Well-wishers became tearful last night as the Duke of Cambridge thanked them for marking his mother’s birthday.
The fans had been holding a vigil outside Kensington Palace since 5.30am to remember what would have been Diana, Princess of Wales’ 58th birthday.
At around 6.45pm they were astounded to see her eldest son walk quietly and without fanfare through the palace gates into Kensington Gardens with a small security detail.
William walked up to the six of them, who were surrounded by pictures of his late mother along with bunting and flowers, and shook each by the hand.
‘William told me he knew we’d been coming here for years and thanked us for what we were doing for his mother,’ said 59-year-old fan John Loughrey, from south-west London. ‘I’m still shaking now. I feel very emotional,’ he added.
Mr Loughrey said the prince also admired the badges of Diana on his hat and said he thought it was ‘wonderful’ that they were celebrating his mother’s life and legacy.
‘He said ‘I’m touched by what you do, you’ve got quite the collection’. I told him that I pray for his mother every Sunday at Westminster Abbey and he seemed really touched.
‘He shook my hand three times, he has a really firm shake, and I felt a beautiful feeling go through my body. I think I’m still shaking now. I feel very emotional.’
Mr Loughrey asked when the much-talked about statue to his late mother would finally be effected in her memory outside the palace.
William pointed to the gardens, where he revealed it would be situated, and said: ‘Soon, very soon. We just want to make sure it is right. It’s important to get it right.’
Asked why he held a vigil on the princess’s birthday and the anniversary of her death Mr Loughrey added: ‘She was born with two hearts, one for her and one for us. People must never forget that.
‘I have never spoken to William before, only seen him, but he made a beeline for me and he knew who I was. I am so touched. He seemed really moved that we were here.’
Also among the fans was Maria Scott, 48, from Newcastle, and Sky London, 59, from Paddington.
Sky had been asleep when the prince arrived but was woken by his friends.
He said: ‘William said a friend had taken a photo of me asleep earlier and showed it to him.’
Maria added: ‘We are here to honour Diana’s legacy. We are two generations down now and there are children growing up who don’t even know who she is. It’s important that we remind them and remember.
‘None of us could believe it when William suddenly walked down the drive to come and thank us. He really is his mother’s son.’
The prince spent around seven minutes chatting to the six-strong group, leaving only when crowds started to gather, saying it was a private visit.
Earlier on Monday William’s wife Kate revealed how her children helped provide some of the inspiration for her new garden.
The Duchess of Cambridge, 37, invited youngsters from four charities to join her for fun activities including an insect spotting walk and a picnic as her garden re-opened at the Royal Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival yesterday, which is double the size of the original, following a successful stint at the Chelsea Flower Show.
And Prince George’s request for some stepping stones over a mini pool fed by a waterfall proved a hit with the youngsters, while Princess Charlotte helped her mother collect pine cones used for the treasure hunt.
While the royal dressed down for previous visits to her garden, she was at her polished best today, donning a £260 midi dress from Sandro, a favourite pair beige wedge heels and earrings by high street store Accessorize.
She appeared in excellent spirits as she arrived at the garden, waving to well-wishers and shaking hands with officials before she made her way inside.
The Duchess visited the site near Kingston in south-west London last Tuesday to help with the planting, and Mr Catling said she had been a useful member of the team.
‘She was very hands on, it was fantastic,’ he explained. ‘She came and did lots of planting and directing everyone around and got involved in the mulching.’
The duchess has a longstanding interest in the early years development of children, and believes spending time outdoors plays a pivotal role in the future health and happiness of youngsters.