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Garden party proceeds minus its host with Villiers preoccupied on Hill

By Laura Abernethy

Published 15/09/2015

The Countess of Wessex pictured with Ben Wallace MP before meeting guests at Hillsborough Castle today Monday - 14th September 2015 - during a Garden Party in the grounds.
Photo by Simon Graham/Harrison Photography
The Countess of Wessex pictured with Ben Wallace MP before meeting guests at Hillsborough Castle today Monday - 14th September 2015 - during a Garden Party in the grounds. Photo by Simon Graham/Harrison Photography
Earl of Wessex chats to guests at the Garden Party at Hillsborough Castle yesterday
Earl of Wessex chats to guests at the Garden Party at Hillsborough Castle yesterday
The Countess of Wessex

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers had to cancel an appearance at her own garden party yesterday as she tried to hold Stormont together.

But the party continued in good cheer regardless as inspirational people from across the province were honoured by royal visitors.

Hillsborough Castle may be the Northern Ireland Secretary's residence and has been the scene of countless hothouse talks that led to big breakthroughs in the past.

But all the political action was taking place at Stormont House yesterday, where Ms Villiers was hosting negotiations rather than party guests.

More than 2,000 people were invited to the party in the grounds of Hillsborough in recognition of work with charities or within their communities.

The crowd cheered when Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex and Sophie, the Countess of Wessex emerged onto the steps of the grand residence before officially turning on a fountain in the gardens.

Then, as rain fell, the royal couple moved through a sea of umbrellas to speak to invited guests.

Lord Lieutenants, representing each area of Northern Ireland, presented members of their communities and selected representatives from Girlguiding Ulster.

The Countess smiled and laughed when guides reached out to greet her with a traditional Scouts' handshake.

Irene Robinson, a leader from Ballymoney Rainbow Guides, explained: "She's the president of Girlguiding UK and normally in guiding, we shake with our left hand, but she said she gets very confused then."

Debbie McDowell is the county commissioner for guiding in Belfast. "She herself has helped out at her local Brownie unit so it was fantastic to meet her," she said.

Valerie Farrimond and Jane Maxwell, from Bushmills, were chosen because of the work they do in their community.

Valerie explained: "We talked to her about the whiskey and salmon festival that's on next weekend. She said she could forgo the whiskey but she loves salmon."

She added: "I'm so honoured to be here today. She's such a nice person. She's very down to earth."

Raymond Pollock from the Northern Ireland Children to Lapland charity said: "I'm very happy to be here. I really enjoyed it. I talked to her about the project and she was lovely."

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