Former gang members and anti-social teenagers might not be the usual audience for a royal engagement but both were in attendance as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made a trip to XLP, a London-based youth mentoring charity, earlier this afternoon.
Prince William and Catherine, continuing their focus on young people, were greeted by smiles as they paid a return visit to see the work the charity is doing to help young people facing emotional, behavioural and relational challenges.
The Duchess brought a welcome Spring surprise as she and her husband arrived, sporting an elegant pink and white gingham check outfit for the first time by Kensington-based label Eponine.
The pair shared a few jokes with the charity’s CEO, Patrick Regan, as they headed inside to applause from the crowds of young people and their mentors.
XLP, founded by Mr Regan 20 years ago, began its mentorship programme in 2008 and now pairs young people up with mentors for two hours per week.
Inside, the Duke and Duchess were introduced to some of those who help deliver its support, including a former gang member whose life of crime was turned around thanks to the charity.
Sephton Henry, 27, helps police to understand the issues in today’s gang culture and was a regular offender – seeing prison time on seven occasions – until XLP’s mentoring scheme intervened to help him.
William and Catherine listened to youngsters tell their troubling stories of issues affecting their areas, including family disputes, violence and other gang-related incidents.
Both looked moved as they watched a film about London’s battle with knife crime; an increasing problem for police in recent years. The royals were both animated and exchanged encouraging glances as XLP mentors talked about the work the charity is doing to help raise awareness of the issues and their impacts on young people’s wellbeing.
The afternoon was also filled with a number of lighter moments however. Both the Duke and Duchess were treated to a performance of an original song by one of the young mentees. 20-year-old Basia Bozzoa impressed both royals as she received a thunderous reception for her song ‘Heaven Help Me’.
Earlier, Mr Regan had asked if the couple had watched the MTV show Pimp My Ride, which converted a former police riot van into a mobile recording studio for XLP in 2008.
The Duke giggled and cheekily raised a hand and, when presented with a CD of Bozzoa’s song later, William jokingly asked “Do we get the van? I want the van.”
Today’s visit was the second time the young royals have seen XLP’s work in action. The couple visited one of the charity’s projects in Gipsy Hill when the Duchess was eight months’ pregnant with Princess Charlotte.
With Prince George in nursery and Princess Charlotte growing up fast, both William and Catherine have pledged to do as much as they can to help raise awareness of young people’s mental health and other youth issues.
XLP’s community mentors meet with their young mentee twice a week for a minimum of 12 months and the charity says over 90 per cent of beneficiaries have either remained in school or returned to school and are doing well after being involved in its mentorship scheme.
XLP, which is already working with 75 schools, is beginning to expand its project within London and is encouraging groups to get involved by passing on their expertise through a free training programme.
The programme has already seen more than 100 organisations taking part in the two-day course to train coordinators to train their own mentors.
The Duke and Duchess’s next joint engagement will be their visit to Westminster Abbey on 14 March, when they and Prince Harry will join The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at a service for Commonwealth Day.