The Duke of Cambridge became the prince of hugs when he showed off his affectionate side and embraced a hospital cleaner.
William’s heartfelt encounter came as he visited the Royal Marsden in central London to highlight its work supporting the mental health of cancer patients, their families and the medical staff who care for them.
Speaking to a matron who had returned to duties after receiving help, he praised the work of nurses, saying the “reservoirs of compassion” they must have were “incredible”.
He also shared a poignant moment with Pauline Gore, widow of Professor Martin Gore, a leading figure at the Royal Marsden who died in January after a yellow fever jab.
The duke, who had got to know the professor well since first visiting the medical institution for work experience in 2005, told Mrs Gore: “He is the Royal Marsden, he is the living embodiment of the Royal Marsden.”
In a lighter moment, after chatting to patients on a ward, William was asked for a hug first by staff nurse Joyce Mensah, then cleaner Evelyn Adams, 65.
He did not need to be asked twice and embraced the women as he laughed.
Ms Adams joked later: “I had a hug from William – he’s my prince.
“This is my best working day.”
The duke has made raising awareness about mental health one of the central themes of his public work – launching the Heads Together campaign with Kate and his brother, the Duke of Sussex, a few years ago to tackle the issue.
He chatted to matron Aly Foyle, who returned to work mentally fitter and was promoted after taking time off with stress, compassion fatigue and depression, and staff nurse Zoe Bullock who, with her team, takes part in debriefing sessions to talk about any issues they may have.
William, who is president of the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, told the pair: “The success stories are the ones we want to hear a lot more of. The whole point of having a mental health illness, or having a mental health problem is that you come back from it – and that’s a positive experience from a negative experience.”
He added that they faced “daily attrition” in their work but “the reservoirs of compassion you guys must have are incredible in the business you do, because you have to not only look after yourself, your colleagues, but the patients, and that’s difficult”.
The duke also met former cancer patients and chatted to Julie Gallagher, 55, an estate agent from Kingston upon Thames who has twice battled throat cancer and received counselling for herself and her daughter from the Trust.
William asked her: “Did you feel overwhelmed by it or did you feel ‘I don’t know if I can beat this’?”
When she nodded in agreement, he added: “So that’s where the support really comes in, to give you the confidence to say this is OK, we’re going to do this together, you’re going to beat it.”
William became the Trust’s president in 2007 – following in the footsteps of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales, who held the same position from 1989 until her death in 1997.
Before leaving the Royal Marsden in Chelsea, he met a small group of women on Ellis Ward, which specialises in the care of female patients undergoing investigations and treatments for breast, gynaecological, urological and gastrointestinal cancers.