The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took some festive cheer with them on their royal train tour of the country, thanking teachers, meeting schoolchildren and praising paramedics for their efforts during the pandemic.
William and Kate, who are on a 1,250-mile whistlestop three-day trip, first went to meet ambulance staff in Newbridge, near Edinburgh, before hopping back on the train to travel to see Holy Trinity First School in Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland.
The royal couple arranged a special treat for pupils – a visit from three reindeer – Chaz, Crackers and her six-month-old calf Echols.
Under rainy skies and in a chilly northerly wind, the school’s 175 pupils – some wearing antlers and some in Santa hats – waved and sang as William and Kate arrived.
The duke and duchess heard from the teachers about how they had adapted their operations to provide online learning during lockdown, and put in place measures to allow pupils to safely return to school.
Earlier, William and Kate praised frontline workers from the Scottish Ambulance Service for their work during the coronavirus crisis.
They also heard moving accounts from paramedics at the response centre about how they have been personally affected by Covid-19 tragedies.
William and Kate spoke to paramedic Alistair Matson about how he had to cope with his father falling ill and later dying in hospital during the pandemic.
Mr Matson, 54, said: “It was very emotional talking to the prince about losing my father.
“He was very anxious to hear how we managed to cope with the mental strains of our job.”
He added: “It was really heartening to see the royal couple here today acknowledging what we do and their thanks means a lot to us.”
His colleague, John Kane, told the royal couple that he spent three weeks in an induced coma in Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital after contracting the virus.
The 59-year-old said: “It was a terrifying time and the recovery has been slow, but again the SAS has helped that.”
It also emerged during the visit that William and Kate had sent a special bouquet of flowers to the family of a veteran paramedic, who died last month after he re-enlisted in April four years after his retirement.
Rod Moore, from Falkirk, died aged 63 after contracting coronavirus.
His funeral was due to take place during the royal visit.
A spokesman for the ambulance service said: “I know that Rod’s family greatly appreciated the flowers sent on behalf of the royal family. It was a lovely gesture.”
The visit coincided with the announcement that the duke and duchess have become joint patrons of NHS Charities Together.
The 240 NHS charities in the UK provide extra funding and additional services above and beyond what the NHS core-funds, supporting hospitals, community and mental health services, and ambulance services.
Earlier, William and Kate pulled into Edinburgh Waverley station to the sounds of a piper playing Christmas songs including Jingle Bells and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.
The duke was the first to step out of the Royal Claret-coloured carriages, adjusting his face mask as he did so, followed by Kate.
The duchess, in a Liberty print face covering, was dressed in a smart blue Catherine Walker coat and black gloves, while William was wearing a navy coat and a tartan scarf.
They were welcomed to the city on the platform by Deputy Lord Lieutenant Sandra Cumming and chatted briefly, before then thanking the piper and leaving the station to make their way to their first engagement.
The couple travelled overnight after setting off on Sunday evening from London’s Euston station on the special tour, which will see them thank communities, outstanding individuals and key workers for their efforts during the coronavirus crisis.
Ahead of departure, they left a personal message of thanks for transport workers on a London Underground service information board.
Thank you to transport workers everywhere for keeping the country moving throughout this difficult year.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!
William & Catherine
— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) December 7, 2020
Kensington Palace shared images of the notice at Euston and of Kate writing the words and William signing it.
Their message read: “Thank you to all transport workers everywhere for keeping the country moving throughout this difficult year.
“Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!