The Prince and Princess of Wales were given a rapturous welcome as they paid their first visit to Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland, where a crowd of 3,000 turned out to meet them on the seafront.
It was the couple’s first visit to the Co Antrim town since Queen Elizabeth II gave them the titles of Baron and Baroness of Carrickfergus when they married in April 2011.
Ever since, local politicians have extended an open invitation, urging them to honour the coastal town with a visit.
James Brown, a long serving local councillor who died in 2018, even lobbied the then Prince Charles about it when he received an MBE in 2015, later revealing: "We have been dropping hints all along."
For the huge crowds who waited hours to greet them, it was worth the wait as the royal couple posed for numerous selfies, collected bunches of flowers and chatted about their visit, insisting they hoped it was the first of many.
The Prince and Princess visited Carrick Connect, a local youth charity that offers support services to local people experiencing social or emotional difficulties, where they had a go at making protein energy balls.
Tracey McNickle, who co-founded the organisation in November 2014, said it “meant the absolute world” that the couple had finally visited their namesake.
Ms McNickle said: “We were so delighted when we were told they were coming to visit. It will really give us a boost, raise our profile and hopefully attract more young mentors and more financial backers.”
The Prince and Princess were greeted on arrival by Ms McNickle, co-founder Jonny Ewart and Vice Lord Lieutenant of County Antrim, Miranda Gordon.
They heard about some of the projects the charity runs in the community, including a mentoring service created to help young people develop strategies for coping with life.
Shannon Railton, 19, a new mother from nearby Ballycarry, was put in touch with Ms McNickle when she was 17 and struggling with anxiety.
The pair met for a coffee and a chat in local cafes once a week for two years and Miss Railton said the support had been invaluable.
“She taught me coping strategies and being able to meet in informal surroundings instead of going to an office made all the difference,” she said.
“When I fell pregnant, she was so reassuring. During the pandemic we kept chatting on FaceTime, it meant everything.”
The Princess appeared delighted to be offered the chance to cuddle Miss Railton’s sleepy two-month-old son, Isaac, who contentedly clutched the bow on her blouse.
“He’s so sweet,” she cooed, laughing: “No, I’m not your mummy.”
She asked Miss Railton how long she had been part of the mentor scheme and how it had helped her. Miss Railton told her it had allowed her to “have a good cry” and talk about her problems.
When the Princess asked William if he would like to hold Isaac, he joked that he had better not as the baby would almost certainly be sick.
The Prince and Princes chatted to members of the mentor team and some of the young people they support, learning about the impact it was having on their lives and future plans.
In June, the charity launched its “Feel Good Hub”, a project designed, organised and driven by young people aged 18-25 who are supported by Carrick Connect.
The project focuses on delivering activities that make other young people feel good, whilst allowing those running it to learn leadership skills, build confidence and resilience, and have a voice in their local community.
They were told that one of the activities was fishing and the Princess later commented that fresh mackerel was “so good” when it was just caught.
The Prince asked members of the committee how fundraising had been recently and was told it had been slow.
He asked if there was a particular problem in Carrickfergus and Ms McNickle told him it was drugs and poor mental health. She added: “It’s education, education, education.”
The Prince noted that “once you are out of the system it’s very hard to get back in again.”
The couple were also told about an initiative called Railtastic which works alongside Carrick Connect to discourage anti-social behaviour on the railways.
The Princess said it must have been interesting to see the organisation change over time as they watched it grow.
As they moved towards the table laid out with the ingredients to make energy bars, the Princess joked: “Is this the Blue Peter moment?”
Asked if they would like to have a go, the Prince replied: “Why not? I might get straight into it” and immediately donned some plastic gloves.
They were told it was a healthy snack they taught young people how to make involving items they could easily get hold of. The Princess said: “It’s amazing to be able to do something like this.” She asked if she should take some of the mixture, and how much.
“Do they set? Do they go in the fridge?” she asked, laying them out on a baking tray.
The couple then made their way outside where they were greeted by huge cheers.