Leeds charity official recalls the 'absolute joy' of Prince Philip's visits

A long-time official at a Leeds charity which has strong links to Prince Philip has spoken of her lasting memories from his numerous Royal visits over the years.

Monday, 12th April 2021, 6:00 am
Prince Philip pictured in 2011 during a visit to the Prince Philip PHAB Club, meeting up with Nathan Pride, 19, accompanied by Ann Hart, then President of PHAB Club. Picture: Graham Lindley

Ann Hart, secretary of the Leeds PHAB club, a social group for people with and without disabilities based at the Prince Philip Centre off Scott Hall Road, said there was always a feeling of "absolute joy" when Prince Philip paid a visit.

The centre, along with the Prince Philip Playing Fields, were created after Leeds couple Harold Epstone and wife Kathleen along with city businessmen decided in 1960 to build a sports facility.

Some funding was received from the Duke of Edinburgh Playing Fields Association but it took until 1969 before the total funds were raised and the centre was built - with Prince Philip himself attending the official opening.

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Ann Hart, secretary of the Leeds PHAB club, pictured with her personal archives and memories of Prince Philip's visits to the charity over the years.

And his interest in the charity continued, with Ann, who has been involved since 1973, going on to meet him three times.

His last visit was in 2011, shortly before his 90th birthday when he enjoyed afternoon tea at the community centre.

Ann said: "I had invited him for our 40th anniversary but he couldn't come then but in January the following year the Palace got in touch to say he would be coming.

"Most of my work was involved in making sure that everything would be absolutely perfect on the day.

"Then the next thing that happened was we were there, the day had come. And he sweeps into the car park and the next thing you know you are shaking his hand.

"Once we were inside the centre, my job was to introduce him around.

"We had about 200 people there that afternoon and we were told by the Palace that he wanted it to be very informal - and that's what it was.

"We laid it out like afternoon tea, in the community centre. And he went around, table to table to table for the best part of two hours.

"I was with him all the time and everybody was always laughing before he left them. It was the most wonderful afternoon, it really was.

"He was so interested in each of them. He was listening to what people were saying. And the smiles around - and then he goes on to the next table."

She added: "How wonderful it was entertaining him and the informality he had. The feeling of absolute joy. He just made you laugh, straight away."

Ann said she had written to Prince Philip in January to inform him of the death of Kathleen, who had helped set up the centre and with whom he had remained in contact.

She said: "So I wrote to the Palace because I thought Prince Philip ought to know. They really were in communication since 1960. And I had the most delightful letter from him."

In the letter, written on behalf of the Prince, it speaks of his sadness at the news "particularly when continuing restrictions mean that tributes may not be made as wished" and added that he sent his "good wishes to you and all those who work at, or benefit from, the continuing excellent work at the Prince Philip Centre".

Ann said: "That was only about a few days before he took ill. When I saw him come out of hospital that day, it brought it all to the front really and it's just going to be strange without him."

She said he had taken an active interest in the centre from the very beginning.

"All the time, right from 1960, he was involved in each step," she said. "He took a great interest, right up until the other day when I got this letter."

She added: "I thought HRH a very good man, in the care and interest he took in everything and now so sad to think of Her Majesty the Queen - because as well as her strength I am sure he would [have kept her] laughing all their lives together."

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