Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan have shone a light on some of Britain’s bravest and most inspiring children today.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex spent the evening at the annual WellChild Awards in London, honoring children and youth who have coped with serious illnesses and those who have helped to care for them. Before the special ceremony at the Royal Lancaster Hotel began, the couple sat down and chatted with 11 children and a group of care professionals being honored later in the evening.
The Sussexes were greeted by a tiara-clad Lyla-Rose O’Donovan, six, who has undergone multiple surgeries for a life threatening brain tumor and was the recipient of the Inspirational Child Award winner. Harry listened as her father, Paul, told them how her ongoing condition often leaves her with extreme fatigue. “You’re so brave,” the prince told her.
Lyla-Rose and older sister Lilley have created a Facebook page called “Lyla and Lilley’s Stars” where they give out certificates to award other children coping with illness for their bravery. She shared handmade “bravely bracelets” with the couple, who taken aback by her generosity. “You made them for us and you didn’t make one for yourself,” Harry remarked to the Durham-based girl. “I’m always going to treasure this.”
Paul told them: “She’s a huge fan of Archie, she was hoping you would bring the baby.” Meghan replied, “Oh sorry! It’s bedtime for him now!”
It was Meghan who made a lasting impression on Emmie Narayn-Nicholas, 10, who was left unable to walk during her first year of treatment for Leukemia in 2017. She started an initiative at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital called “Emmie’s Kitchen” which provides a free three-course dinner once a month to parents of children there for a chance to bond and take a break from the hospital. “So selfless,” Meghan said to her mother Eve.
Eve, 41, told the duchess that her daughter is “a big fan” of the royal. “And can I add, as a mixed-race woman, I wanted to say I just think you’ve changed my world,” she continued to Meghan. “When I grew up, there was nobody up there who looked like me, and for my daughter too, it means that she’s has a really promising role model. You are amazing.”
“You just want to be able to connect,” Meghan blushed.
“You’ve brought a real difference to the royal family,” added Eve, from Greater Manchester. “We’ve cheered you all the way. And Harry too.”
“Thank you,” the duchess replied. “That means a lot.”
While talking with award winner six-year-old Dexter, who was diagnosed with Leukemia last year, Harry and Meghan were impressed to hear that he created T-shirts that raised significant money for charity. The design featured himself (with no hair after hearing about the potential side effects of treatment) and his sister under a rainbow. “Quite the little entrepreneur,” Meghan mused.
William Magee, who suffers from the terminal muscle denigration condition Duchenne muscular dystrophy, also impressed the couple with his business acumen. He presented Harry and Meghan with a romper printed with the slogan, “Anyone can be a hero.” The piece is from a collection he hopes to make a business from, using different positive messages to inspire others. “It’s very impressive what you have done,” Harry told the Cheshire-born boy. “You must be the big man on campus.”
On the other side of the room, the couple met young activist Mia Thorne, who is an ambassador for two disability charities and a member of the Youth Parliament of Wales. The 12-year-old was once told she would never walk or talk after being diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, but she continues to overcome the odds, even recently taking up ice skating. Impressed at hearing she was fighting for the rights of disabled access to children’s parks when she was just eight, Meghan high-fived the young girl. “And I thought you started young,” Harry told Meghan, who campaigned against a sexist TV commercial at the age of 11.
Prince Harry encouraged 13-year-old Oakley Orange to keep “being fearless.” In 2013, Orange, from Kent, spent three months in hospital on life support after losing all of his skin, hair and nails to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. “Your bravery is inspiring and to see you helping others too,” Harry told the boy after hearing that he recently returned to the hospital he was treated at to support another young child who had experienced the same symptoms as him.
The couple communicated with 16-year-old Emilie Subiger via an iPad after she lost the ability to speak and her mobility skills after a brainstem tumor resection in 2018 led to a brain injury. “I don’t think I could do that so well,” Harry told her as she typed out words to the couple. “My spelling isn’t as good!”
Rhys Bonnell presented the Sussexes with a black and white photo from their wedding day of Harry sticking his thumb out to his wedding driver. The 17-year-old’s father Neil had driven the groom on the day and wrote a message on the back of the print that read, “Apologies for dust cloud.”
Bonnell, from Kent, underwent a heart transplant after a virus critically damaged his heart at the age of seven. Since recovering, he has represented the U.K. in the World Transplant Games and is hoping to study medical physics in college. “That heart has a lot of work to do,” Harry told him.
William Jones lived up to his Most Caring Child Award winner title after presenting a thoughtful bouquet of flowers to Meghan, including roses from Yorkshire, blooms from her wedding to Harry, and flowers from Africa. “It’s a bit of everything that I know you like,” his mom Michelle told the duchess.
Jones, 16, helps care for his younger brother James who has complex medical needs and an undiagnosed genetic disease. “I visit him every night when he is in hospital,” he told them, adding that he also raises money for Sheffield Children’s hospital and works closely with Genetic Alliance.
Prince Harry bonded with 11-year-old Milly Sutherland over being redheads, and even shared that his five-month-old son, Archie, is also a ginger. (“You can see it in his eyebrows,” he said, according to Milly’s mother Angela.) The impressive tween received WellChild’s Most Caring Child Award for taking care of her sister Sophie, who had Aicardi Syndrome and passed away in 2018.
“It’s quite emotional because we lost my daughter last year,” Angela said of their meeting with Harry and Meghan. “Milly has spent most of her life massively missing out and it’s all about her now.”
During the ceremony itself, the Duke of Sussex delivered an emotional speech where he acknowledged how being a new father gave him a new perspective on the organization and those it supported.
“Last year, when my wife and I attended, we knew we were expecting our first child—no one else did at the time, but we did,” he said before taking a pause at the podium, seemingly holding back tears.
“And I remember squeezing Meghan’s hand so tight during the awards, both of us thinking what it would be like to be parents one day, and more so, what it would be like to do everything we could to protect and help our child should they be born with immediate challenges or become unwell over time,” he continued. “And now, as parents, being here and speaking to all of you pulls at my heartstrings in a way I could have never understood until I had a child of my own.”
Harry became Patron of WellChild, the national charity for seriously ill children and their families, in 2007. More than 100,000 children and young people in the U.K. are living with serious and complex health conditions. Many require round-the-clock support and can spend months, if not years, in hospital because of a lack of support to get them home.
Through a nationwide network of WellChild Children’s Nurses, home makeover projects and family support programs, WellChild works to give this growing population of children and young people the best chance to thrive – properly supported at home, together with their families.