First royal trip to Islamabad | Sunday Observer

First royal trip to Islamabad

Kate looked happy and relaxed as she chatted to children in the classroom.
Kate looked happy and relaxed as she chatted to children in the classroom.

The Duke of Cambridge shared a touching exchange with schoolgirls in Pakistan about their love for his late mother Princess Diana. He also met the country’s Prime Minister on a royal tour with wife Kate.

The couple visited the Islamabad Model College for Girls in the capital, touring classrooms and posing for a group picture with some of the young students, ranging from kindergarten students to sixth formers.

William was told the girls were ‘big fans of your mother’. He gave a broad smile and said: ‘You were, really? Oh that’s very sweet of you. I was a big fan of my mother too. She came here three times. I was very small.’

The couple later had lunch with Prime Minister Imran Khan. The five-day visit to Pakistan, following in Diana’s footsteps in 1997, is designed to champion the importance of quality education, and highlight how girls benefit from pursuing higher education and professional careers.

The Prime Minister was recalling his friendship with Diana, when journalists were allowed into his chamber for a few seconds to see the royal couple meeting him at his official residence in Islamabad. William and Kate and their entourage stayed at the residence for lunch.

The couple also met with President Arif Alvi who recalled how as a boy he ran along a street in Karachi to catch a glimpse of the Queen during her 1961 state visit to his country. ‘It was miraculous to see her’ he said.

William and Kate joined President Arif Alvi, first lady Samina Alvi, the foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his wife Mehreen, at the Presidential Palace in Islamabad.

William spoke of the Prince of Wales’s visit to Pakistan in 2006, while the duchess sat and chatted with the first lady, who asked her about their first engagement of the day at the Islamabad Modern College for Girls. ‘It’s really great, a very positive environment for children,’ Kate said.

The Cambridges pulled up tiny chairs so they could sit and chat to pupils in their classroom at the school, which also teaches young boys - and they also used the occasion to talk about the importance of mental health.

Sitting in the classroom with a group of teenagers, Prince William - who will, of course, be king one day - was asked what he had wanted to do when he was younger after Aima, (14), told him that she wanted to be a brain surgeon.

He said: ‘Actually I changed a lot as I got older but I always wanted to learn to fly. I was flying for a while actually.

‘I love flying, I feel very free, I like learning a skill, I enjoy that. I can relate to the science of what you do.’

Inside the school the couple first sat with a group of kindergarten children, aged around four, as they learnt about numbers and counting under a sign which read: Work Hard, Be Smart.

‘Well done, very good,’ said the prince, who introduced himself by shaking each of their hands, as they chatted.

They also met a class of youngsters aged 10 to 12 who were told by their teacher: ‘We have some guests in our class, can we welcome them?’

‘Hello, welcome, nice to meet you,’ the children chorused.

In the science room, William and Kate chatted at length with a group of 14-year-olds wearing headscarves. ‘This is the science class, yes? Some of the girls were saying that science is their favourite subject at school.”

William added: ‘Do you remember the periodic table? I knew that a long time ago, but Catherine you remember it well, don’t you?’

‘Do you get to do a lot of experiments?’ Kate asked, ‘your English is all so good.’

Her husband added: ‘We are trying to learn Urdu as we go on, we only know a few words now, but we hope to get better. ‘

Asked by the chattering group of girls what they thought of Pakistan so far, Kate beamed and replied: ‘It’s fantastic, this is only day one for us. We are going to the north so we will be interested to explore to see the difference.’

‘Are you enjoying it?’ they asked the prince. ‘Very much so. We have been wanting to come (for a long time) so it’s nice to finally be here. ‘My mother was here a long time ago, so it’s very nice, my grandmother was here, my father’s been here....a lot of my family members have been here...’

Kate added: ‘This part of the visit is really important to us, the issue of girls and education.’

William interjected: ‘How easy is it for girls to get access to education in Pakistan? Is it easy for girls to be educated in Pakistan?’

He seemed delighted to hear that Aima wanted to be a brain surgeon and her friends’ aims to be poets, lawyers, army officers, teachers - and even a famous cricketer.

‘In the UK we’re trying to make sure mental health is part of education as well,’ the duke told a teacher. He said students from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have a ‘stable health platform to build on’ and that education in this area is important. William has frequently spoken out on mental health, including recently lending his voice to a promotional video for Every Mind Matters, an initiative by Public Health England and the NHS.

The couple’s next engagement was at the Margalla Hills National Park, north of Islamabad, where security officials were seen tightening up operations in preparation.

Before they left the couple, who appeared delighted at the way the visit had gone, posed for a group picture with some of the students.

UK aid has helped more than 5.5 million girls get a quality education since 2011, according to the British High Commission. The duke spoke of the UK’s aim of teaching young people about mental health as he was leaving the school. The visit hopes to strengthen ties between the two nations.