It was the most unlikely alliance.
Prince Harry had the pick of the world’s best polo ponies. Sasha Walpole’s parents scrimped to buy her a naughty dapple grey called Beano and made her a horse box from an old British Telecom Luton van.
Their shared world was a place of tack rooms and jodhpurs, sunny polo fields and starlit hunt balls, far less cognisant of money and status than you might think. In it, their teenage friendship flourished.
Harry would startle Sasha’s mother by phoning the landline in the family’s three-bedroom semi. He would text Sasha, too, sending plans to meet up and signing himself “H” — now his wife Meghan’s favourite term of endearment for him.
The pair would dance in the pub to local band Nobody’s Business while Sasha drank peach schnapps or Smirnoff Ice. Harry enjoyed Sol lager with a lime wedge stuck in the neck of the bottle.
“He was outgoing, funny, the absolute life and soul,” she says.
“Just a normal lad, cheeky, one of us. If he hadn’t had his title, you would never have known there was anything different about him, that he was a Prince.”
Together, they larked on the touchline at polo matches, went to house parties and played silly drinking games such as Spin The Bottle, where you have to kiss the person the bottleneck points to when it finishes spinning.
There were lock-ins and the occasional coveted invitation to Club H, the chill-out room the future King Charles had set aside for William and Harry in the basement of his Gloucestershire home, Highgrove.
“Beanbags, a dart board, more music,” she remembers of her nights in the Princes’ private playground.
Harry and Sasha’s friendship would end suddenly after it spilled over into an alfresco sexual encounter. But, she says, life was always going to take them in different directions as the summer of 2001 came to a close.
The Prince would return to Eton to do A-levels in art and geography, attend Sandhurst, join the Army and become a working royal. Sasha would become a digger driver, excavating footings for patios, extensions and driveways.
“I don’t think people will be amazed about me and Harry having sex in a field,” she says bluntly, “but they are usually astonished by a woman driving a digger.”
Harry was underage but we all knew that, so a fake ID would not have worked!
She has never appeared on a list of Harry’s romances and, when he revealed the extraordinary story of their liaison, without naming her, she didn’t feature as a possibility as speculation about the woman’s identity raged.
It says much about the happily married mother-of-two — all of it good — that she has guarded their secret for so many years.
And it says much about the teenage Harry — also good — that he initiated a two-and-a-half-year friendship with a girl from outside the so-called Glosse Posse of wealthy, blue-blooded youngsters who made up his social circle in rural Gloucestershire.
Sasha’s mum Lyn, 65, was a hotel cleaner and her dad Tony, 71, did groundworks.
She had left school at 15 and was working in what she calls “a knicker factory”, which made elastic for bras and underpants, when they became intimate. Her car was a brown and blue Austin Metro complete with pink fluffy dice dangling from the rear-view mirror.
“Everyone was equal in the world of horses,” she said.
“Our group was a very mixed bunch of polo players, grooms, hunt staff and racing people, a cosmopolitan crowd. It didn’t matter if you were a groom, a royal or a rider. There was no judgment.
“Harry didn’t act like a Prince, there wasn’t any snobbery. Honestly, we were just two mates who talked horses.”
She first encountered the royal family when she was hired as an assistant groom at Highgrove, a 15-minute drive from her home in the village of Acton Turville, Gloucestershire. Just 17, she was the youngest person working in the stables. It was September 1999 and she stayed until April 2001.
Both William and Harry were regular visitors to Highgrove.
Outside of work, Sasha first met William at a comedy night starring the late Cornish comedian Jethro at the Beaufort Hunt Kennels. She subsequently made friends with Harry at one of his favourite pubs, The Rattlebone Inn, in the nearby Wiltshire village of Sherston.
The first time the Prince rang her on the white push-button landline phone wired into the wall at the bottom of the stairs, it was Lyn who answered.
“Mum said, ‘Harry’s on the phone.’ Afterwards she asked, ‘Was that HARRY?’ I said, ‘Yes!’ and I remember her saying, ‘Oh, how funny.’ “
Soon though, it was such a regular occurrence, she’d be chivvied to hang up on the royal because other people needed to use the phone.
What did they talk about?
“Bits and bobs, nothing important, mates’ banter, horse talk, making plans mostly,” says Sasha.
The soundtrack to their lives was eclectic: country, rock and rap, from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Vanilla Ice. Many nights were spent in The Rattlebone where Nobody’s Business would fill the floor with crowd-pleasers once or twice a month.
“Everyone would pile in, have a shimmy, Harry and William too. It was a small space, always a bit of a squash,” she recalls.
Indeed, she has such fond memories of the cover band that she hired them to play at her wedding in 2016.
Despite being under the legal drinking age, Harry would enjoy bottles of Sol. Sasha says: “We’d all buy each other drinks but I can’t ever remember them (the Princes) going up to the bar.
“Harry was underage but we all knew that, so a fake ID would not have worked!”
In Spare, Harry writes: “We all got on well, and sometimes a bit more than well. There was plenty of innocent snogging, which went hand in hand with the not-so-innocent drinking. Rum and coke, or vodka, usually in tumblers, with liberal splashes of Red Bull. We were often tipsy, and sometimes smashed.”
Sasha remembers the snogging on one night in particular — a tipsy game of Spin The Bottle at The Vine Tree in the village of Norton which would later be the scene of their sexual encounter.
“Harry kissed a couple of people but I avoided it – it was a bit awkward as I think he quite liked one of my friends, Emma (Lippiatt). He would be a bit more flirty with her, you could just sense it.”
This schoolboy crush led to speculation the pair were involved when Harry was pictured with Emma, Sasha and another friend, Lizzie Ward, at the polo in June 2001. The shots show Lizzie sitting atop her blue Volkswagen Golf while Harry indulges in what looks like flirty horseplay with Emma as Sasha looks on. Now, however, Sasha reveals the reality of those supposed “kiss” pictures for the first time.
“Emma was eating a Cornish pasty and Harry was trying to get a bite of it. She was saying ‘No! No.’
“He took a bite and went to pretend to give her a kiss on the cheek, but then he licked the side of her face instead, with pasty on his tongue. There was a news report at the time where they said I looked upset about Harry kissing Emma. Actually what I’m thinking is ‘Eurgh. Harry, that is disgusting.’ He was being such a boy.”
After the pictures were published, the media descended on Sasha’s home but she refused to talk.
This was typical of the local loyalty which enabled both William and Harry to live relatively free lives at Highgrove, partying hard in the Rattlebone, The Vine Tree and The Cat And Custard Pot in the neighbouring village of Shipton Moyne.
There was also Club H, an old bomb shelter accessed through a heavy white door, down a steep flight of stone steps and past a wine cellar and storerooms where the future King kept paintings, polo gear, and absurd unwanted gifts from foreign governments.
In Spare, Harry wrote: “Beyond that final storeroom were two green doors with little brass handles, and on the other side of those was Club H. It was windowless, but the brick walls, painted bone white, kept it from feeling claustrophobic…. We also put in a huge stereo system. It didn’t sound great, but it was loud.
“In a corner stood a drinks trolley, well stocked, thanks to creative borrowing, so there was always a faint aroma of beer and other booze. But thanks to a big vent in good working order, there was also the smell of flowers. Fresh air from Pa’s gardens was pumped in constantly…
“Willy (Harry’s brother) and I would start a typical weekend evening by sneaking into a nearby pub, where we’d have a few drinks, a few pints of snakebite, then round up a group of mates and bring them back to Club H.”
It was the hottest ticket in Gloucestershire. “I don’t think anyone socialises as much now as we used to,” admits Sasha.
“There was no social media. If you wanted to interact you actually had to make a plan and go out. We all had basic mobile phones for texting. It was too expensive to call! I guess we’d have a WhatsApp group going these days.”
She had Harry’s number saved under the letter “H” as a simple security measure but in truth there wasn’t much need. Both Princes had ever-present security teams, “older guys”, says Sasha, who sat discreetly in pub corners or outside in Range Rovers or Land Rovers.
But she reveals: “They trusted our group of friends and let the Princes get on with whatever, within reason. There was an expectation that they could go out without having bother or hassle, surrounded by like-minded horsey people.”
This was the era when Prince Charles was rebuilding his public image following the War of the Waleses and the tragedy of Diana’s death in August 1997. His workload was immense, he was single parenting and trying to make his beloved Camilla a “non-negotiable” part of his life.
It is well known now that, with their father’s gaze elsewhere, the young Princes did not always behave impeccably, indulging in rowdy parties, big drinking sessions and, for Harry, his first taste of illegal drugs. Though, he says in Spare, never in Club H.
Sasha maintains that she knew nothing of drug-taking, although she often saw Harry drunk. “But not really drunk, not falling over.”
However, he was a smoker, puffing away on Marlboro Lights.
It was because Harry preferred to smoke out of sight of his bodyguards that the pair ended up hiding in a field on the now notorious night they had sex.
The act ended their friendship but Sasha is not bitter. She has too many happy memories of those years — William telling Harry in a brotherly fashion when it was time to go; Guy Pelly, the Princes’ court jester, earning his reputation as “the wilder one of the bunch”; Harry stealing a pink tinsel wig from her head at a breast cancer fundraising event in The Vine Tree and putting it on his own…
Her life was about to change anyway. In spring 2001, after the hunting season had ended and with it her seasonal work at Highgrove, Sasha took a stop-gap quality control job in the local knicker elastic factory, Stretchline. She was preparing to leave home, having applied for a groom’s job in the Sultan of Brunei’s stables in the Home Counties.
Her plans were sunk by the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease which saw more than six million animals slaughtered in the UK.
“Everything got grounded,” she says.
“Horses couldn’t leave their yards, my new job was cancelled, and it had a knock-on effect socially too — there were no horsey events.”
Sasha started mixing with a different set of friends whose interest lay in motorsports, not horses, and she met and fell in love with her husband, Ian, now 44 and a professional drift racer. They settled an hour away in Wiltshire’s Wylye Valley and have two daughters aged five and three.
She quit the horsey world in which she had forged her friendship with Harry and decided to follow in her father’s tracks and become a digger driver.
“Ian bought me my first digger for my birthday,” she says.
“Now I drive a one-ton that goes through doorways and a three-ton too. Plus I have two dumpers.”
She hasn’t paid Harry much attention in recent years. She knew he was writing a memoir, but was blindsided to find herself included in it. Does she miss those youthful years he has brought back to life on its pages?
Not at all, she says with a smile. “I like being in this world now, digging holes.”
https://www.perthnow.com.au/news/prince-harry/the-inside-story-of-how-prince-harry-met-sasha-walpole-the-older-woman-who-went-on-to-take-his-virginity-c-9661299 The inside story of how Prince Harry met Sasha Walpole, the older woman who went on to take his virginity