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Kate Middleton shares phone calls she held with participants from Hold Still project

The Duchess of Cambridge has updated her new YouTube channel with a video of a phone call to a Hold Still participant – and told a student she feels like she knows her ‘so well’ just from looking at her photo. 

The series, called ‘Cancelled,’ plays phone calls recorded in Autumn 2020 with Kate Middleton, 39, and finalists from the National Portrait Gallery’s Hold Still photography exhibition. 

The royal, who is a keen amateur photographer, launched the Hold Still initiative during lockdown and asked the public to submit their images which captured the period for a digital exhibition.

She was then joined by a panel of five judges to select the best photos from more than 31,000 submitted for the nation-wide contest and said she was ‘overwhelmed’ by the response and that it was ‘so hard’ to whittle the images down to a top 100.

In the five-minute long YouTube video posted today, a slick message flashes on up the screen saying: ‘Her Royal Highness wanted to speak to some of the finalists to find out more about the stories behind their photos.’ 

Then, a photograph of a casual-looking Kate, donning a cream blouse and black trousers, and a snap of a mother called Niaz Maleknia, from Primrose Hill, London, appears, while a recording of the duchess plays in the background asking: ‘Hello is that Niaz?’

Another message then explains: ‘With exams, graduations and proms all cancelled due to the outbreaks of Covid-19, Romy, in a photograph taken by her mother Niaz, reminds us of the silent heroes that make up the class of 2020.’

The Duchess of Cambridge (pictured), 39, has shared a second series of telephone calls that she held with participants from the Hold Still project to her new YouTube channel

Niaz (pictured) thanked Kate Middleton for selecting the photo of her daughter and told how she was 'thrilled' to take part in it

Niaz (pictured) thanked Kate Middleton for selecting the photo of her daughter and told how she was ‘thrilled’ to take part in it

A message appears on the screen explaining: 'With exams, graduations and proms all cancelled due to the outbreaks of Covid-19, Romy, in a photograph taken by her mother Niaz, reminds us of the silent heroes that make up the class of 2020.' Pictured, Niaz' Hold Still submission of daughter, Romy

A message appears on the screen explaining: ‘With exams, graduations and proms all cancelled due to the outbreaks of Covid-19, Romy, in a photograph taken by her mother Niaz, reminds us of the silent heroes that make up the class of 2020.’ Pictured, Niaz’ Hold Still submission of daughter, Romy

Kate, who opted to wear her dark hair loose, can then be heard saying: ‘I just wanted to say a huge thank you for sending in your photograph. We thought it was fantastic.’

Amateur photographer Niaz responds: ‘Thank you so much for selecting the photo, I was thrilled to take part in it. And you know, you’ve clearly got an amazing interest in photography. So yeah it was really, really, it was inspiring and I thought the briefs were really good.’

When she points out that her daughter Romy is sitting right next to her, a delighted Kate enthuses: ‘Hi Romy. I feel I know you so well just by looking at the photograph.

‘I think it’s so important you know that your mum’s really highlighted how much young people have been affected by lockdown and all of the disruptions that you had with work and with school and everything.’

The royal proceeds to ask Romy how lockdown has been for her and her friends and whether it’s been a ‘difficult time.’ 

‘It’s been quite difficult,’ the student replies. ‘I mean, I was in my last year of school so I was meant to do my A levels which is what the photo relates to. The photo was taken on what was supposed to be my last day of a levels. 

The Duchess (pictured) highlighted how she and Prince William are interested in mental health and asked how Romy thinks young people are managing with all of the change

The Duchess (pictured) highlighted how she and Prince William are interested in mental health and asked how Romy thinks young people are managing with all of the change

Niaz (pictured), who has completed her M.A at LCC, continues to pursue her passion for photography

Niaz (pictured), who has completed her M.A at LCC, continues to pursue her passion for photography

We had a virtual graduation which was very strange. It was a bit odd. It is what it is. It’s been OK.’

Kate adds: ‘We found it was really important and I think the judging panel too, to tell the story of young people. Obviously there’s been so much disruption but also making sure and highlighting the support that they, and you, all need as well.’

The Duchess, who highlights how she and Prince William are interested in mental health, goes on to ask Romy how she thinks young people are managing with all of the change, to which the student says: ‘To be honest, with mental health it hasn’t been great.

‘A lot of the people I know struggled. But I think it’s weird because I think people have become more open about it because it’s so common now that people are struggling with it and it’s natural to struggle with it in these circumstances. ‘

Kate agrees that everyone has ‘experienced something together’ in a way – adding there’s ‘no shame in talking about it.’

The duchess continues: ‘And that’s what we’ve been really keen to do, is break that stigma and try to start conversations around mental health. It’s great to hear that people are being a lot more open about it.’

Niaz can also be heard explaining to the royal her inspiration behind her Hold Still photograph – admitting that she came into photography ‘quite late.’

At the end of the video, it was revealed that Romy (pictured) was accepted to Standford University in California with an unconditional offer

At the end of the video, it was revealed that Romy (pictured) was accepted to Standford University in California with an unconditional offer 

‘I just completed my M.A at LCC,’ she says in the phone conversation. ‘So I sort of keep a lookout and I read all the magazines and I heard about it, I think, on Instagram.

And I had actually been going around London. And at first, it was quite inspiring but then it became quite boring because it all just looks the same. And then when this came i just thought I just really wanted to take part.’

She goes on: ‘There were a couple of different shots of different scenes that could have worked. And I just thought this is one, you know, the young, the story of, sort of this class of twenty-twenty I just felt that had been overlooked.’

In response, keen amateur photographer Kate enthuses: ‘And compositionally it’s fantastically composed as well. I need to get some tips of you, obviously.’

At the end of the video, it’s revealed that Romy was accepted to Standford University in California with an unconditional offer, while her mother still pursues her passion for photography.

The new YouTube channel comes just days after Kate’s new book, Hold Still: A Portrait of Our Nation in 2020, which features 100 final ‘poignant and personal’ portraits selected from 31,000 entrants, topped the bestseller list on its first day of release.

The new book includes an introduction from Kate, in which she explains why launching Hold Still was so important to her.

She writes: ‘When we look back at the COVID-19 pandemic in decades to come, we will think of the challenges we all faced – the loved ones we lost, the extended isolation from our families and friends and the strain placed on our key workers.

‘But we will also remember the positives: the incredible acts of kindness, the helpers and heroes who emerged from all walks of life, and how together we adapted to a new normal.

The royal book fairy! The mother-of-three launched a royal treasure hunt last as she joined her fellow Hold Still judges in leaving copies of her photography book hidden around the UK with a letter tucked inside

The royal book fairy! The mother-of-three launched a royal treasure hunt last as she joined her fellow Hold Still judges in leaving copies of her photography book hidden around the UK with a letter tucked inside

‘Through Hold Still, I wanted to use the power of photography to create a lasting record of what we were all experiencing – to capture individuals’ stories and document significant moments for families and communities as we lived through the pandemic.’

She goes on: ‘For me, the power of the images is in the poignant and personal stories that sit behind them. I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak to some of the photographers and sitters, to hear their stories first-hand – from moments of joy, love and community spirit, to deep sadness, pain, isolation and loss.

‘A common theme of those conversations was how lockdown reminded us about the importance of human connection and the huge value we place on the relationships we have with the people around us.

‘Although we were physically apart, these images remind us that, as families, communities and as a nation, we need each other more than we had ever realised.’

She concludes by thanking everyone who took the time to submit an image, adding: ‘Your stories are the most crucial part of this project.

‘I hope that the final 100 photographs showcase the experiences and emotions borne during this time in history, pay tribute to the awe-inspiring efforts of all who have worked to protect those around them, and provide a space for us to pause and reflect upon this unparalleled period.’


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