Kate Middleton's Special Touch with Children in Hospice: 'That Is Her Character'

Simon Perry
Kate Middleton's Special Touch with Children in Hospice: 'That Is Her Character'

For Kate Middleton, Friday will be a poignant day.

Five years after she launched an appeal for funds for a new center for severely ill children, she will proudly walk into the state-of-the-art building and see the fruits of its success.

She will witness how families’ lives are being made more comfortable as they have the best care in the best equipped hospice for kids in the U.K.

The Nook, near Norwich (about 120 miles northeast of London) is the pinnacle of a period of eight years in which Kate has helped put East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices — and the hospice movement as a whole — on the map. EACH was one of the first she adopted in her early life as a royal.

Kate Middleton at an event for The Nook Appeal in 2017. | Karwai Tang/WireImage

“I feel as though we have grown up with her,” says outgoing chief executive Graham Butland, who was there when Kate, 37, made her first-ever public speech as she opened their hospice in nearby Ipswich.

“I remember how nervous she was. It wasn’t just the 200 people in front of her, but the world’s press and TV and everything there,” he recalls. “I’ve noticed how comfortably she has grown into her new position. In the very early days, I remember her coming into a room and her head would be slightly down and the long hair would be across. Now, she comes in with her head held high.

“But she hasn’t lost the common touch. She can still empathize with the children and families who we care for. Whenever she comes — and with private visits without the gaze of the press — the feedback we get from families is tremendous.”

Butland adds, “If you’re a royal having to learn the common touch, is that more difficult than being a commoner having to learn the royal touch? She is so natural when I see her with children and families. This is not someone struggling to stay in character. That is her character.”

The charity has managed to raise $13 million and needs about $1.2 million more for The Nook.

On Friday, Princess Kate will tour facilities that include a hydrotherapy pool, state-of-the-art sensory room and music studio. During her visit, she will meet children and families taking part in arts and crafts activities.

Press Association via AP Images

Kate’s role fits in with her comprehensive concern for the early-years sector — whether the mental health challenges some families and children face or the desire for a trouble-free education. “From the families’ point of view, to have someone in her position on their side, if I can put it that way, has done so much for them,” Butland says.

“Thankfully, the vast majority will never ever need the services provided by EACH and other hospices. But for those that do, it can be a very lonely and isolated position to be in. To have someone like Her Royal Highness rooting for you and taking an interest in the challenges you are facing is something that is very comforting for them.”

Stef Partington, Stanley Harrold and Joe Harrold. | Courtesy East Anglia's Children's Hospices

One such family is Stef Partington and Joe Harrold, parents of 3-year-old Stanley Harrold. The family has received support from EACH since Stanley, who has the rare life-threatening chromosomal disorder Pallister Killian Syndrome, was seven weeks old.

EACH “is a holistic approach that they give us a family,” Partington says. After Stan — as his mom calls him — left intensive care, EACH offered them emotional support and  play therapy. “They have offered us support with music therapy. It is amazing as a family to do this, as it was the first time we saw Stan react to anything,” she adds.

There is also a parent group “where we can be around like-minded people and understand the situation we have been in. The analogy we give is it’s the club that nobody wants to be belong to but it is dearly needed — and really appreciated.”

Stan spends most of his time at home, but EACH supports the family with counselor services, hydrotherapy sessions and a child support group.

As an interior designer, Partington has had a helping hand — with, she says, a “very light touch” — at the facility. She came up with an interior color scheme and artwork that depicts wider Norfolk. “It gives them a bit of an identity, and hopefully make it feel a positive place to be,” she says.

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“Being so high profile and so well-loved — especially here in Norfolk where she has good links — [Kate] has [put EACH] in the public eye and has made it something people want to support locally. We wouldn’t be where we are now if she wasn’t our patron.”

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The charity’s new center The Nook “opens up a whole new world for us, somewhere to go that’s positive and specifically built for our needs,” adds Partington. “It is almost overwhelming when you go in there. The people who work there are  truly amazing. The people who work there are the ones who make the Nook.”