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Charles poses for selfies with Commonwealth Games athletes ahead of opening

Prince Charles poses for a group photo with athletes from Cameroon (Richard Vernalls/PA)
Prince Charles poses for a group photo with athletes from Cameroon (Richard Vernalls/PA)

Prince Charles posed for selfies and team photos with hundreds of athletes ahead of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.

The Games open on Thursday, promising to be the biggest sporting festival in the UK since the London Olympics a decade ago.

The event will open in Birmingham later at the Alexander Stadium – where the Prince of Wales will be in attendance, representing the Queen.

Prince Charles
The Prince of Wales with some of the thousands of Commonwealth Games’ volunteers (Richard Vernalls/PA)

Beforehand, Charles toured the main athletes’ village meeting sportsmen and sportswomen from dozens of nations, and posing for group photographs with teams including Scotland, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and – naturally – Wales.

He spent half an hour chatting with competitors, joking with members of the Australian team “all the rest are terrified of the Aussies”.

The prince also raised smiles from the Rwanda squad, asking “accommodation good… food all right?”

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games
Charles with athletes and team members from Jamaica (Phil Noble/PA)

He quipped with a coach from Team Wales: “Do they listen to everything you say to them – I bet they don’t go to bed on time.”

He was mobbed by athletes within the village who had waited 30 minutes for his arrival, all keen to get a selfie, or livestream to family members back home.

Many of the countries pressed their team pin badges into his hand, including Pakistan, the Cayman Islands and the Isle of Man squads.

Charles also caused the site’s security team some mirth when he opted to step through the metal detector archway – setting it off, before smiling and raising both hands apologetically.

Charles walks through a metal detector
Charles walks through a metal detector (Phil Noble/PA)

Earlier, Boris Johnson said he was “supremely confident” there would be a legacy from the £778 million of taxpayers’ money which has gone into the games – which are being held as the country faces a cost-of-living crisis.

The outgoing Prime Minister told the Commonwealth Business Forum in the West Midlands city: “You can feel the excitement here in this mighty city of Birmingham because the athletes are already here in their thousands, from 56 countries, 72 nations and territories around the world.”

He added: “Already you can hear the voices on some parts of the media of those who doubt that the whole thing will be worth it.

“And people say, can we afford it? Should we have done it with the pressure on the cost of living? Will there be a legacy from the £778 million of taxpayers’ money that has gone into these Games?

“And so right now, I want you to know I am here to tell you that I am supremely confident that the answer to that question is yes. A thousand times, yes. I say so because I remember, almost exactly 10 years ago, an identical moment of nerves just before the beginning of the London 2012 Games.”

Mr Johnson, who was London mayor at the time of the 2012 Summer Olympics, insisted they “continue even to this day to deliver thousands of jobs, growth, regeneration” in the capital.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries also defended the expense of hosting the event, which had a £778 million budget funded by the Government and Birmingham City Council.

Ms Dorries rejected claims it was a “vanity project” and stressed the importance of the Commonwealth as a trading and geopolitical bloc.

Birmingham was awarded the Games after scheduled host Durban in South Africa pulled out over financial problems.

Ms Dorries told Sky News: “It’s not a vanity project… This is hugely important.

Conservative leadership bid
Nadine Dorries defended the cost of hosting the Commonwealth Games (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“Are you saying we shouldn’t have the Commonwealth Games? I think we are proud and honoured to have picked up the baton when it was dropped elsewhere in the world and to continue to run these Commonwealth Games in the amazing way that we have done.

“Everybody here – thousands of people – are extremely proud, including the volunteers behind me right now, extremely proud of what we’re doing.”

Over the next 11 days, more than 5,000 athletes from 72 nations will compete in 280 events across 19 sports.

In his speech, the Prime Minister joked the “whole EU” should become a Commonwealth member.

“I think we have consistently beaten France. Every time we have consistently beaten Germany and more importantly, still, we have beaten Australia,” he said.

“And though France and Germany are not members of the Commonwealth, or not yet. Why not? Get them in. Get the whole EU in. A logical solution.”

Ms Dorries also told LBC: “The city is buzzing, it’s alive. It reminds me of the 2012 Olympics. The feeling in Birmingham and the West Midlands is incredibly upbeat and positive.”

She added: “I think the Commonwealth today is more important than ever, particularly given what’s happening in Ukraine and with Russia and also with China.”

Later Charles toured a launch party for the Games in Victoria Square, one of a number of sites hosting the Birmingham Festival – a six-month arts, food and culture event for 2.5 million people in the region.

The heir to the throne stopped at a pop-up stall run by Asha’s, an award-winning restaurant in the city which has prepared dishes for Hollywood star Tom Cruise, but Charles was not tempted by a table of food that included butter chicken, grilled lamb chops and lamb gosht.

After asking the chef what spices he had used, the prince quipped: “I haven’t got an asbestos mouth.”

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games
Charles at the Birmingham Festival site at Victoria Square (Ben Stansall/PA)

He also stopped to chat to Keisha Howe from Ace Dance and Music, who was dressed in an elaborate carnival costume, and she cheekily asked the future king: “Do you want to wear this one day?”

He replied with a smile “I don’t think I qualify to wear that.”

Charles went on an extensive walkabout shaking hands and chatting to the crowds which featured many people – from Somaliland to France – who had travelled to the West Midlands for the Games.

At a nearby hotel the prince joined a reception attended by the Culture Secretary and high commissioners from across the Commonwealth.