Prince Harry and Meghan Markle urge schoolgirls to break gender stereotypes on International Women’s Day

Hannah Furness


Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have urged teenage girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths as they tried virtual reality headsets and watched bananas being turned into bongos to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Prince Harry told schoolgirls they must have “brains the size of a planet” as they took on projects to create apps, “hack the web” and use an enigma machine made from a Pringles tube.

Ms Markle, who spent time puzzling over instructions to help the girls with their work, said she was impressed with a programme which allowed them to temporarily edit web pages, saying the ability to change untrue information into “something positive” was “so cool”.

The couple, who are both feminists according to Ms Markle, told the students they must persevere with science, technology, engineering and maths when they left the morning session, run by Stemettes.

Meghan Markle tries VR Credit:  Ian Vogler

Ms Markle said: “I love being here to see this on International Women’s Day. You’re using your brain in a really challenging way.”

Prince Harry told pupils: “You must have brains the size of a planet. And you can’t just come in today, do this and leave. You’ve got to carry it on.”

Watching girls placing wires from a laptop computer to a bananas, to connect it to make it work as digital bongos, he told his fiancée: “I was going to try and help but...” before laughing and showing her the instructions.

“Oh wow,” said Meghan.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at a Stemettes event in Birmingham Credit: an Vogler

Keen to assist, she picked up instructions to lend a hand, praising her three new companions for saying they aimed to be a “surgeon, doctor, doctor”.

“It’s cool that you’re so interested in tech,” she told a second group. “That’s really impressive.”

Shown a programme called Hack The Web, which allowed girls to use coding to temporarily change web messages, she said: “You can hack it and change things that are untrue into something positive? That’s so cool.

Meghan Markle meets Birmingham schoolgirls Credit: WPA pool

“It’s amazing to see so much young talent, so much confidence. It’s such a strong programme.”

As Prince Harry and Ms Markle travelled between tables of students separately, she asked copious questions about what students were doing and how they planned to developed their skills into a career.

They then took front row seats for a series of speeches, cheering on three star students who delivered messages about their favourite inspirational women.

Meghan Markle talks to children as she arrives in Birmingham Credit: Chris Jackson /Getty

One, 13-year-old Patience Sabiti, chose Varsha Jain, the “coolest kind of doctor into the world” who researched subjects including “what happens when you have your period in zero-gravity” to allow more female astronauts to maintain their health in space.

Ms Markle has previously spoken about period poverty, and the difficulties faced by menstruating women in the developing world.

Prince Harry beams as he chats to children in Birmingham Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley for The Telegraph 

Lauren-Mae Sparrow, 13, caught the interest of Prince Harry after telling an audience she aimed to be an army officer engineer, winning a round of applause as she said: “Should our gender define who we are and what jobs we are allowed to do? I think not.”

Meghan Markle hugs a schoolgirl in Birmingham Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley for The Telegraph 

Tasneem Chihani, 14, picked Stemettes founder Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon as her inspiring woman. Ms Markle nodded and smiled as she said: “A woman in the face of society is seen as one who has to be pretty, thin and quiet.

“The one who dares to fly in the face of all these stereotypes is the best kind of role model a young female can have.”

Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon said seeing the couple embrace STEM subjects would make a significant difference to how science, technology, engineering and maths are perceived.

Meghan Markle chats to youngsters Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley for The Telegraph 

“How many photos do you have of princesses doing technical things?” she said. “You barely see pictures of women doing technical things, let alone princesses. 

“You can’t be what you can’t see.

“To see her do it and see that she’s enjoying it, it sends a message. In the same way that when she wears a dress we all buy it, here she’s picked up a Makey Makey [an inventing kit] so let’s try it. 

“We could follow a different kind of fashion for once.”



Meghan Markle kneels as he chats to flag-waving children  Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley for The Telegraph 


Royal well-wishers brave cold to greet couple

Well-wishers began gathering hours before the prince and his bride-to-be were due to appear at Millennium Point.

Despite the cold and wet conditions some in the crowds were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the couple who have been touring the nation since their engagement announcement last year.

Stephen McNally, 61, from Stourbridge, said he travelled with a group of friends with many of them carrying bouquets for Ms Markle.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Birmingham Credit: WireImage

Commenting on Harry's engagement to the American actress he said: "It will be different for her but I think they've learnt a lot from the past and that is why Meghan is doing these walkabouts and going round the country before she's getting married, I think it's really nice, rather than keeping things a secret like they used to do.

"We hope to be going to Windsor for the wedding, on the streets or in the castle precinct."

Two elderly sisters, Irene Gould, 82, and her younger sibling June Dickinson, 78, were also ecstatic after meeting Harry and his fiancee.

Harry and Meghan in Birmingham Credit: WPA pool

Mrs Gould said: "We were just so pleased to meet them, and how beautiful Meghan is. We thanked Harry for coming to see us and wished them all the best for their marriage."

Retired teacher Josie Weeks, 62, from Leeds, got up at 5am to travel to Birmingham for the royal visit and carried a posy of white blooms for Ms Markle.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle meet Irene Gould and June Dickinson Credit: PA

She said: "I met the couple in Nottingham and just wanted to see them again and take some photographs. I think Harry's really coming into himself now with his charity work - he's stepped it up in the last few years.

"The main thing is if he's happy with Meghan, that's all you want for him."

Prince Harry: 'We want to get away from idea it’s all men in overalls and oily rags'

On Wednesday, Prince Harry met young people from the Williams F1 Engineering Academy during a visit to Silverstone.

Talking to female students Tara Vooght and Lauren Bull, both 15, who are studying there with the hope of going on to be engineers, he told them: “It’s a great choice, we want to get away from [the idea] that it’s all men in overalls and oily rags. 

“Do you think think that girls want to be [in engineering] and there aren’t opportunities or it is not really considered by them?”

“There are a lot of stereotypes,” said Tara. “What men covered in grease?” asked Harry. 

“Yes, but it's not like that. There was a bit of adjustment at first from being at school but we are loving it.”

Duchess of Cornwall also marking International Women’s Day

The couple are not the only members of the Royal Family to mark International Women’s Day.

The Duchess of Cornwall will host a reception at Clarence House to celebrate the day, in her role as president of the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World festival.

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Guests are expected to include Annie Lennox, Mary Portas, Kate Mosse OBE, Fatima Manji, Josette Bushell-Mingo, Kathy Lette, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Baroness Valerie Amos, Jo Swinson MP and Jess Phillips MP.

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