Video & Gallery: Countess of Wessex tours Suffolk

THE Countess of Wessex swept into Suffolk yesterday for a whistle-stop tour of the county.

Craig Robinson

THE Countess of Wessex swept into Suffolk yesterday for a whistle-stop tour of the county.

Prince Edward's wife, Sophie, was on sparkling form during the Royal visit, which saw her travelling to a special school and dance studio in Ipswich and Easton Farm Park, near Wickham Market.

Wrapped up warm to protect against the bitterly cold weather, the countess spent hours meeting youngsters and chatting to members of the local community.

Her first port of call was the Thomas Wolsey School in Defoe Road, Ipswich, where she was greeted by the Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk, The Lord Tollemache.

The countess - who as Patron of the Autistic Society has a special interest in children with learning difficulties - was taken on a tour of the facilities.

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Before unveiling a plaque to commemorate her visit, she said: “It's been a wonderful day. I've enjoyed meeting you and would like to say what a brilliant school you have here.

“I've met so many nice children here - and had a lot of laughs along the way. It's been a real pleasure.”

Headteacher Nancy McArdle, who retires from the school in April after 18 years, said: “Everyone was so excited to see her, especially when she arrived by helicopter. It's been a fantastic experience.”

Her Royal Highness then travelled to Ipswich Waterfront, where she was given a tour of DanceEast's recently opened Jerwood DanceHouse.

She chatted to students from Holywells High School, watched undergraduates from University Campus Suffolk and was entertained by youngsters from Halifax Primary School.

One of the entertainers, Lianne Smith, 21, said: “It was exciting performing for her but a bit nerve-wracking. I loved her. She was really nice and down to earth.”

Eight-year-old Charlie Phillips, a pupil from Halifax Primary School, then presented Her Royal Highness with a posy.

She said: “I was really nervous but she was very friendly.”

In the afternoon, the countess arrived at Easton Farm Park and was greeted by its owner, John Kerr, who is also Vice Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk.

She met members of the local business community before being taken to the attraction's Go Barmy Barn to chat to children from the village primary school, including five-year-old Charlotte Gibbons, who presented her with a bunch of flowers.

Diane Payne, class one teacher at Easton Primary School, said: “The children were very excited to meet the countess. It was lovely.

“She talked to the children and asked them what they has been doing. It has given us the chance to talk about the Royal family and bring it into the curriculum.”

Before leaving in her Royal helicopter, the countess met the Queen's Suffolk Punch horse, Whitton Poppy.

Mr Kerr said: “We feel extremely privileged. The countess was very knowledgeable and interested to know how the farm had developed over the years and diversified its business.

“She was brilliant with the children, an absolute natural. It was a very successful visit.”

- See Saturday's paper for a two-page picture essay special on the Royal visit.