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Marking WI's 100 years piece of cake for Queen as body bids to recruit Kate and Charlotte

By Tony Jones

The Duchess of Cambridge may follow a long royal tradition and become a signed-up member of the Women's Institute (WI).

Janice Langley, the WI's chairman, revealed the development as the Queen, Princess Royal and Countess of Wessex joined the organisation for its centenary annual general meeting at the Royal Albert Hall.

The three royal women are all members of their local branches or federations, with the Queen associated with the Sandringham WI since 1943.

Mrs Langley told members of the National Federation of Women's Institutes to claps and cheers that Kate's local branch had been in contact with their famous resident.

The Anmer WI has written to the Duchess and in return she has expressed some interest in the organisation, said a WI spokeswoman.

She added: "It would be wonderful if she carried on a long tradition of members of the royal family enjoying WI membership and everything that's on offer through the WI and hopefully Princess Charlotte will follow in due course."

Before leaving, the Queen shared a joke with Anne and Sophie as she tried to cut a very thick and rich fruit cake baked to mark the centenary of the WI.

After trying to cut out a slice she left the knife sticking out of the iced treat and gathered herself to finish off the job.

Anne took over after a few moments and finally managed to cut the slice and pull the knife out.

Julie Clarke (67), chairman of the WI's North Yorkshire West Federation, said: "It was a rich fruit cake and she was guaranteeing it was definitely a fruit cake by trying to cut to the bottom. The rich fruit cake needs some cutting and she just got a bit of assistance from Anne to get the knife through."

Anne was delighted when she was given her own fruit cake to keep and smiled when handed it. The WI was formed in 1915 to rejuvenate rural communities and encourage women to become more involved in producing food to combat German blockades. The Queen said: "Over the past 100 years, the WI has continued to grow and evolve with its members to stay relevant and forward-thinking.

"In 2015 it continues to demonstrate that it can make a real difference to the lives of women of all ages and cultural backgrounds, in a spirit of friendship, co-operation and support."

'I'm not the typical member but it's great'

Dawn McCormick (47) runs an event management company and lives in Seaforde, Co Down, with her husband Michael and their daughter Lucy (12). She says:

"I joined about five years ago to keep my mum company - the friend she used to go with passed away. I was intrigued too, though, and at the time my husband was working overseas so I thought it would be a nice way to spend an evening.

"I'm on the committee now and the committee is responsible for putting together the programme for that year.

"We've had talks about fruit and veg, social media, flower arranging and other crafts. We've just had Northern Ireland Women's Fisheries who talked about their lives as fishermen's wives and how to prepare fish. Some of their stories, such as the lady whose husband died at sea, were fascinating, and I love the human aspects of it.

"The night that really sticks in my mind is the one where we asked each lady to bring in a personal memento and tell us the story behind it. It was the best night.

"I'm probably not the typical WI member because I'm not very into crafts or making things.

"I like it because of the social side of things.

"I love listening to the older women in particular, as they have some wonderful stories to tell."

'It's not fuddy-duddy like some think'

Elizabeth Jess (55) lives in Carrickfergus with her husband Ronald. They have two children, Hadleigh (30) and Charlotte (28). She says:

"I joined the Ravernette WI about four years ago because I was friends with a lady who already went. I liked it because it's not fuddy-duddy, which is a misconception a lot of people still have about the WI.

"They have very interesting speakers; recently a girl from Mash Direct came in and spoke and gave everyone goody bags too. There are plenty of events and outings. This year is the 50th anniversary of our particular group so they're opening Hillsborough Castle for a special afternoon tea for us. There will also be a dinner dance and a church service.

"We've been to Crumlin Road Gaol recently and we go away for a weekend each August.

"There are quite a lot of widows in our group and I think the WI provides them with social interaction they wouldn't normally have.

"The WI is incredibly welcoming. Everyone is pleased to lend a hand the ladies are always baking and volunteering to pour tea. It would be lovely to see some younger members join and get involved - I think a lot of women join because their mothers are members."

'We have a buddy system for widows'

Mary Anne Pamplin-Dooley (38) is a full-time mum. She lives in Ballygawley with her husband Declan and their son Michael (2). She says:

"I always wanted to join the Women's Institute. I think it's because I was brought up in a house where my mother taught me things like embroidery and knitting the way her mother had taught her. I even have some samples belonging to my great-grandmother, so the crafting side of things appealed to me.

"I went along three years ago and I haven't stopped. I think it's fantastic. We go along once a month for a two-hour meeting with a talk from a speaker.

"We've had an admiral from the local yacht club and someone from Loughry College. During the year we try to make sure there's someone to talk about health, then travel, then someone from our nominated charity and topics like that.

"Some of the ladies are a little older and have been widowed and a buddy system has been developed. One person will call a list of buddies each morning to make sure they're up and that they don't need anything.

"It means the buddies always have someone to talk to each day and make sure they're doing OK."

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