Abercrombie & Kent; Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty

"That passion has developed into leadership," Safari author Geoffrey Kent, a close royal family friend, tells PEOPLE

August 19, 2015 04:30 PM

Africa has long been a place of deep meaning for the royal family: In 1952, a then-25-year-old Princess Elizabeth was on safari in Kenya when she learned that her father, King George VI, had died – thus beginning her record-breaking reign. In 2010, Prince William proposed to his then-girlfriend, Kate Middleton, in Kenya. And Prince Harry is in Africa right now working to further conservation efforts.

“This place will hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my life,” William said in a Sky1 documentary while visiting Botswana before his engagement. “Africa’s the perfect place to come. The locals haven’t a clue who I am, and I love that . . . Africa is my second home.”

Now the travel-industry leader who helped William and Harry forge some of their earliest memories of Africa is sharing his remembrances. In his new book, Safari: A Memoir of a Worldwide Travel Pioneer, Geoffrey Kent revisits his journeys with everyone from the young princes to Bill Gates to Ted Turner, each of whom has been profoundly shaped by the continent.

“I always say that a visit to Africa will change your life,” says Kent, 73, the CEO of Abercrombie & Kent, an international luxury travel company.

The son of English parents who settled in Africa, Kent grew up on a farm in Kenya and launched the family’s safari business in Nairobi in 1962. A graduate of the elite Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, he became lifelong friends with future king Prince Charles when the two were young men serving in the British military.

The pair later played on several polo teams together and “we got to know each other,” Kent tells PEOPLE. “I enjoy listening to him. He’s so thoughtful and intelligent and knows more about the world than we will ever pick up.”

Princess Diana congratulates Prince Charles and Geoffrey Kent at the Guard’s Polo Club in 1987
Kamal Gathani/Abercrombie & Kent

In Safari, Kent recounts learning of Princess Diana’s death in 1997 and immediately calling Charles to offer his condolences and support.

“I thought of his boys, those joyful, kindhearted boys, whom I’d taken on safari in Kenya with their father in earlier years,” Kent writes. “I remembered thinking on that trip how as young teenagers, Prince William and Prince Harry visibly shared their father’s appreciation for wildlife and curiosity to know nature.”

At the time of Diana’s death, Prince Charles had a state visit planned to South Africa and Harry was set for his half-term break in school. With Diana gone, Charles scrambled to make other plans for Harry – and Kent stepped in with an offer to take the 13-year-old prince on safari.

“It was a sensitive time,” says Kent, who arranged a safari in Botswana for Harry, his schoolmate Charlie Henderson and Harry’s longtime nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, while Charles attended to his royal duties.

“With a camera and binoculars in hand, Prince Harry is in his glory,” Kent writes of the expedition. “For three days we cruise in an open-top Land Rover to view the animals.”

Now, nearly two decades later, 30-year-old Harry has made conservation efforts in Africa one of his key causes.

“He has developed a lifelong passion for Africa and that passion has developed into leadership,” says Kent. “He is leading the charge for anti-poaching.”

Kent, too, has channeled his efforts and resources into widespread conservation efforts, including Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy, a nonprofit dedicated to habit and wildlife protection as well as indigenous communities around the world.

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