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WATCH: Royal approval for new theatre and peacock statue at Oswestry Orthopaedic Hospital

By Shirley Tart | Gobowen | Health | Published:

Princess Alexandra has opened a £15m theatre complex at the Oswestry Orthopaedic. Royal correspondent Shirley Tart reports.

Princess Alexandra was at the Orthopaedic Hospital six years on from her last visit

The excitement had been building as patients, staff, volunteers and managers waited for a very special visitor on a very special mission.

Her Royal Highness, Princess Alexandra was on the way and a fantastic hospital project in the county was about to receive its royal blessing.

The new £15 million theatre and oncology complex at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital near Oswestry once again stands in tribute to so many people who value the hospital whose work is known across the world.

And that the new development should have been officially opened yesterday, could not have been more appropriate that it was the princess who did the honours because it was exactly six years to the day since she was last at the hospital in 2011. On that occasion, her visit helped the League of Friends mark its 50th anniversary.

WATCH crowds welcome Princess Alexandra:

Princess Alexandra visits Orthopaedic Hospital near Oswestry

Princess Alexandra’s mother, the late Duchess of Kent, had long links with the hospital. So it was a matter of both familiar and new which absorbed this charming member of the royal family and cousin of the Queen, who is such an asset.

And it all began with a very telling moment. As the royal car arrived at the main entrance, the majority of folk stayed inside the building, dodging a ferocious wind and the promise of lashing rain.

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Hold onto your hat Your Highness!
Princess Alexandra meets Frank Mills, chairman of the hospital's NHS trust

But beautifully dressed for summer, the princess appeared with everyone assuming she would make a dash for the front door and a warm welcome. She got the welcome all right, but the first thing she did was turn away from the gathered guests and bent down to a group of nursery children with their painted Union flags who had been standing in full flow of the wind, patiently waiting to see ‘the royal lady’ as one of the little ones said.

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And the royal lady played a blinder. With one hand on her hat, the other holding her bag, she walked across to the little group, leaned forward to the children, admired their handiwork and chatted to them even as the rain began.

That is the measure of this Princess, a Shropshire favourite and always a delight to greet again.

A crowd was in the hospital to greet the Princess
Meeting pharmacy staff

Once inside she of course charmed them all but she also turned to little gathered groups who were happy to be there but hadn’t expected a special word for themselves. Accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant Sir Algernon Heber-Percy and his wife Lady Jane Heber-Percy, along with senior hospital personnel and with Shifnal’s Merial Afia in waiting, Princess Alexandra showed a great interest in everything she saw and heard about.

Clerical administrative assistant Kayleigh Aris was thrilled that she and her black Labrador assistance dog Chris were sought out for a royal word.

Kayleigh, who has a condition which affects her balance, said: “The Princess was lovely and she really liked Chris. I think he liked her as well.”

The Princess meeting canine partner Chris
A blue carpet was laid out for the Princess

It was clearly a very special task for Princess Alexandra not only to unveil the plaque marking her visit and the building’s official opening, but also to present Glenna Hardy with the first Dame Agnes Hunt Nursing Award.

Hospital chairman Frank Collins said that Nurse Hardy had all the qualities Dame Agnes would have expected. Young Imogen Byrne played her own part in presenting flowers to Princess Alexandra.

The new monument, designed by Luke Kite, in memory of Percy the Peacock, who died in January

Then, a visit which began with the sort of wind which whips hats away, ended outside again for a special tribute to Percy the Peacock. Percy had arrived at the hospital unannounced and he never left. He was a great favourite with everyone, especially children. Then 22 years later, he died last December. The peacock had been taken ill before Christmas and rushed to a local vet for treatment, only to rally and return to his hospital home in time for the festive season.

But he took a sudden turn for the worse and died in the arms of Tracy Dunbar, a medical secretary at the hospital who had helped to look after him in recent years.

Now, sculptor Luke Kite has immortalised Percy – and unveiling his statue was the final task for a princess who made yesterday very special for everyone else.

Shirley Tart

By Shirley Tart
Associate Editor (Shropshire Magazine) and Senior Writer

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