The Duchess of Cambridge finally came face to face with a pensioner she has been calling on the phone while secretly volunteering through a Check In And Chat scheme.
Kate met full-time carer 85-year-old Len Gardner, and was introduced to his delighted wife Shirley, as she and the Duke of Cambridge stopped off in Batley, West Yorkshire, on their three-day tour around the country by royal train.
The couple chatted with Mr Gardner at Batley Community Centre before heading to his home in Carlinghow.
As they pulled up and walked with Mr Gardner a few hundred yards to his house, the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band played Christmas songs.
Mr Gardner went inside to fetch his 84-year-old wife Shirley, who has Alzheimer’s, as the royal couple, wearing masks, waited patiently on the roadside.
Mrs Gardner seemed reluctant to step into the cold until William and Kate moved closer.
A first meeting in person for The Duchess of Cambridge and Len Gardner, who The Duchess has spoken to previously as part of the NHS Volunteer Responder ‘Check-in and Chat’ scheme.
— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) December 7, 2020
She caught sight of Kate and her face lit up – and she and her husband then spent almost 10 minutes chatting to the Cambridges on their driveway.
Mr and Mrs Gardner swayed gently to the band’s rendition of Winter Wonderland, while the duchess clapped along.
The royal couple then left Christmas presents and a hamper before bidding the couple farewell then standing to listen to the band and leading neighbours in a round of applause.
News of the visit had spread on social media and people lined the streets, phones in hand.
Mr Gardner said afterwards: “They loved the Christmas tree in my garden and they said how they appreciated what I do to care for my wife during this terrible time.
“They asked how I cope – well you just get up and get on with it.
“It’s been a brilliant day. People have been so kind, it’s hard to put into words.”
The duchess first rang Mr Gardner in May through the NHS Volunteer Responder Check In And Chat scheme.
He revealed how he calls the future queen “love”, and how they have chatted about work, their children, families, and the countries he has travelled to, including Italy.
The duchess later arranged for Buckingham Palace to send him a pasta-making machine and two kilos of flour so he could make his favourite food.
As they met at the community centre, they talked about Mr Gardner’s volunteering, and his days as a Scout leader.
At one point Mr Gardner pointed to the crowds outside and said: “That guy there, the chemist – his son was one of my cubs. We camped all over England.”
He said about meeting the duchess: “I am especially pleased about this day. It will live with me forever.”
Mr Gardner described his response at first speaking to Kate, saying: “It was just flabbergasting.
“And the first question I had to ask was, ‘How do I address you?’ Because I like to do things properly.
“She said, ‘Call me Catherine’. And from that moment on, for the next 30 minutes it was Catherine and Len.”
Mr Gardner said they discussed his love of pasta.
“She said ‘Do you make your own pasta?’ I said, ‘No, love, I haven’t got a pasta machine’. In any case, the flour they use is called 00 and it’s hard to get.
“Yes, I used the word ‘love’ because it’s a northern word. We don’t mean anything in depth by it. We just mean friendly.”
He said they talked about the “ordinary things in life – it was a very nice conversation”.
Four days later, Mr Gardner received a brand new pasta machine from Buckingham Palace and then two days after that, two kilos of 00 Italian flour.
He added: “We have pasta about once a week – fresh, home-made pasta.”