The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge brought a smile to children’s faces as they started their three-day royal train tour across the UK today.
Kate Middleton and Prince William, both 38, arrived in Edinburgh this morning to the sound of bagpipes serenading them with Christmas songs, before meeting workers at a Scottish Ambulance Service hub.
The pair are attempting to spread festive cheer to frontline workers ahead of the Christmas holidays on their 48-hour train tour.
The royal couple are paying tribute in person to the individuals and organisations that have gone above and beyond in response to the Covid crisis.
The Earl and Countess of Strathearn, as they are titled while carrying out official engagements in Scotland, arrived at Edinburgh Waverley after spending the night in the Royal train.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, both 38, took some festive cheer with them on their royal train tour of the country, as they met delighted youngsters at the Holy Trinity Church of England First School in Berwick-upon-Tweed
Prince William joined Kate Middleton as she met with the lonely cancer-stricken 85-year-old who is a full-time carer for his wife with dementia, who she has made two lengthy calls to during the pandemic. Pictured, together
Len explained how he and the Duchess of Cambridge talked about work, and families, and the countries he has travelled to. Pictured, with Kate Middleton
Among the party waiting to greet them was the Lord Provost of Edinburgh’s official piper, Louise Marshall, who piped the Royal couple through the concourse playing a medley of Christmas hits on the pipes.
The Royal couple’s first engagement of the whistle-stop tour of the UK was to staff at one of the Scottish Ambulance Service’s nerve centres at Newbridge, outside Edinburgh.
William, dressed in a dark blue coat and tartan scarf, and Kate, wearing a blue Catherine Walker coat and carrying a bag by Scottish designer Strathberry, thanked staff for their incredible efforts in coping with their demanding jobs while many were affected by personal Covid tragedies.
They chatted with staff and heard deeply moving accounts of how many of them have been affected personally during the crisis, while continuing to provide vital first response cover across the country.
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.
The SAS received funding from NHS Charities Together, a group of 240 NHS charities, which has been spent on indoor and outdoor wellbeing spaces for staff, as well as wellbeing packs with information booklets and reusable water bottles.
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.
The royals met pupils from Holy Trinity Church of England First School in Berwick-Upon-Tweed (pictured)
The Duke of Cambridge (pictured) looked in high spirits as he left Holy Trinity Church of England First School on the second day of a three-day tour across the country
The Duchess of Cambridge looked in high spirits as she left Holy Trinity Church of England First School in Berwick upon Tweed after spreading Christmas cheer
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.’
His colleague, John Kane, 59, told the Royal couple how he spent three weeks in an induced coma in Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital after contracting the virus.
‘I had to be placed on a ventilator for three weeks and placed in an induced coma.
‘It was a terrifying time and the recovery has been slow, but again the SAS has helped that. The Prince was particularly interested in how we manage the mental wellbeing of our own staff.’
It also emerged during their visit that the couple had sent a special bouquet of flowers to the family of a veteran paramedic, who died last month after he re-enlisted in April four years after his retirement.
Rod Moore, from Falkirk, died aged 63 after contracting coronavirus. His funeral was due to take place during the royal visit.
An SAS spokesman said: ‘I know that Rod’s family greatly appreciated the flowers sent on behalf of the Royal Family. It was a lovely gesture.’
The couple also made a particular point of thanking the cleaning staff at the unit, telling cleaner Ellen Reeder, 65, that she was ‘one of the most important people in the whole organisation, keeping everything together.’
Afterwards, Ms Reeder, 65, said: ‘It was such an honour for me to meet them. They kept it secret until this morning, which is just as well or I would have got tongue-tied speaking to them.
‘That has really made my day. In fact, I think it has made everyone’s day here to get that appreciation from the Royals.. I am a huge fan.’
The Duke of Cambridge leaving Holy Trinity Church of England First School in Berwick upon Tweed on the second day of a three-day tour across the country
Duchess of Cambridge meets pupils from Holy Trinity Church of England First School in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, as part of her working visits across the UK ahead of the Christmas holidays to pay tribute to the work of individuals and organisations across the country in response to the coronavirus pandemic
Wearing a protective face covering to combat the spread of the coronavirus, Kate Middleton waves as she leaves after meeting volunteers who have supported elderly members of their local community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic at Batley Community Centre in northern England
There was a fun twist at lunchtime at the Holy Trinity First School in Berwick-upon-Tweed where, as a treat for the children, Kensington Palace arranged for Rent a Reindeer to bring three animals – Chaz, Crackers and her six-month-old calf Echols – to the school.
Kate and William also thanked teachers for their efforts to support learning during in recent months.
Local saxophone group The Earl Grey Saxes played Christmas tunes, including Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, as 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.
William and Kate sanitised their hands as they entered the school grounds, a short drive from the Berwick railway station.
After the visit, headteacher Nicholas Shaw said: ‘It has been fantastic and the children loved it.
‘We feel honoured to have been chosen and appreciate they are taking the time to think about teachers and the work that has been going on in schools.
‘It has been a challenge during lockdown, a lot of new skills have been learned. We stayed open throughout for children of key workers and vulnerable children.’
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met local Len Gardner at the Batley Community Centre, West Yorkshire
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
Rent a Reindeer owner George Richardson brought Chaz, Crackers and Echols for the visit, and told 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 … 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.’
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.
During the first visit of their Royal Train Tour across the country, it was announced that The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will become Joint Patrons of NHS Charities Together
After travelling overnight from London Euston, the duke was the first to step out of the Royal Claret-coloured carriages, followed by Kate in a Liberty print face covering, with a matching blue coat
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.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s final stop of the day was to FareShare in Manchester where Their Royal Highnesses paid tribute to volunteers and organisations across the UK who have supported vulnerable families throughout 2020.
FareShare redistributes surplus food from food businesses to 11,000 charities and community groups in all four nations across the UK – including school breakfast clubs, community centres, homeless shelters and food banks.
During the first national lockdown, the number of families relying on FareShare Greater Manchester for food nearly doubled overnight, and at the same time the charity was inundated with people offering to volunteer with them.
During their visit, the Duke and Duchess – who changed into a patterned jumper – met representatives from the food industry to learn more about their generous support for FareShare.
They then heard from staff and volunteers about how FareShare Greater Manchester has adapted its operations to ensure it could continue supporting those in need throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
They also met representatives from two charities who receive food from FareShare Greater Manchester and heard about the impact it had on the vulnerable families that they support.
The Duke also made a short speech to thank volunteers for all that they have done for their communities, which will be broadcast live to additional FareShare’s members and organisations across the country via video call.
During the visits, there was also a special performance by Wayne Ellington and Manchester Inspirational Voices, presented by Band on the Wall, a local independent music venue which has been supported during COVID-19 by the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s final stop of the day was to FareShare in Manchester where Their Royal Highnesses paid tribute to volunteers and organisations across the UK who have supported vulnerable families throughout 2020
The Duchess of Cambridge donned a face mask she she arrived on the Royal Train at Manchester Victoria station, in Manchester
During the tour the royal couple will visit communities, outstanding individuals and key workers to thank them for their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic (pictured)
During their visit, the Duke and Duchess – who changed into a patterned jumper – met representatives from the food industry to learn more about their generous support for FareShare
William and Kate left Euston Station on board the Royal Train last night for the first of nine stops on their whirlwind 48 hour, 1,250-mile tour across England, Scotland and Wales.
Before they left London, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, penned a personal message of thanks for transport workers on a London Underground service information board.
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! Catherine. William’
It was a royal departure like no other and even featured a special performance from 80s pop star Shakin’ Stevens who performed his perennial festive favourite, ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ for transport workers at the station.
During her appearance in Edinburgh today, the royal gave a touching nod to her late mother-in-law Princess Diana by wearing a set of earrings from her jewellery box
Kate recycled a teal Catherine Walker coat first worn during a tour of Norway in 2018 as she joined Prince William for the first stop of their Christmas Express tour in Edinburgh today
The duke and duchess received a rock and roll send-off on Sunday when Shakin’ Stevens serenaded them before they boarded the royal train.
The singer, known for a string of hits in the 1980s, sang his festive smash-hit single Merry Christmas Everyone for the couple and a group of transport workers.
The track topped the charts during Christmas 1985 and was picked by William and Kate as the song they wanted to hear.
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.’
Stevens said the Cambridges were ‘certainly fans’ of his festive hit, adding: ‘They picked it!’
Before climbing aboard the royal train, the couple took time out to meet transport workers at the station to hear about their experiences of working throughout the pandemic.
William told Orson Parris, a network traffic controller for Transport for London: ‘Fingers crossed 2021 gets things back to normal.’
And 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.’
Network Rail staff altered the departure boards for the occasion, changing Wolverhampton to Warmerhampton, Coventry to Coventry Carol and Northampton to Northpolehamton.
William and Kate were keen to personally pass on their thanks to Transport for London, Network Rail and train operating companies for everything they have done to keep the capital running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The trip has been organised so the couple can thank frontline workers, volunteers, care home staff, teachers, schoolchildren and young people and hear about their experiences and sacrifices, as well as the inspirational work they have done throughout this life-changing year.
A source said: ‘Their Royal Highnesses want to pass on the nation’s sincere thanks and gratitude for all of their efforts to keep people safe and keep the country going.’
Kensington Palace posted this image of the pair on its Instagram account, using the hashtag ‘Royal Train Tour’
The couple removed their masks as they stepped out of Berwick-upon-Tweed Station
Their Royal Highnesses are travelling on the Royal Train (pictured) between Sunday and Tuesday, making stops in England, Scotland and Wales in line with government guidance
It is believed the trip is Kate’s first official journey by royal train, despite having been a member of the monarchy for almost a decade, while the duke has used it a number of times.
Details of the engagements have been kept secret until the couple’s arrival so as not to encourage crowds.
Over the next few days, William and Kate, will travel 1,250 miles and undertake working visits meeting NHS staff, volunteers, care home staff, teachers, schoolchildren and young people to hear about their experiences, sacrifices and the work they have done throughout this challenging year.
The couple will also pass on the nation’s sincere thanks and gratitude for all of their efforts to keep people safe and keep the country going.
Ahead of their trip, 10-year-old British artist, Joe Whale – known as The Doodle Boy, has created an illustration to bring the journey to life.
Many of the engagements undertaken by the Cambridges will celebrate community spirit and demonstrate the impact of the public’s generosity this year, by showcasing organisations and initiatives that have been supported by community relief funds, including NHS Charities Together.
Their Royal Highnesses’ visits will also showcase the UK’s arts, heritage and live performance sector, which has been supported throughout the pandemic by the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.
There will be a number of festive performances across the three days by local artists, celebrating the inspiring work of the organisations and projects the Duke and Duchess are visiting.
Queen Victoria was the first reigning British sovereign to use the Royal Train, in June 1842.
The journey was from Slough (at that time the closest train station to Windsor Castle) to London Paddington.
Network Rail staff altered the departure boards for the occasion, changing Wolverhampton to Warmerhampton, Coventry to Coventry Carol and Northampton to Northpolehamton
Permission to travel on the nine-carriage train has to be given by the Queen personally, and she is said to be very much behind her grandson and granddaughter-in-law’s ‘wonderful’ idea
One of the highlights of the trip will be the couple’s arrival at each stop on the Queen’s distinctive burgundy-liveried Royal Train
In the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee a single set of ‘Royal Train’ carriages was formed for the first time and has remained in service ever since.
The locomotives that power the train are capable of speeds up to 125mph, but are restricted to 100mph when on royal duty.
The Royal Train was used just five times in 2018, costing on average £22,000 a time.
The Queen, 94, used it just twice in 2018, to Chester with Meghan Markle, 39, costing £29,714, and again in March 2019 when she visited the west of England and returned to Windsor, which cost the public purse £21,230.
Prince Charles, 72, the only other senior royal permitted to use the Royal Train until now, made three trips on it.
A spokesperson for Kensington Palace said: ‘The Duke and Duchess are very much looking forward to shining a spotlight on the incredible work that has been done across the country throughout this difficult year and to sharing their gratitude on behalf of the nation for all those supporting their local communities ahead of the Christmas holidays.’
All aboard the Kate and Wills Express! What it’s like to travel on the ‘palace on wheels’ with fillets of sole and crème caramel – and VERY prompt drivers
Mile-for-mile, it’s the Royals’ most expensive form of transport, with accounts in September showing that it made only three outings in 2019-20. Queen Elizabeth is pictured on board the train in 1964, with Prince Edward on her lap and Prince Andrew sitting opposite
By Emily Andrews Royal Editor for the Mail on Sunday
Travelling on the Royal Train is considered a significant honour afforded by the Queen.
Permission to travel on the nine-carriage train has to be granted by the Queen. She is the train’s prime passenger, using it to travel overnight to engagements in the north of England, Scotland or Wales.
The idea dates from 1842. Prince Albert persuaded a 23-year-old Queen Victoria to become the first Royal to travel by rail when she took a train from Slough, then the closest station to Windsor Castle, to London Paddington.
Victoria saw travelling the country as her duty and thus a Royal Train was designed to look like a palace on wheels, with the carriages decorated in 23-carat gold paint and decked out in silks and satins.
Electric lights were added in the 1890s, as well as an on-board toilet, which Victoria refused to use, preferring to have the train stop for bathroom breaks every few hours.
In 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, a single set of Royal Train carriages was formed for the first time and has remained in service ever since – replacing the 1941 vehicles used by George VI.
The locomotives haul freight when not on Royal duty. William and Kate will sleep in single beds during their two nights aboard, and dine in a 12-seater supper car with a Formica table – a far cry from the grandeur of the Victorian era.
In the past, the Royal Train menu has comprised chilled minted pea soup, fillets of sole and crème caramel.
There are no showers in the suite, only a bath with a marker line to stop it being over-filled. Staff include a steward and footmen, while Kate’s hairdresser will also travel with them on this journey.
When the carriages are off-duty, as they are for much of the year, the train is kept in a siding at a secret location to ensure security.
Mile-for-mile, it’s the Royals’ most expensive form of transport, with accounts in September showing that it made only three outings in 2019-20.
Two of these were for Prince Charles, who ran up a £20,822 bill for a return journey from Kemble, near his Gloucestershire home, to Carlisle. At the time, a Palace aide said the train provided effective and efficient transport and reduced security costs.
It was once suggested that Charles had secreted the then Lady Diana Spencer on board for a night-time tryst in sidings in Wiltshire. The story was untrue and Diana said: ‘I’ve never been near the train, let alone in the middle of the night!’
The most prestigious job in British railways is that of Royal driver. Among their tasks is to stop the train door perfectly in line with the red carpet on the platform. Drivers also pride themselves on getting to any destination within 15 seconds of the given arrival time.
When Her Majesty invited Meghan Markle to join her on an overnight journey less than a month after her marriage to Prince Harry, it was a way of publicly welcoming her into the Royal Family.
While the train is used primarily as a means of travel, there is also room to catch up on work, as Queen Elizabeth demonstrates, above, during a journey in 2002