Prince William has told how Scotland is the source of his saddest but also his happiest memories, as he gave an opening address at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
The Duke of Cambridge said he was at the Queen’s Balmoral home when he was told that his mother Diana had died, and he shared how he found comfort and solace in the Scottish outdoors in the “dark days of grief” that followed.
However, Scotland is also the place where he met his future wife 20 years ago this year, which he described as a memory of “great joy”.
William was appointed by the Queen as Lord High Commissioner to the assembly, which is taking place in “blended” form due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with a only a small number of people at the Assembly Hall in Edinburgh and others watching online.
In his speech to the assembly on Saturday, William said: “Scotland is a source of some of my happiest memories but also my saddest.
“I was in Balmoral when I was told that my mother had died. Still in shock, I found sanctuary in the service at Crathie Kirk that very morning and in the dark days of grief that followed I found comfort and solace in the Scottish outdoors.
“As a result, the connection I feel to Scotland will forever run deep.
“Alongside this painful memory is one of great joy because it was here in Scotland 20 years ago this year that I first met Catherine.
“Needless to say the town where you meet your future wife holds a very special place in your heart.
“George, Charlotte and Louis already know how dear Scotland is to both of us and they are starting to build their own happy memories here too.”
The Duke reminisced about his time at the University of St Andrews in Fife where both he and Kate studied.
He said: “I spent four very happy and formative years studying in St Andrews, the town and the students left me alone to get on with student life, allowing me to share their freedoms – and their pubs.
“Scotland is incredibly important to me and will always have a special place in my heart.
“I’ve been coming to Scotland since I was a small boy.
“As I grew up I saw how my grandmother relishes every minute she spends here and my father is never happier than in walking among the hills.
“My childhood was full of holidays having fun in the fresh air, swimming in lochs, family barbecues with my grandfather in command, and yes the odd midge.”
The Duke, wearing a morning suit with the Order of the Thistle and diamond and golden jubilee medals, was greeted by Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as he arrived at the venue on Saturday. He held a private audience with her after the opening.
During proceedings, the Rev George Whyte, chaplain-in-ordinary and principal clerk of the Church of Scotland, read out a letter from the Queen.
Marking the assembly’s opening in her letter, the Queen spoke of “new bonds” that have been “forged in times of emergency” that “will serve us all well in the future as the United Kingdom seeks to rebuild and reshape community life.”
The assembly closes on Thursday afternoon and over the next few days will consider issues including proposals to reduce the number of presbyteries and the number of full-time ministry posts.
William began a week-long visit to Scotland on Friday and the Duchess of Cambridge will join him on Monday for the rest of the tour.
Also on Saturday, William met emergency service heroes to watch the Scottish Cup final and spoke with them about the importance of speaking with family members.
William spoke to first responders and their families at Cold Town House in Edinburgh on Saturday to say thank you for their hard work during the pandemic.
The 38-year-old chatted while watching St Johnstone defeat Hibernian 1-0, with the game shown on big screens in the rooftop bar by Edinburgh Castle.
It comes just days after William lambasted the BBC over its Panorama failings and after the Duke of Sussex's criticism of the royal family and his upbringing.
Prince Harry, 36, accused the royal family of "total neglect" when his wife Meghan was feeling suicidal amid harassment on social media.
Speaking to a table of first responders, William asked how they had kept in touch with families during lockdown.
He said: "The funny thing is, when I spoke to my family I found it so good to catch up, but then you haven't anything to catch up on because no-one had done anything."
When one guest said they had not seen their in-laws for a year, William joked: "Some people are quite happy they haven't seen their in-laws for a year."
After laughter, he added: "I love my in-laws."
The duke also took time before the match began to speak to communications officer Kirsty Walker, 26, and her sister, police officer Lindsay Walker, 39, whose father Brian Walker took his own life in June 2018 aged 68.
Lindsay said afterwards: "He seems to care a lot about mental health generally and the importance of talking and supporting each other generally."
Kirsty said: "We've been affected by suicide and so we had a good chat about mental health and he was clearly passionate about it.
"We have both had traumatic bereavement, as he lost his mum and me and my sister have lost our dad.
"We are all trauma survivors and so is he."
Those watching the game with William were either emergency responders or a family member suffering trauma and bereavement.
Many have spoken about their mental health challenges and how they have reached out for support.
William was in Edinburgh on Friday for his Heads Together initiative that uses football to fight the stigma of not talking about mental health issues in young men.
He has previously spoken about the impact of "traumatic" air ambulance call-outs while he was serving as an air ambulance pilot, which nearly took him "over the edge".
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