The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have spent the day travelling around the country on the Royal Train for the first time together.
Prince William and Kate Middleton met paramedics and three reindeer at a primary school, gave a speech to charity workers and met in person a pensioner who calls our future Queen “love”, on the first day of a train tour of Britain.
She will one day be Queen, but after striking up an unlikely friendship with a pensioner on the phone, Len Gardner just calls her “love”.
The Duchess has been having private chats as a volunteer during lockdown with Mr Gardner, 85, a full-time carer from Batley in West Yorkshire.
And today they met in person for the first time as the duke and duchess dropped in on Batley on three-day tour of Britain by royal train.
Mr Gardner, who looks after his wife Shirley, 84, who has Alzheimer’s, said the first time he knew he would be getting a royal phone friend was when he got a call from Royal Voluntary Service in May.
“It was quite a surprise,” he said. “I was asked if I would like to speak to someone of importance about how lockdown had affected me as an elderly person.
“I said, ‘Who is it?’ They said, ‘We don’t want to tell you because we don’t really know who it is.’”
“After quite a long pause, because that is quite something to take in for an ordinary guy, I said I would be pleased to speak to her.
“It was just flabbergasting. And the first question I had to ask was, ‘How do I address you?’ Because I like to do things properly.
“She said, ‘Call me Catherine.’ And from that moment on, for the next 30 minutes it was Catherine and Len.”
They talked about work, and families, and the countries he has travelled to, including Italy.
But when the subject turned to cooking and his favourite food – pasta – things got even more informal.
“She said, ‘Do you make your own pasta?’ I said, ‘No, love, I haven’t got a pasta machine.’ In any case the flour they use is called 00 and it’s hard to get.”
Afterwards he said: “Yes, I used the word ‘love’ because it’s a northern word. We don’t mean anything in depth by it. We just mean friendly.”
He said they talked about the “ordinary things in life – it was a very nice conversation”.
The biggest surprise was yet to come. “About four days later I got a brand new pasta machine from Buckingham Palace so I could make my own pasta. Not only that, two days later I got two kilos of 00 Italian flour to make the pasta with.”
Now, he said, “we have pasta about once a week – fresh, home-made pasta”.
Mr said he was not too fazed about meeting the duchess. “I am especially pleased about this day. It will live with me forever.”
When they finally met, at Batley community centre, they talked about Mr Gardner’s volunteering, and his days as a Scout leader.
At one point Mr Gardner pointed to the crowds outside and said: “That guy there, the chemist – his son was one of my cubs. We camped all over England.”
The duke and duchess also spoke to volunteers at the centre, including Jane Phillips who told them how plans for a community garden had to be put on hold because of the pandemic.
The duke told her: “Our children want us to grow pumpkins. It’s quite difficult to grow pumpkins without a large area. And you have to remind them it is only once a year that they come about.”
Andrea Bryden told them about how she used to visit a woman in her 90s called Rita as a volunteer. “She was very active,” she said, “but she did feel very lonely and isolated.
“She was also a very open person, so we just became really good friends.”
The duke said: “It’s so important that it enriches one’s own life.”
He said the important thing was to encourage people to start volunteering who had never done it.
Yesterday evening the royal couple embarked on the three-day tour to thank those who have kept the country moving through the coronavirus crisis.
The Royal Train pulled into Edinburgh Waverley station to the sounds of piper Louise Marshall playing Christmas songs including Jingle Bells and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town at about 9.30am this morning.
The Duchess, in a Liberty print face covering, was dressed in a smart blue coat and black gloves, while William was wearing a navy coat and a tartan scarf.
Wearing face masks, William and Kate were met by Deputy Lord Lieutenant Sandra Cumming before they thanked the piper and left the station.
During the 1,250-mile trip, the Cambridges will talk to dozens of front-line workers, volunteers, care home staff, teachers, schoolkids and young people about their pandemic experiences.
It is the first royal tour since Covid-19 hit.
This afternoon the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met a reindeer called Chaz during a visit to a primary school.
The Royal couple came to Holy Trinity First School in Berwick-upon-Tweed where they thanked teachers for their efforts to support learning during the coronavirus crisis.
As a treat for the children, Kensington Palace arranged for Rent a Reindeer to bring three animals to the school.
Local saxophone group The Earl Grey Saxes played Christmas tunes, including Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer during the visit.
Under rainy skies and in a chilly northerly wind, the school’s 175 pupils waved and sang as the Royal couple arrived.
Some wore antlers on their heads and some were in Santa hats for the visit.
Rent a Reindeer owner George Richardson brought Chaz, Crackers and her six-month-old calf Echols for the visit, and told the William and Kate about caring for them and how coronavirus had affected his business.
Mr Richardson, who is based in Cold Hesledon, County Durham, said the booking by the palace had been “top secret”.
He said: “We got a phone call out of the blue two weeks ago, they asked us to bring a reindeer for the Royal visit and we were happy to oblige.
“We brought these three as a group, although Chaz is not the dad as he has been castrated, he is the uncle.
“Mum and baby go with him and they are a nice group.
“This was baby’s first outing and she took it in her stride.”
Their first stop of the day was in Newbridge outside Edinburgh, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the Scottish Ambulance Service.
The Service is the frontline of the NHS in Scotland and employs over 5000 highly-skilled members of staff who are committed to helping patients and saving lives.
There have been additional pressures on the NHS and ambulance services during Covid-19.
Kate and Will met representatives of SAS to thank them for their incredible efforts, on the day the Service remembers a colleague lost to the viral disease.
During their visit, it was announced that the Royal couple would become joint patrons of NHS Charities Together, the charity which has worked tirelessly to provide hospitals and emergency workers with vital PPE equipment.
Prince William spoke at length with some of the paramedics about how the additional strains of working under the threat of Covid had impacted on their mental wellbeing.
He and Kate also heard from paramedic Alistair Matson, 54, had to cope with his father falling sick and later dying in hospital during the pandemic.
Mr Matson said: “It was very emotional talking to the Prince about losing my father. He was very anxious to hear how we managed to cope with the mental strains of our job.
“I was helped considerably by the great sense of cameraderie at my work.
“There was never any rush to come back and they have been like another family to me.
“It was really heartening to see the Royal couple here today acknowledging what we do and their thanks means a lot to us.”
Yesterday evening Will and Kate wrote a personal message of thanks to transport workers on a London Underground service information board.
Kensington Palace shared images of the notice at Euston station and of Kate writing the words and William signing it.
The message read: “Thank you to all transport workers everywhere for keeping the country moving throughout this difficult year.
“Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!
William and Kate’s third stop was Batley Community Centre in West Yorkshire.
The duchess had swapped her blue Catherine Walker coat for a navy one, while William switched his tartan scarf for an olive green one for their arrival.
The couple met volunteers from the centre who have supported elderly members of the community throughout the pandemic by sending cards, having regular phone calls and dropping off shopping, food bags and activity packs.
William and Kate also met Len Gardner, a local resident with whom the duchess has been chatting on the phone after she secretly volunteered through the NHS Volunteer Responder Check In And Chat scheme.
William and Kate’s final stop of the day was Manchester.
The couple visited the charity FareShare which redistributes surplus food from businesses to 11,000 charities and community groups in all four UK nations.
The duke and duchess carried out the engagement to pay tribute to volunteers and organisations who have supported vulnerable families throughout 2020.
They heard from staff about how FareShare adapted its operations during the pandemic to help those in need.
The Royal Train, the Queen’s favourite way to travel, is normally reserved for her, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla.
The present royal carriages came into service for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 and it has multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as a dining room that seats 12.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were serenaded by Shakin’ Stevens last night before boarding the train.
The couple were clearly delighted as the 72-year-old Welsh singer performed his classic hit Merry Christmas Everyone on the platform at Euston station.
The Duchess, wearing an Alexander McQueen coat and tartan scarf, tapped her foot and swayed to the music as they waved to passengers from a balcony.
Stevens, 72, said he was “over the moon” to be playing for the Duke and Duchess, revealing that it was the first time he had played for royalty in his long career.
“I’m loving it, it was lovely to be invited,” he said.
“And it was them who chose the song. Over the moon.”
Before climbing aboard the couple spent time chatting to staff from Transport for London, Network Rail and train operating companies about their experiences of working throughout the pandemic.
On behalf of the nation, they passed on their thanks for everything they have done to keep trains in London running and the measures taken to ensure passengers could travel safely with confidence.
The Duke told Alero Abbey, TfL area manager for Green Park and Euston: “It’s moments like this when people really appreciate what you do every day. Suddenly we all know what you do and that you do a really good job.”
Ahead of the Duke and Duchess’s departure a palace source said: “This is a hugely exciting moment for the Duke and Duchess who will be travelling on the train together for the first time.
“This trip is their way of saying thank you, on behalf of the nation.
“They realise it’s been an incredibly tough and challenging year.”
The Cambridges’ royal train tour so far in numbers
1 – First Minister – Nicola Sturgeon said the royal household was made aware of all of the travel restrictions in place in Scotland before the trip. She did not comment on whether the tour was boosting morale.
2 – Royals – William and Kate – onboard the royal train.
3 – Outfits for Kate – The duchess swapped her blue Catherine Walker coat for a navy one for her arrival in Batley and then added a new Fair Isle style jumper for Manchester. William replaced his tartan scarf with an olive green one ahead of arriving in Batley.
3 – Reindeer – William and Kate arranged for Chaz, Crackers and Echols to visit schoolchildren in Berwick-Upon-Tweed.
3 – Days – The tour began on Sunday evening and ends on Tuesday.
4 – Stops so far – Edinburgh, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Batley and Manchester.
9 – Number of carriages on the Royal Train.
175 – Schoolchildren waiting for the royal couple in Berwick-Upon-Tweed.
220 – Miles covered by royal train from Edinburgh to Manchester on Monday.
240 – Charities which make up NHS Charities Together – William and Kate are its new joint patrons.
1,250 – Miles the royal train tour will cover over the three days.
67006 – The number of the Class 67 locomotive engine – Royal Sovereign – pulling the royal train.
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