George Mpanga is among only a handful of voices to be heard on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s widely publicised first podcast, which has been issued following the royal couple’s deal with Spotify.
For the first episode of Archewell Audio, Megan explains, she and Prince Harry decided to enlist “a few friends and a lot of other folks” who “we admire, and get their thoughts on what they learned from 2020”. George (OE 2002-2009), whose relationship with Prince Harry stems from his long-standing role as an ambassador for one of the prince’s charitable foundations, joined singer Sir Elton John, American politician Stacey Abrams, presenter James Corden, and tennis player Naomi Osaka in making his contribution.
The invitation from Harry and Meghan capped a momentous year in which George the Poet has rarely been far from the headlines: he has frequently been called upon to comment and reflect on both the Covid-19 crisis and the Black Lives Matter protests.
In the past few days, he also had a big announcement of his own to make: through his Instagram account, George revealed that he had become engaged to Sandra Makumbi, who is Head of Operations at his company, George the Poet Limited. “I proposed to my best friend and she said YES!” he wrote. “Glory to God for this fairy-tale engagement… you’ve made me laugh every day since school, you’ve always uplifted and protected me, now all I want to do is take care of you for the rest of my life.”
During his recording for the royals’ podcast made earlier in the month, George, in fact, revealed his plans to get engaged – “I would love to give a shout-out to my beautiful fiancée, Sandra” – and was duly congratulated by both the Sussexes.
In line with the royal couple’s brief, George reflected on 2020. “This year to cope with all the change, I just took more pride in the little things – I had a deeper appreciation for going out for a walk, being able to see my loved ones, and thinking about these things consciously really opened my eyes to what was right in front of me.
“One of the hardest moments for me this year was when a loved one, who was pregnant at the time, was hospitalised with Covid and forced into an early delivery. Fortunately, she made it, the baby made it too; they are now happy and healthy, but that was quite a scary moment.”
He recalled the joy of a family birthday: “My little brother turned 23 this year. That was one of those moments: we were all on the call, six of us kids and that was one of the first times when we all got to really ‘touch base’ and it was just fun…it was like being in the room as kids again, even though we’re in different rooms as grown-ups now. That was beautiful.”
George’s family have often been uppermost in his mind in his public appearances during the year. In April, when the UK was in the grip of the first coronavirus lockdown, he paid tribute to NHS workers “like my mum” in the short poem which he performed at the opening of BBC One’s coverage of the international One World: Together at Home concert.
The following month, his acclaimed podcast, Have You Heard George’s podcast?, was nominated for, and subsequently won, a Peabody Award – one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious media prizes. His was the first British podcast ever to receive a nomination for a Peabody Award.
In June, with the Black Lives Matter protests at their height, George was repeatedly sought out for his views by the media, appearing as a panellist on BBC One’s Question Time , an interviewee on the corporation’s Newsnight and as a guest at the online MOBO awards, to name only three examples.
His links with Prince Harry date back some years. The prince’s Sentebale charity supports the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people affected by HIV in Lesotho and Botswana. George had seen at close-hand Harry’s warmth and compassion in meeting the children helped by Sentebale and became an ambassador for the charity in 2015.
When the royal engagement was announced, George was one of the commentators interviewed by the BBC for an insider’s perspective. He was then chosen by the BBC to perform his poem , The Beauty of Union, to introduce coverage of the 2018 wedding of Harry and Meghan and was therefore seen by a global TV audience numbering hundreds of millions.