The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge praised healthcare staff as they visited a hospital in Norfolk to mark the 72nd anniversary of the creation of the NHS.
William and Kate met staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, including Suzie Vaughan, 43, who spent nine weeks away from her daughters Hettie, seven, and Bella, nine, during the coronavirus pandemic.
Kate told Ms Vaughan: “You did a really good job. It’s amazing how everybody pulled together.”
William, who was also addressing chief nurse Libby McManus, added: “Everyone appreciated what you do. The NHS is a fantastic organisation.”
The duke told Hettie and Bella “I love your dresses”, while the duchess told them: “You girls look really pretty.”
Kate asked if they had missed their mum while she was working, and added: “It is a real treat to meet you both.”
Ms Vaughan, an operating department practitioner, said: “They both always wanted to meet a real life princess.”
The couple also spoke to Sam Jude, 30, a nurse at the hospital, who came down with coronavirus in May.
“I told them the hospital were like my family as my real family were 6,000 miles away in India,” he said.
“They checked in on me all the time and I told them that and they were impressed.”
In their first joint engagement since post-lockdown, the couple met staff and volunteers in a marquee set up with tables and party balloons to celebrate the hospital’s forthcoming 40th birthday on July 22, the same date their oldest son Prince George will turn seven.
William asked health workers how they coped with anxiety during the crisis and when they described “wobbly-moments”, he replied: “This is a good way of describing it.”
The couple, who have three children – George, six, Charlotte, five, and Louis, two – were given three small Knitted Angels keyrings of doctors and nurses which were made by hospital staff.
William said: “The children will love them.”
The hospital is a short drive from the Cambridges’ country home in Anmer, and the royals had privately marked the national Clap For Carers at 5pm before their visit, a palace spokesman said.
Ms Vaughan and her daughters took part in the clap at the hospital before meeting the duke and duchess.
Afterwards, Ms Vaughan said: “It was amazing to see the them both. I told them about being away from the girls for so long.
“They asked how I coped away from them for so long. He said how amazed he was. That felt amazing.”
Hettie added: “It was fun. I told her I had never met a real princess before. And she said she was as pleased to meet me as I was to meet her.
“I told her how proud I was of my mummy.”
The hospital, which serves more than 330,000 people across Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, has treated 450 patients with Covid-19.
A total of 46 patients have been recruited to the Covid-19 recovery trial, and more than 500 are involved in other coronavirus research.
Last month, William visited the ambulance station at the hospital to thank paramedics.