Meghan Markle dazzles in Oscar de la Renta at Sydney awards ceremony

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The Duchess of Sussex was today given a toy wombat for the royal baby she is due to have with her husband Prince Harry next spring as they attended a glamorous awards ceremony in Sydney.

Meghan, who was wearing an exquisite Oscar de la Renta cocktail dress worth £10,000, clutched the toy as the couple left the ballroom after attending the Australian Geographic Society gala awards at the Shanghai-La hotel. 

Ironically, Prince William was nicknamed ‘wombat’ by his mother Princess Diana as a child. Meghan was also given a toy ‘numbat’, a small long-trailed marsupial that is native to Western Australia. 

Both Meghan and Harry presented awards at the ceremony, just hours after they faced a flight drama when their plane aborted its landing. Their Qantas charter flight from Tonga, a Boeing 737, pulled up from the runway at Sydney Airport seconds before touching down.

Its pilot, Nigel Rosser, explained over the tannoy system that another plane on the runway had been ‘slow to roll’ and the two aircraft were too close. He explained the decision was made to ‘abort the landing’.  

Earlier, the pregnant Duchess of Sussex dazzled in a green and white cotton designer dress as she and her husband met with Tonga’s Prime Minister and his deputy in the latest stage of their marathon 16-day royal tour. 

Today, the Queen was honoured at the Australian Geographic Society event with a special award for conservation for her initiative to highlight the plight of the world’s forests.

The award, for her ‘outstanding contribution’ to global conservation was accepted on her behalf by the Duke of Sussex, and recognises the impact of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, an initiative launched in 2015.

The Duke of Sussex gave an impassioned speech after picking up the award, in which he warned there ‘cannot be any more excuses’ when it comes to protecting the planet. 

Harry warned: ‘We cannot continue to pollute the oceans with plastics and other wastes. We cannot continue to breathe polluted air while cutting down our forests or without reducing emissions.

‘We cannot stand by and let our wildlife disappear from the earth and our fish from the seas. I think we can agree tonight that there cannot be any more excuses.

‘Thanks to the tireless efforts of everyone in this room and the environmentalists and conservationists of the past, we are ready to translate our awareness into action. It is going to take every single one of us to stop the clock on the destruction of our planet, and time is not on our side. 

‘The standard we walk past is the standard we accept. It’s time to take personal responsibility and realise what a privilege it is for us to live alongside nature. Thank you for your dedication to our environment, our planet, our future, our Mother Nature.’

Talking about the award, Chrissie Goldrick, editor in chief of Australian Geographic, said that the Queen had offered ‘vital leadership’ to a project that ‘aims to tackle deforestation on a global scale’.

After its launch, she said, ‘the Queen quickly lent her enthusiasm and her support to this initiative. It is an ambitious initiative’.

He added: ‘It seeks to offer greater protection to the world’s native forests, and seeks to regenerate those that have degraded or pulled down. So far 42 countries of the 53 that comprise the modern Commonwealth have added over 90 projects to the canopy in a very short time. It is an idea that has really taken off.’

She also described how Harry was a member of the South Pole club. ‘That is usually quite an exclusive club, except when you are at an Australian Geographic Society event. There are lots of people who have been to the South Pole!’

She described him as ‘a passionately committed conservationist’ and said that while in Australia he had made ‘the most of your popularity, your influence and your undoubted charisma to draw attention to a range of issues close to your own heart’. 

She added: ‘When people like Your Royal Highnesses, held in such affection by so many, when you speak, people listen… You can change hearts and minds.’

The Duke and Duchess, who arrived late at the ceremony because of the delayed flight from Tonga, were there to present two awards.

The duke presented the award for Young Adventurer of the Year to Jade Hameister. Now 17, she skied to the North Pole aged 14, became the youngest woman to cross Greenland a year later, and this year completed a 37-day journey to the South Pole. She is the youngest person to complete the polar hat-trick.

The duchess presented the award for Young Conservationist of the Year to Sophia Skarparis. Aged 15, she started a petition this year to ban plastic bags in New South Wales, which led to a meeting with the state premier and her petition being debated in the NSW Parliament this week.

Sophia Skarparis, 15, who won the award for Young Conservationist of the Year, spoke to the couple afterwards.

She said: ‘They congratulated me for the award and said how inspiring it was to see the next generation taking action. 

‘Harry, in particular, was incredible passionate about our work. Meghan told us to keep up the great work. She said she was really inspired by hearing what we had achieved. ‘

Editor in Chief of Australian Geographic, Chrissie Goldrick, said: ‘My head’s still in a bit of a spin. It’s incredible that he came to our event. It was a dream of ours to get him here.

‘This [the environment]runs in the family. Not only we have got Prince Harry out here, speaking on behalf of the environment in a powerful way, he’s not pulling any punches on his messages, but we also have Prince Charles, a long term environmentalist from back in the 1970s and now we have the Queen who is behind the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy project in a major way. 

‘You have got the three generations of that family stepping up for the environment. 

‘They really do have a power to help people focus. I can believe we are still arguing about climate change. 

‘So when you get people like that ho are not politicians or states people or scientists out there giving that message then people step up and take notice. ‘

Mrs Goldrick, who was born in Manchester, added: ‘Harry said he really liked being among the company here tonight because he said this was a room full of people who are trying to change the world. ‘ 

Earlier, the charter jet carrying Harry and Meghan back to Australia aborted the landing upon approach at Sydney Airport. 

Seconds from touchdown, the Qantas charter flight, a Boeing 737, pulled up from the runway at Sydney Airport.

Its pilot, Nigel Rosser, explained over the tannoy system that another plane on the runway had been ‘slow to roll’ and the two aircraft were too close.

He explained the decision was made to ‘abort the landing’. The aircraft eventually touched down successfully after circling the city for a second time.

Captain Rosser said: ‘There was an aircraft on the runway that was a little bit slow to roll, unfortunately hadn’t cleared the runway. We were too close, so the decision was made to abort the landing. It was what we call a missed approach .’ 

Today, the pregnant Duchess of Sussex dazzled in a green and white cotton designer dress as she and her husband met with Tonga’s Prime Minister and his deputy in the latest stage of their marathon 16-day royal tour. 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle dropped by the St George Government Buildings in the country’s capital Nuku’alofa for an early morning call on Akilisi Pohiva, deputy Semisi Lafu Kioa Sika and the cabinet.

The mother-to-be was wearing a $1,595 (£881/US$1,122) striped print dress by Australian-born fashion designer Martin Grant, brushing off the minor fashion faux pas she made when she arrived in Tonga a day earlier in a striking red dress.

The Duchess, 37, still had the label hanging from her Self Portrait dress as she walked along a red carpet to the sounds of local singers wearing grass skirts at Fua’amotu Airport in Nuku’alofa on Thursday. 

The couple were also met by more than 50 civil servants wearing red and black shirts and traditional outfits as they entered the St George Government Buildings for the meeting, most of which was held in private.

One child held a sign saying ‘free hugs’ which drew a smile from Meghan after she spotted it.

The couple then took the lift to meet the Prime Minister, with Prince Harry asking ‘Did you enjoy last night? The entertainment was very good’. 

He was referring to a display of traditional Tongan entertainment after a formal dinner with King Tupou VI.

The Duke and Duchess were later garlanded with necklaces made from Fa and Puatonga flowers as they arrived at the Fa’onelua Centre to celebrate Tongan youth and culture.

The royals each sat on throne-like chairs in the middle of the room, where they were presented with the necklaces, before Princess Angelika gave a speech after a prayer was read. 

The princess described Prince Harry and Meghan as ‘an inspiration to the youth of the Commonwealth’ as they were ‘shining a light on youth empowerment’.

‘Your visit today draws attention to the fundamentals of today’s youth, youth leadership, youth empowerment and addressing the social, economic and environmental challenges of our region,’ she said.       

She added the royal couple’s visit to the South Pacific – what Captain James Cook had described as the ‘Friendly Islands’ – was inspiring the Tongan youth to be ‘the best they can be’ and noted the tour was the ‘ultimate diplomacy’.

The Queen’s tour of Tonga in 1953 had been the ‘historical highlight’ in relations between Tonga and Britain, the princess added in her speech. 

Prince Harry and Meghan also joined with the princess and Prince Ata in being shown locally-made products, which included traditional mats and ‘tapa’ cloth and carvings and bracelets made from whale bone and wood.

The couple were each presented with a Taovala – an outfit added onto clothing – outside the centre, which they proudly wore. The Taovala signifies Tongan respect to higher ranks.

The couple then met with local traders and craftsmen, with Prince Harry appearing to do a little dance as the Masani group of singers and dancers performed island music and songs.

The Duke and Duchess were also handed a picture of the Royal Tongan Motif, Fata O Tu’i Tongan. ‘They said they will put it in their home,’ art artisan Uili Lousi said. 

The Duchess then made a quick dress change as she and her husband continued their official royal engagements in Tonga.

Meghan slipped into a blue $595 (£326/US$418) Veronica Beard dress as the pair attended the dedication of two forest areas to The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy at Tupou College.

‘My wife and I are so pleased to be here today to mark the dedication of not one but two forest areas to The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy initiative, which started in 2015 in honour of my grandmother’s lifetime of service to the Commonwealth,’ Prince Harry said in a speech at the college. 

‘Tonga is leading by example and understands deeply the impact of environmental changes because they directly affect these islands. Planting trees and conserving forests helps us in so many ways. 

‘It is a simple but effective way to restore and repair our environment, clean the air, protect habitat and enhance our health and wellbeing.’

The Duchess of Sussex was left in stitches as she and her husband were serenaded with a song about mosquitoes at the college.

The Tupou College Boys’ choir sung a comedy riff complete with flying actions and buzzing noises to welcome the couple to the forest. 

The aim of the song was to frighten off any mosquitoes that might be buzzing around. 

Before they left Tonga, the Duke and Duchess were driven to the Royal Palace for an audience with King Tupou VI and his wife Queen Nanasipau’u.

The couple entered the wooden, whitewashed palace and spent around 15 minutes inside with Tonga’s royals.

Prince Harry had changed into a suit following his excursion to the rainforest but Meghan was still in her blue Veronica Beard shirt dress.

The Duke and Duchess signed a visitor’s book before they left and then posed outside with the King and Queen for photographers.

They also shook hands with the Tongan ruler and his wife, Meghan, noticeably curtsying to the Queen. 

Tomorrow, the royals will watch the Invictus Games wheelchair basketball final and then the closing ceremony of the Games which were started by Prince Harry.

Tonga was the third country the royals have visited on their first tour as a married couple, after travelling to Australia and Fiji.  

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