Prince William weathers the rain as Belfast gives him a warm welcome
Duke of Cambridge in one-day visit as he opens mental health charity
Prince William was greeted by cheering crowds and a sea of Union flags as he swept into Belfast city centre yesterday to officially open the headquarters of mental health charity and social enterprise Inspire.
The second-in-line to the throne met with service users, counsellors and ambassadors from the organisation's programmes during the first leg of his whistle-stop one-day visit to the province.
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The prince was given an insight into the success of three schemes - Change Your Mind, which tackles stigma in schools; Mindfit, which addresses mental health in sport; and a creativity programme for young people.
Inspire's CEO Peter McBride revealed that the royal visitor had hailed his charity's work as "inspirational", and said that William's example could prove "life-changing" for those suffering mental health issues.
"One of the biggest problems that people with mental health issues face is stigma," he said.
"Stigma is based to some extent on ignorance, but it's also about people not talking about it or feeling ashamed of their illness.
"So when you have someone like Prince William coming along and talking openly and encouraging people to talk about it, then it's a way of giving permission for us to talk about our mental health.
"I think that anybody who has experienced suffering is a lot more humble when it comes to dealing with the suffering of others, and there's no doubt that with the experiences that he has had in his life he has experienced terrible loss and significant suffering.
"I think that he is dealing with that in a very dignified but a very compassionate way.
"I think that he genuinely cares, and is genuinely interested in using whatever influence he can exercise to promote these issues so that other people suffer less.
"If you're suffering, if you're unhappy, if you're not coping then it's OK to talk to people about that, and if adults who we respect and who society respects tell us that, then that can be life-changing."
Former Manchester United and Northern Ireland player Pat McGibbon, whose Co Armagh-based Train 2B Smart football club works in partnership with Inspire, praised the fact that English FA president Prince William hadn't "put himself up on a pedestal" when talking to their young players.
"What people need to understand is that mental health can affect anybody, it moves across all socio-economic backgrounds, and somebody as high profile as this endorsing it, it obviously has to be very positive," said Mr McGibbon, whose brother Philip took his own life in 1993.
The IFA's Inspire ambassador, Linfield player Andy Waterworth, also praised William's "down-to-earth" approach and joked that he was "very welcome for a kickabout" at any time.
"Being a Chelsea supporter I was able to hit him with a joke about Aston Villa, and he said: 'Don't get me started," laughed Andy.
"There was a bit of banter. He's very welcome to come back.
"He's very welcome to the national football stadium at Windsor Park."
The prince also found time for a walkabout, hailing the spirit of locals who had waited for hours to catch a glimpse of him in the pouring rain.
"We told him that he had brought the sunshine," said Belfast woman Eileen Kelly.
"We also asked after his wife Kate, and whether she was feeling a bit better with her morning sickness, and he said she was well.
"I would like to see them come back together - he was amazing."
Royal watchers left disappointed that they were unable to meet the prince yesterday may not have to wait too long for his return, according to Lord Lieutenant of Belfast Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle.
"I'm expecting him back in the not-too-distant future," she said. "But I can't reveal any details!"