Jubilant crowds cheer Royal couple on Main Street walk
Lining Main Street, throngs of people of all ages sang, applauded and waved the Union flag on Main Street as Gibraltar welcomed Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, on the second day of their Royal visit.
For 90 minutes, the public clamoured to meet the Royals, sharing warm and meaningful moments in quick exchanges on their walk from The Convent to City Hall.
From petting dogs, playing with babies, and discussing what lessons schoolchildren had skipped to see them, Prince Edward and Sophie endeared themselves to the public in their longer-than-scheduled walk down Main Street.
It should have taken 45 minutes, itself a generous allocation of time in a packed schedule. In the event, it took nearly double that time.
In the sweltering heat, people waited up to an hour and a half in the hope of sharing a word or catching a glimpse of the Royal couple, who were joined by the Governor, Vice Admiral Sir David Steel, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and his wife Justine Picardo.
Pupils from schools across Gibraltar were on Main Street, with youngsters holding handmade Union flags, excitedly calling over to the couple, waving frantically to get their attention and greeting them with a well-rehearsed ‘Your Highness’.
The walk down Main Street formed part of a jam-packed schedule for the Royal couple who also visited Moorish Castle estate, the Northern Defences, Clubhouse Gibraltar, City Hall, a lunch with the Duke of Edinburgh Award and charity, a visit to the Special Olympics Sports Complex, Sandy Bay for paddle boarding, the Naval Base, the Scouts and Girlguides Association and then an evening Garden Party in The Convent.
Every minute of their schedule has been planned, including multiple wardrobe changes.
The countess started the day wearing a bright blue dress and white belt in the morning at the Moorish Castle and swapping this later for a white and light blue dress during a half hour break at the Convent for her walk down Main Street.
Rachel Beniso will be 98 years old this summer, and alongside her granddaughters Ruth Beniso and Yael Brenig, she waited outside the Convent for a special greeting from Prince Edward and Sophie.
Rachel, who is older than the Queen, remembers key moments in her reign, and was even present during the Queen’s coronation celebrations in Hyde Park, London.
She fondly remembers the event, which took place while she was still in London after being evacuated from Gibraltar during World War II.
She spoke to Prince Edward and Sophie outside The Convent about the Queen’s coronation, in what was a doubly-special moment. Not only had she met the Royals, Wednesday’s outing marked the first time she had left an elderly residential facility since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rachel also remembers the Queen’s father King George VI’s death in 1952 and the Queen’s wedding.
This was not her first time meeting a Royal, however, as Rachel has also met Prince Charles in a reception in London.
From old to young, people from across the community were present at Prince Edward and Sophie’s walk down Main Street, which turned into a friendly and positive community event.
Charlie Newnes, at just seven months old, caught the attention of Sophie, much to his parents Christoph Newnes and Charlotte Shaw’s delight.
The young family are in Gibraltar visiting Christoph’s cousin, their first trip to the Rock. They waited an hour and half in the sun to see the Royals.
“She just said how cute he was and how big he was for seven months, and that he looked very hot,” Christoph told the Chronicle.
“But I said [to Sophie] ‘he couldn’t miss a Royal on his seven month birthday’.”
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For Hamish Summerfield, meeting the Countess of Wessex was a birthday wish come true.
Hamish turned eight years old on Wednesday, and asked Sophie for a photo together as his birthday present. Sophie obliged, putting her arm around him as she smiled for a snapshot the family will treasure.
He was waiting with his mother, Dita, and both squealed with excitement and nerves after speaking to the Countess.
“I was so nervous, but if I don’t ask, I don’t get,” said Dita.
“It’s my son’s birthday so I thought let’s make it a bit special and it worked.”
Dita and Hamish were going to continue with his birthday celebrations with a swim, and commented on how special and memorable their moment with Sophie was.
Lottie Azopardi had her special moment when she gave Sophie a bouquet of flowers outside City Hall.
Lottie was granted the opportunity after winning ‘Most Promising Infant’ at the Gibraltar Festival of Young Musicians, but when asked about her favourite hobby she told the Royal couple she enjoyed gymnastics.
Lottie was joined by Olivia Desoisa and Elise Andlaw, both Loreto Convent pupils who formed part of the choir which won ‘Best School Choir’ in the same competition.
Elsewhere in Main Street, Prince Edward spoke to schoolchildren from Loreto Convent about what lessons they had skipped to see him.
The pupils, dressed in PE clothes, excitedly told him they had missed maths and now some of their PE lesson time too.
Julian Rocca, James Olivera and Sebastian Nilsen Nunn, all aged 10, told the Chronicle they had learnt about the Royal family and the Queen and said it was “cool” to meet the Prince in person.
St Mary’s schoolteacher Kathy Sampere greeted the Prince alongside nursery aged children, Lucas Victor, Riley-Anne Ritchie and Isabelle Stagnetto, who said “good morning Your Highness” to Prince Edward.
The team at the Civil Status and Registration Office including Vanessa Sene, Katrina Ignacio, Sharron Borge, Emma Senior and Danielle Gracia were excited to see the Royals, as was Deputy Registrar Adrian Traverso, who said he was happy to meet the Prince and had previously met Princess Anne.
He had met Princess Anne after he was injured during an exercise with the Royal Gibraltar Regiment in Morocco and was in hospital.
Residents of Moorish Castle Estate had worked tirelessly to decorate and paint the estate in red, white and blue, with their efforts recognised by the Royal couple.
The small team of 10 volunteers painted stairs and pipes, hung flag bunting from the buildings and decorated the area with Union flags, working up to 16 hours a day under the hot sun to give the couple a Royal welcome.
Joelle Baglietto, formed part of the voluntary team, and had previously decorated the estate for the Royal couples Diamond Jubilee visit 10 years ago.
Joelle was grateful the estate could pull off the decorations once again, and said the fact Moorish Castle Estate had been tasked again to hold a visit was testament to their hard work 10 years ago.
“Last time we did a brilliant job and I think this time we’ve done a hundred times better,” Ms Baglietto said.
“I am really, really happy of how it has turned out and, today, I think, we will make Gibraltar proud.”
Early morning, at 9am, schoolchildren from St Bernard’s Lower and Upper Primary, as well as students from Prior Park School waved their flags for the Earl and Countess’s arrival.
Volunteers present who met the Royals included Christine Clara, Kevin Martinez, Jairon Mor, Maria Baglietto and David Cotterill, with Sandra Martinez also taking part in the volunteer effort despite being unable to attend the Royal visit.
Miah Bates, aged nine, gave the Countess a bouquet of flowers during the visit.
The couple were generous with their time and spoke to the volunteers and children, setting the scene for how the rest of their day would unfold.
During a lunch at Bistro Point, in Europa Point, the Royals were welcomed by Duke of Edinburgh Award Chairman, Dale Cruz, and Deputy Governor, Nick Pyle, who founded the Duke of Edinburgh Golf charity in Gibraltar.
The Prince, who now heads the Award established by his late father, thanked sponsors and everyone involved for their support and praised the youngsters who had recently obtained gold award or were in the scheme.
Later that evening, the Royals attended the Garden party at the Convent, which was slimmed down due to Covid-19.
Some 300 guests attended, less than half the usual number with guests split into groups.