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Delight in Darwen at royal visit despite rain
2:21pm Monday 11th April 2011 in Royal Wedding news
THE crowd outside Darwen Academy let out a huge cheer when royal couple Prince William and Kate Middleton arrived this morning.
Well-wishers waving flags were delighted to see the pair emerged from the royal car at just before 11.45am ready to embark on a tour of the school before officially opening it.
Kate, who was wearing a navy blue skirt suit, quickly sheltered under a large umbrella because of the downpours.
The couple were welcomed by the Mayor of Blackburn with Darwen, Sheila Williams, the chief executive of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, Graham Burgess, and Rossendale and Darwen MP Jake Berry.
They were then greeted by the principal of the school, Brendan Loughran, and its sponsor Rod Aldridge, former executive chairman of Capita.
The royal couple, who are on their last official public engagement before they tie the knot on April 29, spent an hour at the academy meeting staff and students.
William launched the SkillForce Prince's Award and give a short address on the scheme and the work of the academy to students, parents, governors and staff.
SkillForce is an education charity which has William as its patron and from summer 2012 it will present the new honour to teenagers who show significant character or make a major contribution to their community.
Crowds had gathered from early morning in good weather to claim a spot to catch a glimpse of the couple but around an hour before they arrived the conditions changed and rain swept in soaking the local residents.
But the well-wishers waited patiently against crash barriers, with some carrying umbrellas and others wrapped in raincoats against the showers.
The dignitaries also sheltered under brollies and were lined up outside the Community Academy for the royal and his bride-to-be.
When William and Kate arrived they were cheered by those nearby and the prince led the way, waving to the well-wishers as he headed to the officials.
Kate was a few paces behind him sheltering under a huge black umbrella that shielded her from the downpour.
Miss Middleton was dressed in a smart navy blue jacket and skirt and her hair was styled half up and half down.
They both found a moment to wave to the locals who responded with a cheer, then the engagement began as they greeted the senior officials from Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.
Handshakes and smiles were exchanged with the small group and Miss Middleton shared a laugh with one before they headed inside the building and out of the rain.
The couple visited pupils in their classes in design and technology, physical education and dance and music - where they were treated to a group dance performance set to pumping loud music.
Miss Middleton and William joined in the applause for the dance students at the end of the short, energetic display in the school auditorium.
Meeting the young dancers, Miss Middleton told them: Very good, I'm very impressed."
Earlier, William remarked to the design and technology students: "Everyone is so talented here."
In a speech at the academy, the Prince thanked his hosts for a "warm Lancastrian welcome" and joked "if not a little damp".
He said: "I know that I am very fortunate. I have the support of my family and friends, I do a job I enjoy... and I have Catherine.
"But I have learnt through working with some truly inspiring charities - none more so than SkillForce - that these things can never be taken for granted.
"SkillForce is an extraordinary charity. It mentors and educates young people who are facing some of the toughest challenges that life can bring.
"It unlocks their potential, teaching them to find and use their own talents to help themselves to better their own lives. This charity has transformed the future for so many.
"That is why I am delighted to be launching the SkillForce Prince's Award. This will recognise outstanding achievement by remarkable young men and women who make an exceptional contribution to their communities.
"SkillForce captures for me so much of what I admire about my grandfather's Duke of Edinburgh Awards and my father's Prince's Trust, which have both (given) me an inspiring and slightly daunting example to follow."
William also praised the "wonderful, innovative, ground-breaking" academy.
"I am convinced the academy will transform the lives of families in Darwen and, through its example, countless others elsewhere," he said.
The downpour failed to dampen the wedding fever gripping the waiting crowd outside as William and Miss Middleton departed for their next engagement.
Both spent more than 10 minutes accepting the best wishes of their ardent - and very wet - followers, who were rewarded for their patience.
Both shook every hand that was thrown in their direction across the barriers as several bouquets of flowers were passed to them.
Many young children on their half-term holiday were in the crowd.
Miss Middleton apologised for the weather to six-year-old Lola Baron, from Blackburn, whose handwritten "Good Luck Kate" card was rather soggy.
Others shouted out to Miss Middleton "Have a lovely day", "Good luck" and "Wishing you all the happiness" before the couple left for Witton Park.
Barbara Beckett, of Ellison Fold Terrace, was stood waiting in the rain having taken the day off work for the special occasion. She said: "It is an honour that they have come to the town.
"I am a selective royalist, but I do like Prince William, and to have him here in the town is an honour, his mum would have been proud."
Jacob Mead, 15, from Blacksnape, had been waiting in the rain all morning, flying a huge flag around the school. He also went to Witton Park for a second glance.
He said: "It's very good that they have come to Darwen, I am really flattered and it's a great excuse to be patriotic.
Michelle Chandler-Haynes from Whitehall in Darwen said she couldn't believe the couple were in town.
She said: "We are very happy to be here and it's so exciting.
"The turnout is amazing and we can't believe that they are here. I am very proud to be in Darwen."
Linda Gregson, 52, of Darwen, waited for two and a half hours in the rain with son Mitchell, 15, but said it was "absolutely worth the wait".
She added: "I'm so excited. I told her we are going down to London for their wedding and she said she hoped it was a nicer day for us."
Her friend, Hayley Naylor, 43, with daughter Megan, 13, were both similarly drenched.
A shivering Mrs Naylor said: "William said to me he hoped he wouldn't be responsible if I got hypothermia."
Click below to replay our live blog of the visit.
Click on the link below for our report from the royal visit to Blackburn and our photo gallery.