Prince William 'Doesn't Pull His Punches' When It Comes to Saving the Planet

The Duke of Cambridge is "not the sort of person to shy away from having difficult conversations," Tusk Trust CEO and longtime friend Charlie Mayhew tells PEOPLE in this week's issue

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge attends the Earthshot Prize 2021 at Alexandra Palace on October 17, 2021 in London, England.
Prince William at the Earthshot Prize ceremony. Photo: Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty

When Prince William finds himself face-to-face with world leaders, he's not afraid to confront them on the issues that concern him.

One of William's allies in his long-standing mission to save endangered species and conserve nature tells PEOPLE the Duke of Cambridge is forthright in his views, using his so-called "soft-power" to great effect.

When the Duke met with President Xi Jinping in China in 2015 (and President Obama in Washington, D.C., a few months earlier), he talked to them about the urgent need to clamp down on the illegal movement of ivory around the world. A ban in China followed.

"William was able to go there in an apolitical manner and have that discussion," says Tusk Trust CEO Charlie Mayhew tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.

Adds Mayhew, "He's not the sort of person to shy away from having difficult conversations. He doesn't pull his punches."

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For more on the Earthshot Prize and William's mission — as well exclusive backstage photos from the ceremony — pick up a copy of this week's PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Mayhew has been by William's side through much of his work on conservation and nature preservation over the years, as Tusk Trust was one of the first causes and charities William adopted in 2005.

And he was with William three years ago in Namibia when the prince, now 39, had what Mayhew calls a "lightbulb moment" that led to him to create the Earthshot Prize, which rewards new ideas to help the planet's problems.

After his having to "negotiate to get [William] up really early in the morning — we left camp at about 5 a.m.," Mayhew says with a laugh. The team drove for hours across the desert before finally spotting a rhino. "It got wind of us and disappeared within seconds. Things like that — he realized how rare some of these things are."

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Prince William. Erica Wilson Studio Silverback

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On the trip they also met locals who "had done so much to develop community conservancies in that part of the world," Mayhew tells PEOPLE — and William was inspired to pick other projects that are doing their utmost to bring hopeful answers.

That led to the Earthshot Prize and its council of experts — including wildlife filmmaker Sir David Attenborough, Oscar winner Cate Blanchett and Japanese astronaut and aerospace engineer Naoko Yamazaki — to choose the next generation of innovations.

The first five prizes were given out at the inaugural Earthshot Prize Awards on Sunday in London and next year the ceremony will take place in the U.S. The Earthshot Prize Ceremony, with Emma Thompson, Emma Watson, David Oyelowo and Mo Salah among the presenters and Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes and KSI and Coldplay performing, can be viewed on discovery+. William's five films in the Earthshot Prize: Repairing Our Planet series are also on discovery+

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