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Prince Harry praises ‘fantastic’ Royal Navy diving monument

The charity hopes to install a sculpture in Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth.

Prince Harry lauded as “fantastic” a planned monument to recognise Royal Navy diving and mine disposal teams.

The prince, in his role as Commodore-in-Chief, Small Ships and Diving, met volunteers from the Project Vernon charity campaign at Trinity House, in central London.

The charity hopes to install a sculpture in Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth, where the diving and mine warfare training site HMS Vernon was once based, and has raised more than two-thirds of its £325,000 target.

Harry, dressed in black tie with four medals pinned to his left lapel, was greeted at the door by retired Royal Navy Commander David Sandiford, an ex-superintendent of diving who is now project manager for the charity.

As he entered, he joked: “It’s warm in here. Is it even hotter upstairs?”

While speaking to some of the around 110 guests in a small room, decorated with paintings of great warships and commanders, Harry told one man: “I really hope it goes well.”

He was shown a scaled-down model of the bronze and steel sculpture of a Navy diver and a mine and said: “That’s fantastic.”

The prince met Dr John Bevan, who worked in a civilian role at the Royal Navy Scientific Service and is now one of the trustees of Project Vernon.

Dr Bevan, from Gosport, said meeting Harry was “absolutely superb”.

“I loved his enthusiasm and his general interest,” he said.

“He asked if I’m still diving. I am just about, when the water’s warm and clear.”

Harry was also introduced to the sculptor, Australian Les Johnson, and asked him: “You really think you can make a bigger version of this?”

Mr Johnson, a fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, said the prince was “impressed” with his design.

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Prince Harry was impressed with the design of the sculpture (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“He was quite amazed,” Mr Johnson said. “He was looking forward to seeing it full-size.

“I explained to him it’s going to be one-and-a-half times life-size.

“The diver will be 9ft long, and the mine 7ft tall, and he was quite surprised.”

The statue of the Navy diver placing an explosive on a mine will sit on top of a platform in water and will be the first to commemorate HMS Vernon’s history and the work of its present and past personnel, of which 23 won the UK’s second-highest honour for gallantry, the George Cross.

The reception took place before a charity dinner and auction in aid of Project Vernon, and to mark the 35th anniversary of the 1982 Falklands War.

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