Princess Anne made an surprise visit to Hillsborough Castle on Tuesday in the first garden party held on the estate since the pandemic.
The Princess Royal, who turns 72 next month, joined other notable guests including PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne and Dame Arlene Foster at Northern Ireland’s only royal residence.
Anne greeted some of the roughly 1,000 people in attendance guided by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, the majority of whom were community and public sector workers from all across Northern Ireland who being honoured for their contributions to society.
It’s the third time since last July, that Anne has visited Hillsborough Castle and Gardens in Co Down, which was recently revealed as NI’s most expensive home at £81m.
The estate serves as home to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and is the official residence for the Queen and other members of the Royal Family when they are here.
Guests were delighted by her arrival, and many shared their delight it was the Queen’s only daughter who was the royal guest of honour.
Nicholas Muli, who is a ward manager at Altnagelvin Hospital, Londonderry, was invited to attend the party for his work in the community and health sector.
He said he was touched by the Princess’ interest in his background having moved to Derry from Nairobi, Kenya.
“I told her about my education and skills which helped me get my lovely job at the hospital, and she was really interested,” he said.
“It was my first time meeting a member of the royal family, so as you can imagine I was thrilled and so excited.”
Patrick Slevin, a pharmacist in Omagh, also had the pleasure of a quick chat with Anne, who walked and chatted with some guests for a lengthy period of time. He said he was surprised how much the royal knew about pharmacy.
“She was very aware of importance of local pharmacies in local communities. She was very clued in about it all, knowing how they can be a lifeline for elderly people,” he said, adding that it was lovely to meet the Princess Royal.
Patrick’s enthusiasm was shared by those in attendance, including Julie McGowan, from Portadown.
She was invited due to her contribution to voluntary work, and said it was “very nice to see it was Princess Anne” attending the party.
“The whole event has been lovely” she said.
Another guest, Julie, a NHS staff member said “Princess Anne was her favourite royal” and was thrilled to be at an event in which she was the royal attending.
Clare Kennedy and Hillary McDowell from Aghavilly Youth Club in Co Armagh, who were invited due to their contributions to youth work, said it meant a lot for them to meet a member of the royal family as her youth club offers the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.
Anne has been vocal in her support for the scheme created by her late father, Prince Phillip.
During her visit, the Princess was presented with a gift box filled with treats and goods from Northern Ireland. The gift box was a presented as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, and featured products like Erin Grove Preserves, Whites Oats and Thompson’s tea bags.
She also planted an oak tree, to mark her visit to the estate.
Anne’s popularity has shot up in recent years, following her work ethic and commitment to carrying out engagements and appearances for her mother.