The Prince of Wales has viewed sculptures dedicated to the work of NHS workers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Charles, known as the Duke of Rothesay in Scotland, met with Edinburgh-born sculptor Kenny Hunter at the city’s Royal College of Surgeons (RCSE) to learn about the artworks.
Entitled Your Next Breath, a name inspired by a mindfulness video for NHS staff to encourage them to breathe when taking a break on shift, the artwork comprises four life-size figures in scrubs experiencing a moment of reflection after a day’s work in a Covid ward.
Charles’s visit celebrated this week’s announcement that he is to become the RCSE’s new patron, following in the footsteps of his father the Duke of Edinburgh – who served as patron for 66 years.
Charles met with RCSE president Professor Michael Griffin and staff and council members from the college.
To mark his appointment, he was presented with a unicorn centrepiece by college vice-president Pala Rajesh.
Speaking at the event, Charles said: “I am enormously touched and flattered to have been asked to follow in my father’s footsteps, all those years of his footsteps, here, at Royal College of Surgeons.
“What he would have said if he’d known I was succeeding, I don’t know.
“But all I do know is that the last conversation I had with him I was saying to him… ‘we’ve been talking about some kind of reception for your 100th birthday’ and he said ‘what?’
“So I said again, ‘we’ve been talking about your 100th anniversary’, and he said ‘well I have got to be alive for it’.
“And sadly he wasn’t.
“He always told me he didn’t want to be 100, but he very nearly made it, and I know how much he valued his connection with the Royal College here, as will I.”
Addressing staff and members of the college, he added: “I am full of admiration for all you do, throughout the medical profession, particularly during this terrible pandemic which has added enormously to everyone’s burdens and challenges in a way no-one could have ever predicted or thought would be the case.
“We owe, as always, an immense depth of gratitude to all of you I know put so many hours and so much of your life and emotion and skills into helping people who are going through very difficult times.
“Thank-you, and I am very proud indeed to become involved in such an eminent organisation.”
Charles then spent time walking around the artwork with Mr Hunter to learn more about his sculptures.
The figures were initially modelled in clay before being made into their current resin form and will be cast in bronze later this year.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Hunter, a professor in sculptor at Edinburgh College of Art, said: “Each of the four represent something a bit different.
“One represents reflection, one exhaustion, another camaraderie and the other resilience.”
The artist said he had Zoom calls with NHS workers and received photos of staff at work to “get a believable person into the soul of the sculpture”.
He added: “The subtitle for this work, ‘Your Next Breath’ is a title I got from an NHS video online about mindfulness, for NHS staff to decompress after a hard shift.
“There was a line in it that said ‘on your next breath, let go of your tension’, and that sort of thing.
“I love the connection with breathing and lungs and the impact of the virus on our lungs.
“Also I thought the idea of breath connected everybody, and this pandemic affected us all.
“This memorial marks the resilience and compassion of healthcare workers and the reason I wanted to do it was to mark what they did.
“They put themselves in harm’s way, for us.”
Prof Griffin said it was “a great honour” to welcome Charles to the college on his first visit as patron and to mark the unveiling of Mr Hunter’s work.
“This striking piece of public art pays tribute to those who have given so much during such a globally significant moment in history, whilst reflecting on the tenacity and compassion of NHS workers,” he added.