King praises 'wonderful' portraits of Windrush generation on 75th anniversary of crossing

The King has honoured the Windrush generation with a special reception at Buckingham Palace, ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship reports

King Charles III has hailed new portraits of the Windrush generation as pictorial records of a “very special” group of people.

Charles hosted a Buckingham Palace reception where he met the 10 individuals whose faces have been immortalised in paint, and was given a special preview of the artworks marking the 75th anniversary of the Windrush crossing.

Celebrities who have family ties to the Caribbean were among the guests at the event including Olympic javelin champion Tessa Sanderson, Baroness Amos, actor Colin Salmon and Barbados’s prime minister Mia Mottley.

The King, who commissioned the portraits when the Prince of Wales, was joined by the Queen as he met the group of elderly men and women who had travelled from the Caribbean to the UK to bolster the workforce and help the nation recover after the Second World War.

The HMT Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury, Essex, on June 22, 1948.

The King speaking to guests during the Windrush reception at Buckingham Palace. Credit: PA

The King told Jamaican-born Alford Gardner, 96, who served as an RAF motor mechanic during the Second World War, and later returned to England in 1948 on HMT Empire Windrush, that his portrait by artist Chole Cox was “marvellous”.

Charles told the pensioner, who was surrounded by his family: “It will be a most wonderful record of a very special generation.”

He added the picture would be “a wonderful addition to the Royal Collection and be shown in all different parts of the world”.

Mr Gardner, who settled in Leeds to work as a factory engineer and raise his family, later joked about how the decades had flown by: “I’m still wondering where the 75 years went to – I just come off the Windrush yesterday.”

The Queen met Tessa Sanderson during the reception at Buckingham Palace. Credit: Chris Jackson/PA

He added: “When I joined the RAF I left home and I came to England. I came to England and I found home.

“When the war was over I said ‘I’d be back’. The Windrush turned up and I was back, it was like leaving one home and coming back to another.”

Commenting about the racism he experienced in his early life in the UK, he said: “Couldn’t get away from it, it was there staring me in the face. If I go to a place and walk in and this place is hostile, I’m out, I’m gone. I never went to a place I wasn’t wanted.”

The 96-year-old was among around 500 people who made the famous journey from the Caribbean, arriving at Tilbury docks on the Windrush, and they have come to symbolise the contribution their generation made to the UK.

The Queen speaks to Floella Benjamin. Credit: Chris Jackson/PA

Baroness Floella Benjamin, who chaired the Windrush Commemoration Committee which chose the portrait sitters, said the project was about “hearing the Windrush stories through the voice of (the) sitter, as well as the artist. Reflecting the diversity – (the) pain, the suffering, the joyfulness of what people wanted to express.

“So when you see these portraits in years to come, you’re going to get an understanding of the times we’re talking about, understanding about the moments we’re talking about, understand the people we’re talking about.

“Well, this is history, and I call it the Windrush nobility. The majority are over 90 and we’re standing on their shoulders – they paved the way.”

The former children’s TV presenter said she believed the paintings would be studied in schools and universities alongside an accompanying book.

She said: “This is British history, it’s not black history, it’s British history, it’s all-embracing history.”

The paintings will be seen more widely on Windrush Day, celebrated on Thursday June 22, when they will feature in a series of exhibitions starting at Edinburgh’s Palace of Holyroodhouse until October 16.

King Charles speaking to David Lammy during a reception to mark 75 years since HMT Empire Windrush arrived in the UK. Credit: PA

Linda Haye, 90, who was painted by artist Shannon Bond, carved out a career in education and the criminal justice service after arriving in the UK in the late 1950s to study at university.

She taught extensively in further and higher education and became governor of two universities and worked as a magistrate for 20 years, among other roles.

She said coming to the UK was a “great opportunity”, adding: “I never allowed racism to imprison me and neither have I allowed my ethnicity to stop me from making a contribution and to achieve.”

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