Nervous Duchess of Cambridge makes first public speech


Tony Jones
Monday 19 March 2012 17:59

The Duchess of Cambridge overcame self-confessed nerves to give her first public speech today as she granted the wish of a terminally-ill child's family and posed for a picture.

Kate described the experience as "nerve wracking" minutes after she had received a rousing reception for her inaugural address which had praised the work of one of her charities.

In a speech to launch the new Ipswich centre for East Anglia's Children's Hospices (Each) the Duchess had sounded a little apprehensive at times but maintained her confidence and ended as an assured and well rehearsed member of the Royal Family.

The visit had seen the Duchess strengthen her image as a hardworking member of the monarchy who has undertaken four engagements over the past five days.

But her position as a style icon took a dent as it appeared the royal may have been taking fashion tips from her mother Carole when she appeared in an electric blue £139 Reiss 'Trina' dress - an outfit her parent wore at Ascot in 2010.

Graham Butland, Each's chief executive, described how his royal patron had connected with families and their seriously ill children and had even agreed to pose for a picture with a terminally-ill youngster and his parents at the new Treehouse hospice.

Mr Butland would not name the couple or the illness their three-and-a-half year old son was suffering from but said the actions of the Duchess would mean a lot to them.

He said: "She was absolutely magnificent with the children and families, she seems to have the ability to just drop into a group of people and immediately be able to establish a rapport.

"She spent 10 minutes with a family where the child was very very ill."

He added: "We left it up to them whether they wanted to see her, we liaised with the palace and mum said would it be possible to have a photo just for the memories.

"When the child does pass on they will have a wonderful memory."

With her husband William away serving with the RAF Search and Rescue Force in the Falklands the Duchess had been practising for her first public speech and had committed much to memory as she only occasionally glanced at her notes.

She told her audience: "You have all made me feel so welcome and I feel hugely honoured to be here to see this wonderful centre.

"I am only sorry that William can't be here today; he would love it here.

"A view of his - that I share - is that through teamwork, so much can be achieved.

"What you have all achieved here is extraordinary. You as a community have built the Treehouse; a group of people who have made every effort to support and help each other."

Last November the Duchess visited the charity privately when researching which good causes she wanted to support.

Kate told the audience: "When I first visited the hospice in Milton, I had a pre-conceived idea as to what to expect.

"Far from being a clinical, depressing place for sick children, it was a home.

"Most importantly, it was a family home, a happy place of stability, support and care. It was a place of fun.

"Today I have seen again that the Treehouse is all about family and fun.

"For many, this is a home from home - a lifeline, enabling families to live as normally as possible during a very precious period of time.

"What you do is inspirational, it is a shining example of the support and the care that is delivered, not just here, but in the children's hospice movement at large, up and down the country.

"The feelings you inspire - feelings of love and of hope - offer a chance to families to live a life they never thought could be possible."

At the end of the speech the Duchess received a resounding round of applause and puffed out her cheeks as she relaxed.

Kate then attended a reception for staff and supporters of the hospice and confessed to one guest as she touched her heart

"I find doing speeches nerve wracking."

Kate spent around an hour touring the new Treehouse hospice, built after £3 million was raised in 12 months, which has sensory, music therapy and hydrotherapy rooms.

When she first arrived she joined a large table where siblings of children being treated by the centre were relaxing, painting small animal figures.

Three-year-old Marnie Jennings broke the ice with the royal visitor by joining Kate's chat with her elder sister Brooke, 12, and another girl as they decorated a ceramic butterfly.

Marnie's other sister is six-year-old Tilly, who has been coming to the hospice since she was three months old following her diagnosis with a rare heart condition.

The girls' mother, Jeanette, 37, said: "She got out of her chair and went over and said: 'Hello Princess Kate, can I paint with you?'."

She added: "I thought 'Oh no, if anyone was going to disgrace me it was my three-year-old'.

"But Kate laughed. It broke the ice - nobody seemed quite so nervous then. She was very friendly and approachable."

Kate also heard a performance by a 10-year-old singer, Bethany Woods, who gave a spell-binding rendition of a song made famous by The Muppet Movie, Rainbow Connection.

In a hushed music therapy room, which moments earlier had been filled with a cacophony produced by percussion instruments played by children receiving treatment at the hospice, the wheelchair-bound youngster began to sing.

The youngster sang with a quiet voice but with a clear tone and Kate listened intently with her hands folded in her lap.

Bethany, who presented the Duchess with a posy before she left, was diagnosed at the age of 22 months with merosin negative congenital muscular dystrophy, which causes poor muscle tone, tightness in the joints and respiratory problems.

She receives a wide range of care from the hospice to alleviate her condition but especially loves taking part in music and recorded a song for the hospice's recent fundraising appeal DVD.

During her time in the music room the Duchess had picked up a single maracas and played it against her left hand as the children improvised on other percussion instruments with music therapy teacher Ray Travasso playing the keyboards.

Bethany's father, Kevin Woods, who was joined by his partner Clare Cooper, said after meeting the royal: "We were very proud for her and I cannot tell you how much it means to us to have the Duchess come down here today and give us her support."

In the grounds of the Treehouse the Duchess planted an oak sapling to commemorate her visit, shovelling in four mounds of earth with a spade before stepping back and admiring her work.

The royal then went on a brief walkabout to meet the hundreds of well-wishers who had waited patiently outside before leaving.


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