Prince William has recounted how he was consumed by sadness when he served as a pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance service.
During a surprise visit to Belfast to mark Emergency Services Day, the Duke of Cambridge, 38, spoke about how he struggled to talk about his emotions in a job that saw him encounter tragedy on a regular basis.
He opened up about his experiences flying with the air ambulance from 2014 to 2017 as he met serving blue light responders to discuss the importance of mental health support for those working in the emergency services.
The royal, who visited Garnerville Police College earlier today before taking part in a search and rescue demonstration at Cave Hill Country Park, admitted he was faced with a strong feeling of ‘sadness’ while working as a pilot.
In keeping with royal visits to Northern Ireland, details were not released in advance and the itinerary was not disclosed for security reasons.
Prince William (pictured) has recounted how he was consumed by sadness when he served as a pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance service
Prince William, 38, (pictured) watched a rescue demonstration by the Community Rescue Service (CRS) at Cave Hill Country Park in Belfast, with its founder and regional commander Sean McCarry (seen left)
In a speech to an audience of blue light responders, the duke opened up about his own struggles during his service on the frontline.
‘I couldn’t put my finger on it, but you just felt very sad,’ he said, reflecting on his time as a helicopter pilot.
‘And then you start to see the world very differently… You start just getting very sad that the world is so hurt.
‘It’s only then you go “hang on, you’ve got to look at this” because it’s only natural that you sponge it and bring it in,’ he added.
William’s visit to Belfast had a particular focus on the mental health challenges many emergency services personnel face as a consequence of their stressful jobs.
Sean McCarry talked Prince William through the demonstration during his surprise visit this afternoon
Taking part in a training workshop aimed at encouraging first responders to be comfortable sharing their feelings, he said more work was needed to tackle the stigma around mental health.
He acknowledged significant strides had been made in recent years, revealing that not one celebrity was prepared to get involved in the early days of his campaigning, such were their concerns about speaking openly about their struggles.
‘This was six or seven years ago and not one celebrity wanted to talk about it in public…and now look at it,’ he said.
William said he would internalise the horrors he would face doing his job. ‘For me it was the sadness, I really felt the sadness, I’d absorb the jobs I’d gone to,’ he said.
‘Sadly with the Air Ambulance you get a lot of deaths and I didn’t realise (the impact) – I would go to the next one and the next one.’
The founder and regional commander of the CRS kindly handed a jacket monogrammed ‘HRH’ to the Duke of Cambridge, who looked delighted
The duke told the participants in the workshop that it was natural to be upset by what they witnessed on a daily basis.
‘We’ve got to somehow change that culture where we feel it’s okay to say “listen, this was horrendous, I really didn’t enjoy seeing that, it was really brutal”. How do we talk about it?’
Earlier in the day, William also hailed the dedication of emergency service responders during the pandemic, as well as their efforts every day.
‘Your dedication is not only apparent when we are faced with a global pandemic. Each and every day, people from teams across the blue light community are called to the scenes of dreadful incidents.’
Prince William had a laugh with the community rescuers present during the demonstration at Cave Hill
After the demonstration, William sat down for a chat to further discuss the work put in by the CRS
He praised the amazing work of the first responders that made it to the scene of the Birmingham stabbings over the weekend.
A knifeman rampaged across the English city centre in the early hours of Sunday, stabbing a student to death and leaving several others injured.
William highlighted the response of the emergency services to the recent stabbing attacks – despite West Midlands Police coming under criticism for not stopping the rampage while it was underway.
‘But as you care for us in our time of need, so too must we ensure that we are there for you when you need it the most,’ the duke added.
Prince William, pictured wearing a face mask, made a surprise visit to Belfast today to meet with frontline responders and emergency services
Prince William spoke with police officers (pictured) about the importance of mental health support during his visit to Belfast today
The royal (pictured) spent the day with Northern Irish responders to thank them for their work
‘We must ensure that you have the right support in place each and every day. I know first hand, that even in routine circumstances, those of you on the front line can face immense challenges that can naturally have a significant impact on both your physical and mental health.
‘Firstly, it’s important that we recognise that. And secondly, it’s important that we do all we can to support you through it.’
Attending a Police Service of Northern Ireland Wellbeing Volunteer Training course at the Garnerville Police College, the royal also met with representatives from the Ambulance and Fire and Rescue services.
The duke spoke of his own experiences working with the air ambulance, and the mental strains that came with his role, as he took part in training workshops.
The duke (pictured right, and left, making a speech) discussed the importance of mental health support for those working in the emergency services
The father-of-three met Tara, a five-month-old Irish Red Setter, trained as a PTSD training dog
Prince William spoke with attendees of a PSNI Wellbeing Volunteer Training course, including representatives from the Ambulance and Fire and Rescue services (pictured)
The duke (pictured) discussed his own experiences working with the air ambulance, and the mental strains that came with his role, as he took part in training workshops
He highlighted the need to enhance support services and create a culture where people feel comfortable to talk about what they are going through.
During his visit to the college, William also met five-month-old Irish setter Tara, who has been trained to provide comfort to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The duke recalled meeting PSNI officers during a visit with his wife Kate to Hillsborough Castle earlier this year. He referred to the unique challenges they face in policing the region.
‘We were struck then, as I am now, by your steadfast commitment to helping others,’ he said. ‘You are a testament to the blue light community across our country, and I can’t thank you enough for what you do.
Prince William, pictured, meeting with chiefs of the PSNI, Fire Service and Ambulance Service
In a speech to an audience of blue light responders, the duke (seen speaking with frontline staff) hailed their dedication during the pandemic, as well as their efforts every day
Prince William takes part in a video call with frontline workers during his tour of the college when visiting Belfast today
Dressed in a blue suit and matching shirt and tie, Prince William was captured wearing a face mask (pictured left) for part of his visit today
‘At one point or another, each and every one of us will meet you or one of your colleagues, speak to you, be comforted by you and benefit from the care and protection you provide.
‘Given what we ask of you, we must do all we can to look out for you, and to help you to look out for each other.’
Later in the afternoon, William headed to Cave Hill Country Park were he met with staff of the Community Rescue Service (CRS).
Armed with a jacket kindly lent by the regional commander of the CRS Sean McCarry during his visit, Prince William took part in a rescue demonstration in the park.
He was led through the woodland by McCarry who talked him through how the service operated.
The duke (pictured) recalled meeting PSNI officers during a visit with his wife Kate to Hillsborough Castle earlier this year. He referred to the unique challenges they face in policing the region
William’s (pictured) trip to the region came a day after he convened the first meeting of a new body established to improve mental health support for members of emergency services across the UK
During his visit to the college, William met five-month-old Irish setter Tara (pictured), who has been trained to provide comfort to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
During his visit, the royal (pictured) highlighted the need to enhance support services and create a culture where people feel comfortable to talk about what they are going through
William’s trip to the region came a day after he convened the first meeting of a new body established to improve mental health support for members of emergency services across the UK.
The Emergency Responder Senior Leader Board, which brings together leaders from across all 999 organisations, will promote collaborative working to ensure all emergency responders receive the mental health support they need.
The board was established by the duke in response to a recommendation arising from a research project commissioned by The Royal Foundation in 2018 into the mental health and wellbeing of emergency responders in the UK.
It comes after the Duke saluted the emergency services for their ‘tireless work’ and their incredible efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic in an online speech earlier this week.
Outfit change! The Duke of Cambridge arrives for a visit to the Community Rescue Service at Cave Hill Country Park as part of his tour of Belfast
The Duke of Cambridge speaks with Community Rescue Service (CRS) founder and regional commander Sean McCarry as he arrives for a visit to the CRS at Cave Hill Country Park
The father-of-three, 38, sported a stylish green garment for his second engagement of the day
Prince William made the speech during a special online thanksgiving service to honour 999 heroes organised by the National Emergency Services Memorial charity.
The event, which takes place yearly, celebrates the work of the NHS and emergency response staff and is attended by politicians and members of the royal family.
Belfast Cathedral was meant to be the venue for the ceremony which was due to take place today, but it was moved online due to Covid-19.
During his speech, Prince William stressed what a great source of pride the emergency services community is for the UK, and he thanked them repeatedly for the way in which they helped save others during the Covid-19 crisis.
Speaking in a video from Kensington Palace, he said: ‘At one point or another, each and everyone of us will benefit from the care and protection provided by our emergency services.
Prince William, 38, has made a surprise visit to Belfast today to meet with frontline workers and first responders
The Duke of Cambridge has been vocal in his support for the emergency services throughout the pandemic (pictured, visiting the Ambulance Station in King’s Lynn, England in June)
‘Their courage and self-dedication to their work is something this country is rightly proud of.
‘This year more than ever, we’ve been repeatedly reminded of the sacrifices made by all those in the emergency community as they worked tirelessly to protect us against covid-19 and keep the country going in the most challenging circumstances.
Prince William, who worked full-time as a pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance service from 2014 until 2017, drew from his personal experience in his speech.
‘Having had the privilege of working alongside the emergency responders, I’ve always been struck by their remarkable can-do attitude in the face of even the greatest emergencies,’ he said.
‘They showcase the very best that our country has to offer, and this is never more apparent than at times like these.’ He moved on to honour the memories of responders who have died in the line of duty.
Prince William talking to paramedic staff from the East of England Ambulance Service Trust at the Ambulance Station in King;s Lynn in June
Prince William in 2015 during his stint as a pilot of the East Anglian Air Ambulance services from 2014 to 2017
‘Tragically, some will pay the ultimate price as a result of their efforts in their line of duty,’ he said, adding: ‘While others will experience the lasting effects on their physical health or mental well-being.’
Prince William then called for more support of the emergency services across the country.
The father-of-three was joined by the First Ministers of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
The programme included singing from the Blue Light Choir. Videos from the Chairs of the Police, Fire and Ambulance Councils and Director of Her Majesty’s Coastguard were also shared during the event.
The multi-faith event also included a wreath laying ceremony to remember to the more than 7,500 emergency services personnel who had lost their lives in the line of duty, including 300 who have died after contracting coronavirus.