The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge paid a touching tribute to NHS frontline heroes battling the coronavirus pandemic as they presented them with a Pride of Britain award.
Prince William and Kate honoured health workers during a visit to St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, with the Duke telling them: "We cannot thank you enough.
"On behalf of a grateful nation, it is a tremendous honour for Catherine and I to present this special recognition award to the army of dedicated NHS staff."
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Presenting the special recognition award via video, for the annual ceremony, which will be broadcast on ITV on 1 November, the Duke said: "The devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic has reminded us as a nation of how much we owe to the thousands of NHS workers who have gone far beyond the call of duty this year.
"They have worked tirelessly around the clock, with humility and compassion, in the most challenging of circumstances, putting their own lives on the line to help others.
"It is fitting that we are here today at Britain's oldest hospital to thank and celebrate our NHS staff and to honour them with a Pride of Britain award."
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The Cambridges met with NHS staff
The Duchess added: "Through our conversations with frontline workers during the pandemic, we have been inspired by their stories of bravery and selflessness.
"Many have had to leave their families for weeks on end, some have come out of retirement to help, while others have stepped into new roles to play their part in the fight against coronavirus.
"And it is not just the medical teams - all NHS staff have played a crucial role through this time.
"During lockdown, we joined people up and down the country to applaud the NHS and our key workers each week. Their hard work still goes on and we remain indebted to them for all they do."
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Kate Garraway with NHS staff
Poignantly, the royal couple – both dressed in NHS blue – were introduced to six NHS representatives by TV presenter Kate Garraway, whose husband Derek Draper has been seriously ill in hospital since he contracted COVID-19 more than eight months ago.
They offered their support to Kate, who returned to her job presenting Good Morning Britain in June after 14 weeks off as Derek battled the virus and has shared updates on his condition in recent months as he remains in hospital.
During a socially distanced meeting, where everyone wore masks, William and Kate heard from the group about their experiences of working through the outbreak.
They included Keisha Mills, an intensive care matron, Marion Jones, a health care assistant, and Dr Simon Finney, an intensive care consultant, all from Barts Health Trust and, from the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, Heder Lopes Landim, a porter at Barnet Hospital; Martha Sarpong, an ITU support nurse, and Charlotte Greenfield, a critical care physiotherapist.
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Kate and William at the NHS' 72nd birthday celebrations in July
Martha said: "I have three young children and Kate asked me: 'How do you cope with the homeschooling?' I said: 'Thank God my husband is a teacher.'
"They were asking how we were coping generally with COVID and we explained what we did and how our managers supported us."
Charlotte said: "It's incredibly flattering to be one of the people to receive the Pride of Britain award on behalf of the NHS.
"What was really nice was that the Duke and Duchess were asking us questions, they were genuinely interested.
"I don't think Prince William knew there was a different branch of physiotherapy in terms of respiratory, so I was explaining to him. I educated him a little on my role. I explained exactly how it had been. I kept using the word sweaty to him, but it really was.
"They were absolutely lovely and kept asking genuine questions."
William opened the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Birmingham in April
GMB presenter Kate opened up about her encounter with the Duke and Duchess on air, revealing: "I have to say, I did have to ask her about her (Kate's) hair. Her new blonde, it is fabulously glossy in person, I can report."
She described the meeting as "a great honour for me", saying: "I got to spend a bit of time with them because they were giving their time.
"We can't have the big live event with the red carpet and all of that, they're doing it slightly differently this year, but it's very, very moving and they're involved in that."
Thousands of members of the public nominated the country's NHS frontline heroes to receive a special recognition Pride of Britain award. It is the largest number of people to be ever honoured with a Daily Mirror Pride of Britain award.
The Cambridges clapping for NHS workers in April
William and Kate have made NHS workers a key focus of their public work this year, starting with a visit to a 111 call centre in March, as the coronavirus outbreak gathered pace.
During lockdown they made calls to staff at Queen's Hospital in Burton on Trent and University Hospital Monklands in Airdrie, Lanarkshire. And they were filmed, along with Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, clapping for NHS workers outside their country home, Anmer Hall.
In April they launched the Our Frontline, a mental health support scheme for health workers and spoke via video link to the children of key workers at Casterton Primary Academy in Burnley, Lancashire.
William opened the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Birmingham with a virtual appearance, while in May, Kate spoke to midwives and new parents at Kingston Hospital.
In June, William surprised the critical care teams at Aintree and the Royal hospitals in Liverpool with a video call and visited King's Lynn Ambulance Station, returning to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital with Kate to celebrate the NHS's 72nd birthday in July.
In September the Duke visited frontline workers in Belfast, including ambulance workers and in October the Duchess unveiled the 100 portraits chosen for the Hold Still exhibition, which included many images of NHS staff.
The Daily Mirror Pride of Britain Awards, in partnership with TSB, is broadcast on Sunday 1 November, at 9pm on ITV.
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