The Duchess of Cambridge was welcomed with close embrace from schoolchildren today who gave her a warm welcome back from maternity leave on a visit to the Sayers Croft Forest School and Wildlife Garden at Paddington Recreation Ground in West London.
The mother-of-three went for a casual look for her first official engagement, dressing down in Zara skinny jeans and a grey jumper and kept the autumnal chill at bay in a £175 khaki jacket from trendy Swedish outdoor brand Fjällräven.
She teamed the ensemble with a £395 silk shirt from Joseph and Penelope Chilvers £475 knee-high boots that she’s been relying on for well over a decade.
The project gives inner city children a unique opportunity to learn about and engage with the natural world, something many rarely get the chance to do, and Kate was eager to help children search for spiders and other ‘mini beasts’ during the visit.
After crouching in bushes with youngsters to search for bugs, the royal told teachers at the school that she hunts for spiders ‘for hours’ in her own garden with her children Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
Little Anwaar, four, from St Stephen’s Church of England School in Westbourne Park, West London, made a beeline for the royal, cuddled up to her and then larked around with a cup in her mouth, forcing Kate to stifle a giggle.
On arrival, the Duchess was greeted by a group of youngsters from St Augustine’s School, Paddington, and was given a beautiful posy by Janine Osman, four, who also gave the royal visitor a massive hug.
Kate who looked tanned and well after her summer break and was sporting a slightly shorter, straighter hairstyle, thanked them warmly.
Inside the Wildlife Garden Kate joined more children as they potted up pea seedlings in newspaper.
‘Can you show me what you are doing?’ she asked. ‘Do you enjoy it? Can you show me first?
Mason, four, asked if he could show her where they got their water from and, carrying a blue plastic watering can, led the duchess to the tap.
‘Shall we go together?’ The royal asked him kindly.
They were interrupted by Lanwe, four, who had made a pendant from a thin slice of wood for Kate and wanted to give it to her.
‘Have you made another one?’ the Duchess asked.
‘It’s for you,’ Lanwe, said proudly, adding afterwards, ‘I’m going to make her three!’ Kate then took her by the hand.
The Duchess took part in a ‘minibeast hunt’, looking for bugs and creepy crawlies with a group of youngsters and counting their legs.
The children had already found frogs, toads, woodlice, worms and spiders.
‘Hello, what are you doing here?’ she asked.
‘We are looking for animals and counting their legs,’ she was told.
‘Who has found a spider?’ Kate asked. ‘Has anyone found a spider? You have – a big one or a little one?’
‘I’m going to find a snake,’ one little girl told, her prompting the duchess to smile.
Walking across the park to the Forest Garden, Kate met another group of youngsters, this time from St Stephen’s, and sat down with them on a log.
Anwaaar, sporting a pink jacket over her uniform, jumped up and run over to sit next to her, hugging the duchess.
Kate chatted with the children and their teachers handed round glasses of black currant squash but declined one herself, saying: ‘I’m ok, thank you.’
Anwaar drank hers down thirstily and made Kate laugh and she yelled out: ‘More!’
She then put her empty cup in her mouth and threw back her head, acting the clown.
Headteacher Simon Atkinson said the little girl had chattered eagerly all day about meeting ‘the princess ‘. ‘It was clear that nothing was going to stop her saying hello!’ He laughed.
Kate listened as the children were told a story about ‘The Monkey Queen’ and then helped them as they made ‘leaf crowns’.
‘Look I made this!’ Said Omar, four, eagerly.
‘It’s so pretty, so pretty. Those leaves look like jewels. They are amazing,’ Kate replied.
After around ten minutes the children all lined up to say goodbye, Anwaaar leading them in giving her hugs.
Zoe Stroud, interim Head of Sayers Croft Forest School, who showed her around, said afterwards: ‘She was lovely – although she said the only minibeast she managed to find on the hunt was a slug! But she did see a frog under a log.
‘She really gets what we are doing here and said she often takes her children on spider hunts in their garden, which they love. They can spend hours out there.
‘She really understands the value of being outdoors for children, especially those in cities whose schools and homes may not have open space and sometimes never had the chance to get their hands dirty. They just love it here.’
Garden designer Ruth Willmott, who created many of the open spaces from derelict ground, added: ‘The Duchess loved the fact that we get the children out here to learn about the seasons. We have created areas where they can see bluebells in the spring, which is fantastic for some who have never seen flowers in the wild. ‘
The duchess also met with Dr Paul Knapman, representative deputy lieutenant for The City of Westminster, who introduced her to members of the community.
These included Lindsey Hall, the Lord Mayor of Westminster, Andrew Durant, interim director of community services at Westminster Council, and Andy Davison, Westminster contract manager for Everyone Active.
Following Louis’ birth, the duchess was seen at the Wimbledon tennis championships and attended Trooping the Colour in June and a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the RAF in July, but today sees her first hands-on public engagement.
As exclusively revealed by the Daily Mail last month, the mother-of-three plans to launch a major campaign to help children failed by ‘Broken Britain’.
Kate believes the right support, from birth, can help disadvantaged youngsters reach their potential.
She is bringing together experts from academia, education, health and other fields to work on how to help families tackle anti-social behaviour, addiction and mental health.
Researchers have highlighted the importance of early intervention and how children from disadvantaged backgrounds who do not receive the right help at school age can suffer lifelong problems.