The Princess of Wales has been supported by her husband ahead of the launch of her early years campaign but joked Valentine’s Day roses from William may be missing.

Kate marked the start of her landmark project by visiting Leeds, famed for its Child Friendly Leeds initiative, and toured its Kirkgate Market to meet stall holders and the public to hear their views about her project.

Canvassing parents out shopping she said “they feel this is an issue for them” and praised Leeds for its “impressive” initiative having children and young people at the “heart of the city”.

Her Shaping Us campaign has been described as the princess’ “life’s work” and is aimed at highlighting the significance of the formative years of a child’s life.

In a video message to mark the launch Kate said: “Our early childhood, the time from pregnancy to the age of five, fundamentally shapes the rest of our lives.

“But as a society, we currently spend much more of our time and energy on later life.

“Today, the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood is launching a new campaign, Shaping Us, to raise awareness of the life-changing impact we can have when we build a supportive, nurturing world around children and those who care for them.”

The Princess of Wales in Kirkgate Market in Leeds, West Yorkshire
The Princess of Wales in Kirkgate Market in Leeds, West Yorkshire (Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA)

When Kate stopped at florist Neil Ashcroft’s business, she admired his display of flowers and with Valentine’s Day just a fortnight away he said “William will be buying you some roses?” and then cheekily offered her a discount on the blooms.

After presenting her with a bouquet of hyacinths he claimed were her favourite flowers, the stall holder said: “I suggested William will be buying her roses and she said ‘I don’t think he will do'”.

William supported his wife when he joined Kate at an event on Monday night where the princess met supporters of her project and the first screening was made of a claymation film depicting how the development of a young girl from the age of zero to five.

During her tour Kate was mobbed by shoppers unaware the Victorian market would be having a royal visit and one pensioner referred to the future Queen as “love” when they chatted.

Shaping Us campaign
The Princess of Wales in Kirkgate Market in Leeds (Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA)

Shirley Wainwright, 75, from Harrogate said she made Kate laugh when she told her: “I didn’t know love you were coming, it was a complete surprise.

“I’m just coming on the bus from Harrogate when I came across you.”

The King has been pelted with eggs during a number of official visits and the princess received the unwanted attention of someone who wolf-whistled at her, but she did not react and it is not clear if she heard the noise.

After the walkabout Kate joined a discussion with a group of individuals who have been involved with Child Friendly Leeds, launched in 2012 and designed to encourage the city to make Leeds the best place for youngster to grow up in, with the belief the community will see social and economic benefits.

The Princess of Wales laughs with students on the childhood studies BA at the University of Leeds
The Princess of Wales laughs with students on the childhood studies BA at the University of Leeds (Chris Jackson/PA)

She told them “(Having) children and young people at the heart of the city and community here is really impressive.”

Speaking about Shaping Us, she said to the group, who included representatives from West Yorkshire Police and other local institutions: “Having a chit chat with some of the parents downstairs they feel this is an issue for them”.

Later, Kate visited the University of Leeds and met students on the childhood studies programme to discuss her Shaping Us campaign as the project’s animation film played.

The princess spoke to one student about his dissertation work on the impact of the pandemic on schools and families, saying Covid has led to “massive challenges” for children in relation to speech and language development and social skills.

Shaping Us campaign
The Princess of Wales speaks with students on the childhood studies BA at the University of Leeds, West Yorkshire (Chris Jackson/PA)

She added: “They haven’t had the opportunities that the film shows are needed.”

Kate told another student: “Creative play is so fundamental for the foundations for life. To be able to form relationships through play is really vital to break down some of the barriers.

“But, also, it’s a way of self-expression too.”

One student said she was looking at the role of outdoor play in childhood and the royal visitor said “this is something I’m really passionate about”, adding she would like to see a study on the impact of outdoor learning on children’s mental wellbeing.

Childhood studies student Emma Joynes, 20, said after the visit: “I think she’s done an amazing job spreading awareness through campaigns and visits to schools. I think it is really important. Childhood studies is quite stigmatised.”