Chichester royal visit 10 years ago was 'icing on the cake' for Festival of Flowers

Chichester played host to royalty 10 years ago with a visit from the Earl and Countess of Wessex in June 2012 as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The programme on June 8, 2012, involved a visit to three of the city’s attractions, Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Pallant House Gallery and Chichester Cathedral to view the Every Book Tells a Story-themed Festival of Flowers. Members of the public flocked in anticipation to catch a glimpse of the couple arriving to each venue.

At Weald and Downland, the royal couple met with a number of young people who were working towards their Duke of Edinburgh's Awards and representatives of the uniformed youth voluntary organisations from the county. Richard Pailthorpe, the museum director, said at the time: “The museum feels very privileged to have now had three royal visits in less than two years and it was wonderful to have the Earl and Countess here during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.”

The Countess stood out in a striking red dress and Prince Edward wore a navy suit. Lieutenant Sonya Seggie from Worthing Sea Cadets was nominated by her commanding officer to greet the Earl and Countess on their arrival to Pallant House. She said she was so grateful to be there and it was such an honour, making her really happy and excited.

The visit was given a personal touch with light-hearted banter taking place at the entrance to Pallant House Gallery, as the royal couple spoke to the public and commented on the great British weather and lack of sunshine. Stefan van Raay, who was director of Pallant House Gallery, said at the time: “We are delighted to be a part of their programme. Our chairman, the chair of friends and I are very excited to have the royal couple visit us. It is an honour.”

Jocelyn and Lars Fagerstron from New Zealand were delighted Prince Edward and Sophie spoke with them and joked about not being from the area. Lars said: “It was really unexpected. It was great fun to speak to them and it really has made our day.”

Eager crowds, an electric atmosphere and the potent aroma of the 50,000 stems of flowers greeted the couple at the cathedral entrance. They were met by the Dean of Chichester, the Very Rev Nicholas Frayling, and were shown around the flower festival by Alison Godfrey, director of the Chichester Cathedral Restoration and Development Trust, and the head designer for the flower festival, Diana Cave. The Dean said: “A royal visit is always a great encouragement, and we are delighted the Festival of Flowers is to be honoured in this way.”

The Earl and Countess took time to view the collections of finely-arranged flowers and to speak to flower arrangers. Mrs Valerie Rossiter showcased her work, which took eight months to complete and was inspired by the book The Railway Children. Valerie said: “Sophie commented on my work and said The Railway Children was her favourite book. We also spoke about the cold tea in the picnic in the arrangement. It is just a joy to be part of it. My main motivation for doing this is the fact the cathedral continues to not charge for entry. Events like the flower festival bring in money to help boost the restoration team fund.”

For everyone involved, the visit was the icing on the cake for the Festival of Flowers. The Countess was even handed a copy of the Chichester Observer while touring the cathedral, as it carried a special feature on the festival.

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