge of the plaza.
“For how far away we are, this isn’t that bad,” he said. “I’m pleased. Just happy to be here.”
There will be heavy security in place for the royal visit, which will include both British law enforcement officials and the US State Department of Diplomatic Security Service. Wu told WBUR Monday that there’s been a lot of preparation ahead of William and Kate’s arrival, to ensure the visit goes smoothly.
“We’re really excited about the itinerary, the issues that will be discussed, the chance to walk and see some of the infrastructure up close, even leading up to the award ceremony later in the week,” Wu said.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed that President Biden “intends to greet the Prince and Princess of Wales when he is in Boston.”
The president is scheduled be in Boston for a fundraiser on Friday with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.
Globe Staff Emily Sweeney and Emma Platoff and Globe correspondents Bailey Allen and Camilo Fonseca contributed to this report.
Shannon Larson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98. Brittany Bowker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker.