The Princess of Wales made sure the kids (and their parents!) all got selfies during her visit to Evelina London
Kate Middleton is kicking off a busy week.
On Tuesday morning, the Princess of Wales officially opened the new Children’s Day Surgery Unit at the Evelina London Children's Hospital, which cares for children with rare and complex conditions. Princess Kate, 41, has served as its patron since 2018.
Princess Kate was all smiles as she arrived for the solo stop in a suit by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen (her wedding dress designer!) and took a tour designed to replicate a child’s journey on their day of surgery. The Children’s Day Surgery Unit is housed within the Children’s Day Treatment Centre and treats a variety of conditions such as tonsillitis, removal of adenoids, hand injuries, minor plastic surgery and ophthalmology.
One of the first people that Princess Kate spoke to inside the unit was receptionist Alice Green.
"I was really anxious earlier, but she was really lovely and down to earth," Green tells PEOPLE. "I thought it might be formal and strict, but it was so comfortable speaking to her. She was asking about our roles — and said that we are the face of Evelina, the first contact people. She wished us Merry Christmas.”
Green adds, "She is well known for working with children, and it’s really lovely for her to come and speak to people and actually take interest. It is really lovely."
Princess Kate was shown a piece of artwork created by a girl, which the royal dubbed "fantastic." She asked the young artist to explain elements of the image, listening closely to the answer.
Green says that Kate learned that the girl's father had died a few years ago.
"Kate was just saying how it is really lovely that she’s helping other kids despite what she has gone through,” Green adds. “It was lovely."
The Children’s Day Surgery Unit opened its doors in July, but Kate made it official by doing the honors at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. She was joined by two children for the task, and the royal said, "Shall we cut this together?" before snipping the pink ribbon to applause. She was quick to give them a congratulatory pat on the back to each child afterward.
During her visit, Princess Kate spoke with families and staff about the impact it has already had and connected with young people who have had surgery in the new wing.
James O’Brien, director of operations and improvement for Evelina London, tells PEOPLE that Princess Kate "puts people at ease so much that at one point when she came to say hello, I thought people were going to start high-fiving! She is so able to connect with people and allow people to be themselves which is not an easy task to do when you’re connecting with anybody in the population."
“She is clearly a very natural mother, and she was going out of her way to have selfies with not just the children but the parents as well,” O’Brien adds. “It was nice for her to sit down and spend some time with them. And she was complimentary about the artwork that was designed by the children in the building."
According to Kensington Palace, Evelina London cares for around 104,000 children and young people each year through its specialized children’s services, both inside the hospital and throughout the wider community. The new state-of-the-art facility will help it accommodate an additional 2,300 children per year.
The new unit aims to transform care by consolidating everything young people need into one place, delivered with a family focus and features two new operating theaters with incorporated pre-surgery checks, operations and recovery areas across one intentionally designed space — and unique art on the ceiling to help soothe patients after their procedures.
The Princess of Wales — who, in addition to her work with children, has a special connection to the arts through her patronages of The Royal Photographic Society and Victoria and Albert Museum — also checked out the space-themed artwork through the building. This was collaboratively chosen and created with patients and staff to match the natural world theme seen across Evelina London’s main children’s hospital building, which is next door to the Children’s Day Treatment Centre.
As she departed, the Princess of Wales said her goodbyes and received a bouquet from Burac Abrahams, 11, who was the second patient treated at the unit when he had his tonsils out in July. “She was being nice and saying thank you for these flowers. She is a good person,” he says.
His mother, Gamze Oksuzoglu, tells PEOPLE, “It’s fantastic she is here. It sheds a light on all the sick children that they have at the hospital and, hopefully, do good. She was so engaged with the children upstairs, sat down and asked their names, smiled."
O'Brien tells PEOPLE, "It is a huge moment to have Her Royal Highness come and really recognize the achievement. Just seeing the look on the faces of patients and staff when they get to meet her is the icing on the cake. She is so generous with her time. It is such a different facility from everything we’ve got — this is dedicated so a child can have all of what they need in a day. Come in, get ready, have their surgery, go home. Our first patient came in at 7 a.m. and she was going home at 12, lunchtime.”
"Her ability to connect with people and go out of her way to meet as many people as possible and give them her time and bring smiles to their faces changes the kind of day they’re having – and many months thereafter," O'Brien continues.
Through visits to hospitals and hospices, Princess Kate has seen firsthand the impact that comprehensive care and support can have on young children. At the time, the palace said her patronage of Evelina London “provides an opportunity to champion the medical professionals working on the front line in children’s healthcare, and shine a light on their work supporting children in their early years.”
Marian Ridley, Director of Evelina London, said in a statement they were “absolutely delighted and deeply honored” that the royal mom was taking up the post.
During the December 2018 visit, William and Kate walked through the hospital atrium and were greeted by staff, nurses, patients and visitors — many of whom were surprised to see the royal couple.
“She was so polite and lovely and talked to everyone. She wished me a happy Christmas,” young patient Esme Orbell said of meeting Kate.
Her mother, Jackie, added that they came to London from Bury St. Edmonds, in Suffolk, for that day’s appointment.
“We have been coming here for eight years, and to have the royals come in today has made it really special for her. It made our trip worthwhile,” she said.
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Princess Kate will also take part in her annual Christmas carol concert on Friday, continuing a new tradition that the royal started in 2021. This is linked to her Shaping Us campaign, which focuses on her mission to support children during the early years of their lives. Buckingham Palace said the event was organized to “thank all those who work to support babies, young children and families in our communities across the U.K. and a celebration of the golden opportunity that the birth of a new baby brings."
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