United Kingdom

Duchess of Cambridge praises 'amazing' image of couple holding hands as they battled Covid-19

The Duchess of Cambridge has praised an 'amazing' an image of an elderly couple holding hands as they battled Covid-19, before dying just five days apart, which was chosen for her landmark photographic project.

Kate Middleton, 39, spoke to Hayley Evans, West Sussex, who submitted the picture of her grandparents, Pat and Ron Wood as they held hands while in hospital last year, to the National Portrait Gallery's Hold Still exhibition. 

The striking image, entitled Forever Holding Hands, was among 100 photographs chosen for the duchess' Hold Still exhibition and book, which encouraged the public to document life during the pandemic.  

Kate phoned Hayley last autumn and the conversation was released today on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's new YouTube channel, alongside heart-warming photographs of Hayley and her family.   

Speaking with Hayley, Kate said she had been 'so moved' by the image and the title of the picture, saying: 'I loved your sentence about saying how they appreciate the tiny things and took nothing for granted.

'The ability to touch each other and hold each other in those last few days...I think things like that shouldn't be taken for granted, particularly, you know, in the last few days of life.'   

In the picture only the hands of the couple, who were married for 71 years, can be seen, with Ron, who died aged 94 five days after his wife, clutching the fingers of his partner, who died in May last year aged 91. 

The Duchess of Cambridge has praised an 'amazing' an image of an elderly couple Ron and Pat Wood who battled Covid-19 together 

Kate Middleton, 39, spoke to Hayley Evans, from West Sussex, who submitted the picture of her grandparents to the National Portrait Gallery's Hold Still exhibition

The royal, who is a keen amateur photographer, launched the Hold Still initiative during lockdown and asked the public to submit their images which captured the period for a digital exhibition.

She was then joined by a panel of five judges to select the best photos from more than 31,000 submitted for the nation-wide contest and said she was 'overwhelmed' by the response and that it was 'so hard' to whittle the images down to a top 100. 

During the call, which was released today, Hayley said of the photo: 'Although it's a sad photo, it's also so happy as well and when I look at it, I think "Oh it's really sad", but I also feel really joyful that they could do that. 

'Its exactly how they've lived their life and that's exactly how they were going to end their life.'

In the picture only the hands of the couple, who were married for 71 years, can be seen, with Ron, who died aged 94 five days after his wife, clutching the fingers of his partner, who died in May last year aged 91

The striking image, entitled Forever Holding Hands, was among 100 photographs chosen for the duchess' Hold Still exhibition and book. Pictured, Hayley with her grandparents 

Hayley revealed to the Duchess that her grandparents had been isolating by themselves for the majority of the pandemic before falling ill

Kate could be heard gasping as Hayley recalled her family battling the disease, saying: 'And that they had in that moment in time that sort of comfort in each other.'  

In the five-minute long video today, Hayley revealed to the duchess that her grandparents had been isolating by themselves for the majority of the pandemic before falling ill. 

'They were quite independent', she said. 'They were isolating for five weeks and we would go and leave food on their back door. One day my granddad fell over and had to go to hospital because he fractured his hip.' 

Hayley's mother moved in with the couple to care for them, but sadly, both Ron and Pat both contracted Covid-19. 

Hayley described her parents as 'quite independent' but said the 'best thing' that could have happened for them in hospital was being together 

Sadly Ron had a fall and injured his hip and later contracted Covid during a visit to the hospital. He is pictured with wife Pat 

Hayley's mother, pictured with Ron and Pat, moved in with the couple to care for them, but sadly, both Ron and Pat both contracted Covid-19

The couple were cared for in their hometown of Worthing after being admitted in May 2020. 

They were originally being cared for separately but kind staff later pushed their beds together so they could be in the same room.    

'My nan, it made her absolute life being able to be next to him', said Hayley. 'She could just sit there holding his hand (and say) "I love you Ron, love you Ron! Come on Ron", and he was like, 'Stop talking woman!'.

'It was the best thing they could have done for them.' 

'My nan, it made her absolute life being able to be next to him', said Hayley. She is pictured with her grandmother Pat 

Hayley, pictured with granddad Ron, made the Duchess laugh with tales of the couple's lighthearted bickering 

Hayley told Kate that the evening before her grandmother went into hospital they had been watching VE day celebrations together and 'speaking about how much she loves the Queen'. 

She said: 'We saw some videos of you and your outfit, so her photo being selected would have meant so much to her because of you  and the fact that they're still having an impact because they impact so many people's lives. 

'The fact they're still having an impact and their ripples and their message. That was their message throughout their lives together, the love and the little things. And it's just reaching so many people'.  

The new YouTube video after Kate's new book, Hold Still: A Portrait of Our Nation in 2020, which features 100 final 'poignant and personal' portraits selected from 31,000 entrants, topped the bestseller list on its first day of release.

Hayley told Kate that the evening before her grandmother went into hospital they had been watching VE day celebrations together and 'speaking about how much she loves the Queen'. Ron and Pat are pictured together

Ron and Pat Wood are pictured together on their wedding day in their hometown of Worthing, West Sussex 

Hayley's grandparents Ron and Pat are pictured together at the store they owned in Worthing

The new book includes an introduction from Kate, in which she explains why launching Hold Still was so important to her.

She writes: 'When we look back at the COVID-19 pandemic in decades to come, we will think of the challenges we all faced – the loved ones we lost, the extended isolation from our families and friends and the strain placed on our key workers.

'But we will also remember the positives: the incredible acts of kindness, the helpers and heroes who emerged from all walks of life, and how together we adapted to a new normal.

'Through Hold Still, I wanted to use the power of photography to create a lasting record of what we were all experiencing – to capture individuals' stories and document significant moments for families and communities as we lived through the pandemic.'

The mother-of-three launched a royal treasure hunt last as she joined her fellow Hold Still judges in leaving copies of her photography book hidden around the UK with a letter tucked inside

She goes on: 'For me, the power of the images is in the poignant and personal stories that sit behind them. I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak to some of the photographers and sitters, to hear their stories first-hand - from moments of joy, love and community spirit, to deep sadness, pain, isolation and loss.

'A common theme of those conversations was how lockdown reminded us about the importance of human connection and the huge value we place on the relationships we have with the people around us.

'Although we were physically apart, these images remind us that, as families, communities and as a nation, we need each other more than we had ever realised.'

She concludes by thanking everyone who took the time to submit an image, adding: 'Your stories are the most crucial part of this project.

'I hope that the final 100 photographs showcase the experiences and emotions borne during this time in history, pay tribute to the awe-inspiring efforts of all who have worked to protect those around them, and provide a space for us to pause and reflect upon this unparalleled period.'

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