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My saddest days and my happiest: Prince William on why Scotland is so special to him

© PAFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon looks on as Prince William arrives to speak at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh yesterday
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon looks on as Prince William arrives to speak at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh yesterday

Prince William spoke of his emotional bond with Scotland yesterday as he told how he spent the saddest and happiest days of his life here.

In a speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, he recalled being told of his mother’s death while at Balmoral but then spoke of meeting his wife at university in St Andrews.

He told of finding solace in the Scottish outdoors during the “dark days of grief” that followed the death of Princess Diana but, as he gave an opening address at the General Assembly in Edinburgh, the Duke of Cambridge said he found “great joy” in having met his future wife while studying in St Andrews in 2001.

The royal who will be joined by wife Kate tomorrow before spending the rest of the week in Scotland, said his connection to the country “will forever run deep”. He 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,” he added.

© Brendan Beirne/Shutterstock
William spoke of holidays at Balmoral, above with his mother, Diana, and Prince Harry

The duke spoke of his mother’s death days after he delivered a scathing verdict on the BBC’s failings over the Panorama interview with Diana, fuelling her sense of fear and worsening her relationship with Prince Charles during her last years. Speaking after the findings of an independent inquiry were published on Thursday, he said: “It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her.”

Diana died in a Paris car crash in 1997, but William said that while Scotland was associated with the memory of losing her, he had also enjoyed great happiness at St Andrews University and during childhood holidays north of the border.

He told the virtual attendees at the assembly: “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.”

© Shutterstock
William spoke of the joy of meeting Kate, pictured on graduation day at St Andrews

The duke added: “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.

“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.”

His brother Prince Harry spoke on Friday about how he turned to drink and drugs to numb his anguish over his mother’s death, and claimed the royal family did not support him.

Speaking to Oprah Winfrey for a new Apple TV documentary series on mental health called The Me You Can’t See, he said: “I felt completely helpless. I thought my family would help. But every single ask, request, warning, whatever it is, just got met with total silence or total neglect.”

The Duke of Sussex spoke of “a nightmare time in my life” in the four years before he met Meghan when he was 32.

He said: “I was willing to drink. I was willing to take drugs. I was willing to try and do the things that made me feel less like I was feeling.”

© Andrew O'Brien/PA Wire
The Duke of Cambridge delivering a speech at the opening ceremony of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon greeted the Duke as he arrived to address the General Assembly, which is running until Thursday with 756 participants joining via Zoom from around Scotland and the rest of the world.

The event began with the installation of Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC as the next Moderator of the General Assembly, succeeding Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, and will consider issues including proposals to reduce the number of presbyteries and the number of full-time ministry posts.

After his speech, Prince William joined football fans from the emergency services and their friends and family members at the Cold Town House rooftop bar in Edinburgh to watch the Scottish Cup Final which saw St Johnstone triumph 1-0 over Hibernian to lift the trophy.

He heard from emergency responders about how they had coped during the pandemic, and thanked them for their commitment.

The duke also discussed the importance of emergency responders and their families being able to access support for their mental health.