Prince William “really charming” according to St Albans pupils after surprise lunch
14:58 14 January 2016
The Duke of Cambridge surprised a group of St Albans students yesterday (Wednesday) when he joined them for an unscheduled lunch while his air ambulance awaited the arrival of doctors on a school field.
Prince William, who is a pilot with the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA), flew on to the playing field at John Henry Newman (JHN) Catholic School in Stevenage, while pupils from St Albans’ Nicholas Breakspear Catholic School were studying there.
The institutions have close ties as the head of the former school, Clive Mathew, is also executive headteacher of Nicholas Breakspear, in Colney Heath Lane.
Declan Linnane, headteacher of the latter school, said that sixth form students were at JHN when the air ambulance landed.
He spoke at length with the royal during lunch about everything from rugby to how George is doing at nursery, and described Prince William as “just a decent man who is in touch with humanity, very humble and very interested in other people”.
Declan explained: “I was in Stevenage as I work closely with Clive, because we support each other within our sixth form, so I went there for a meeting, and then I went into the dining room for lunch.”
Because of JHN’s proximity to Lister Hospital the EAAA, a charitable service working across Beds, Cambs, Norfolk and Suffolk, sometimes uses its fields for landing an air ambulance. Staff at JHN are accustomed to the helicopter’s arrival and make sure the area is cleared for the lifesaving service.
Declan, who was unaware that a royal was among the visiting crew, said: “JHN is a very hospitable school, and invited them in. Three gentlemen, who were wearing high-visibility jackets and fleeces with the words ‘pilot’ or ‘crew’ on them, came in.
“They were going to stay for about half an hour, because they were waiting to pick up a doctor and paramedic from previous incidents – there were car accidents around Beds and Herts.
“I recognised Prince William straight away. He came in, shook hands and then queued up for lunch; he wasn’t given any preferential treatment.
“He ate the same food I had – chicken and cauliflower cheese, roast potatoes and broccoli. It was a lovely lunch as JHN food is phenomenal.
“We all sat down, the five of us, and had lunch.
“I didn’t get starstruck to be honest, as we all breathe the same air.”
Declan said it was obvious during his 20-minute-long chat with the royal that he and his colleagues were “passionate about the work they do”.
He went on: “We were talking about their work, how long they are in the air, and their incredibly busy day, because of all the accidents around Beds and Herts. We also spoke about the rugby, and how well George is doing at nursery.”
Declan said: “He was very interested in Nicholas Breakspear - for example how I came to be headteacher there - and JHN; he asked lots of questions about both schools.
“He also made a donation to JHN’s chosen charity.”
When the group was joined by some pupils, Prince William apparently asked them about their mock exams, quizzed them on what they needed to do to improve, gave them some advice, and asked what they wanted to do upon leaving school.
Nicholas Breakspear Year 12 pupils Mary Bates and Ellie Corroyer, who also chatted with the royal, told the Herts Advertiser: “He was really charming, and very nice.”
Mary added: “You wouldn’t know he was a prince if you walked past him, as he was wearing a fleece and I wouldn’t have recognised him.”
Ellie said: “I was shocked because I said ‘hi’ and he said ‘hello, it is nice to meet you’.”
Declan, who later had to explain to the stunned school community that he was not forewarned about the royal visit, said that Ellie, Mary and other pupils “couldn’t believe how ‘normal’ and what a nice person he is.”
He added: “Prince William is a very unassuming and humble person. It is the first time I have met a royal, and I found him to be dedicated to his work and family and he is very passionate about young people.
“For the young people who were sitting with him yesterday, they had an opportunity to meet Prince William – it will be a moment in time they will always remember, as it’s not every day you meet a future king.”