Belfast Telegraph

Down teen a picture of happiness as he meets Duchess Kate

The Duchess and (back row, left) Cathal McCann during the photography workshop
The Duchess and (back row, left) Cathal McCann during the photography workshop
The Duchess and Cathal
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

A Co Down teenager who has battled mental health issues celebrated his birthday with the ultimate party - with the Duchess of Cambridge.

Cathal McCann, from Ballynahinch, who turns 16 today, was invited to Kensington Palace after he was helped through a mental health crisis by Action for Children Northern Ireland's Blues Programme.

The St Malachy's School pupil said he had a 20 minute conversation with Kate at a photography workshop for children, adding that she praised some photos he'd taken earlier that day.

"She was interested in how I got into photography and how I came to be involved in Action for Children," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I told her that I started being part of it last year and that if it hadn't been for The Blues Programme I probably wouldn't be here today."

He added: "She replied that it's so important that organisations can offer young people the help, confidence and coping skills they need."

Cathal said he was "so buzzed" after their chat and described the Duchess as "an amazing person".

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Asked to give the experience a mark out of 10, Cathal replied: "I would give today a good nine!"

His mum Mandy (48), who has two other children - Shannon (21) and Pearce (19) - said she and Cathal had a "wonderful day" meeting royalty. "The Duchess is lovely, so down to earth, just like the rest of us," she said.

"He has come such a long way and battled through his issues, so to celebrate his birthday by meeting Kate is fabulous."

Mrs McCann said Cathal had self-harmed and used alcohol to cope with life, particularly as he was getting bullied in his fourth year at school.

"He was very low but when Action for Children reached out to help it was a game changer," she said. "He's a different person now and loving life."

Action for Children NI delivers The Blues Programme to schools throughout Northern Ireland to help young people suffering mental health issues.

Cathal attended the special day as part of Action for Children and the Royal Photographic Society's (RPS) collaboration to deliver a photography workshop for children in which the Duchess of Cambridge shared her love of photography.

The Duchess is patron of Action for Children, which has its 150th anniversary this year.

During the workshop, the Duchess explored camera techniques with children aged between nine and 18 supported by Action for Children during the session at the charity's Warren Park residential home in Surrey.

She spent more than an hour with 11 young people from across the UK and two distinguished photographers - RPS Honorary Fellows Jillian Edelstein and Harry Borden.

Some of the children already have an interest in photography, which is a therapeutic and enabling activity for many people.

As she arrived, the Duchess was shown black and white photos from the Action for Children archives of some of the first children helped by the charity when it was founded near Waterloo in 1869, along with others depicting the history of the Royal Photographic Society, founded in 1853.

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