This week, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex braved the cold January Mersey breeze to visit Birkenhead, a small corner of North West England across the river from the City of Liverpool and an hours drive from my home.
An invitation to visit several charitable endeavours within the community was extended by the MP for Birkenhead, Frank Field, to the royal couple whilst requesting they also lend their plaque unveiling expertise to the recently installed moving tribute to the World War I war poet Wilfred Owen which was erected in the town where he grew up to mark the 100th anniversary of his death.
Following on from the ceremonial duties the Duke and Duchess kicked off their day with their now trademark “meet the people” walkabout.
Now, I consider myself an experienced royal stalker, I mean reporter, these days, and even though I am geographically close to Liverpool, with a mix of public transport, and Monday morning commuters to contend with I knew an early start was essential to a successful day.
So after a 4.30 alarm call, I arrived at Hamilton square train station at 7.30am in the dark and walked the short distance to the first visit location. When I say to you that I was the first on scene that day, I don’t exaggerate. Save for the council men with leaf blowers clearing the area, it was barren. So I really had the pick of locations. After 10 minutes or so I was joined by another local early bird ready to pick the best spot! Given my previous experience of these types of events I was pleased when a someone from inside the town hall gave us the inside information that were in a spot where local school children would also be stationed. School children are always a draw to the Royal Couple and certainly great for photo opportunities and amusing interactions!
By the time 11am rolled around and the royal motorcade swung into the square, the atmosphere was thick with anticipation to catch a glimpse of the royal couple. Camera phones aloft and cheers from the crowd.
Now, given that there had been a slightly negative reaction from the locals, this was a visit that could have gone either way. Birkenhead has, like many other towns around the UK been subject to its fair share of poverty and community struggles and many were in fact opposed to the amount of spending a visit of this stature would incur. Incidentally, many were also not shy in voicing their anti monarchist opinions. But thankfully this first welcome to the couple was in stark contrast to the opinions voiced in local online publications.
The couple made their way along the line of gathered crowds meeting, talking to and shaking hands with as many of the public and local school children as they possibly could.
If you read my last report on the Royal Visit to Cheshire in June 2018, you will know that I was on the wrong side of the road that day for an interaction with the Duchess, but was rewarded with a beautiful smile from Her Majesty. This time I knew I wanted to interact with the Duchess, so wanting to ensure a personal meet I took along a small gift for Baby Sussex to entice her into a “hello”.
It worked a treat, I bought a soft blanket cuddle teddy which I had embroidered locally with a HRH and a Crown. Meghan moved through the crowds and as I held out the small bear she smiled and said “oh my gosh!” …I asked if I could give her this little bear for the baby and she said “oh that’s so thoughtful.” In most videos now it is clear that whenever Meghan interacts with the crowd she always asks a person’s name and this personal approach is so endearing, giving a far more warm and engaged interaction. Sure enough, she asked my name, and said thank you its lovely to meet you and I welcomed her to the north and asked her if she was warm enough and we had a little laugh together. (It was a bitterly cold wind that day). Now as much as I wanted to, I made the decision to put my camera down during this moment in order for us to meet eye to eye. So my picture of that moment was kindly taken by some girls further down the line from me, for which I also repaid the favour of photos of their interaction with the Duchess also.
Meghan and Harry both spent time that morning chatting away to the children and crowd all around me giving me great opportunities for pictures and video footage. They gave everyone they could a hello and the event ran over far more than it should have.
Meghan thanks me for my kind thought.
Meghan meets the crowds in Hamilton Square.
The rest of the day was spent racing through the streets of Birkenhead on foot to try and get to the other events, some more successfully than others!
The second event at the Number 7 community cafe was embargoed in order to manage the crowds. Given that it was in a public shopping area, the people gathered were mainly shoppers who happened upon them. The visit to the Cafe, which offers food supplies to the people of Birkenhead who are struggling to pay bills, highlighted its other services such as debt advice, budgeting support and is a working shop/cafe which provides meals to those in need in the area. However outside it could not be ignored that there were voices of opposition in this crowd. This crowd was filled less of Royal supporters who turned out purposefully to see them and more of the general public who happened upon them during their day. The negativity however was more testament to the frustrations that the local people had towards the local council and just a few towards the royal couple themselves. But for others it was obviously a welcome distraction from the humdrum of daily life. Some of those people never thought in their lifetimes that royalty would care so much as to come to their town and share a sample of humility with them. To me it was interesting how those same people defended the couple from those in the crowd less interested in the visit, glad that someone of such high profile was indeed willing to sit down with, eat with, listen to and to try and make a difference in what small way they could. And most were grateful for that.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Sussex seem to have delved head on into royal engagements this January, hopefully marking a shift in the royal rota supporting the Queen far more in her advancing years. And the issues that are being focused on by them and the Royal Foundation, are I’m sure, chosen to be those of political neutrality. But for the Sussex’s??… I’m not so sure, I think they are breaking the mold of previous royal support and choosing paths with clear social and political importance. Poverty, Youth schemes, Women’s empowerment, Education, Veterans Support are all highly evocative subjects. But issues that engagement after engagement we are seeing the couple gravitate towards. There’s a spark of Diana in Harry that still burns bright and also with his father’s influence, (never being one shy enough to hide his personal feelings on political hot potatoes!) and Meghan by his side, I feel that they want to forge a path to their people, reaching out to them in ways never quite managed by a royal before.
I know they won over a lot of locals in Liverpool that day. They said Diana was the People’s Princess. At these types of events its easy to see how her boy has certainly grown into a Prince for the People.
For more of my images and videos from the day… please feel free to visit my Instagram account @parkysprincess or my twitter feed @ladyparky79…..