Meghan Markle made a surprise appearance in front of hundreds of pupils in Dagenham on Friday – but it was the school’s head boy who stole the show.
In one of her last solo engagements as a working royal, the Duchess of Sussex met with delighted pupils at the Robert Clack Upper School in Dagenham to discuss International Women’s Day.
In a speech addressing the school’s boys in particular, she urged them to “continue to value and appreciate the women in your lives and also set the example for some men who are not seeing it that same way.
“You have your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, friends in your life, protect them.
“Make sure that they are feeling valued and safe and let’s all just rally together to make International Women’s Day something that is not just on Sunday, but frankly feels like every day of the year.”
The duchess also extended an invitation to the school’s boys, asking one of them to come up and explain the importance of International Women’s Day.
Head boy Aker Okoye, 16, jumped at the chance to take to the stage. Greeting the duchess with what appeared to be a kiss on the cheek, he told his fellow pupils: “She really is beautiful innit. I had to speak the truth there.”
With a smile, Meghan praised Aker’s “incredible confidence”.
Footage of the moment has been shared widely on social media, with Twitter users praising Okoye’s bold approach.
Markle’s visit had been kept secret from pupils at the Dagenham school, and though rumours had circulated about who the special guest could be, most of those waiting inside were audibly surprised when Meghan arrived on Friday, to be warmly greeted by headteacher Russell Taylor.
Meghan smiled broadly at two of the school’s youngest pupils, 11-year-olds Fiona Addai and Harvi Shehi, who both appeared shocked as she approached and asked their names.
The duchess thanked Fiona after the youngster presented her with a small bouquet of purple and white flowers. Fiona later said: “I was so happy, I thought I was going to faint.”
Meghan also marked the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act on her visit to the school.
Her choice of location was noteworthy as strikes in the 1960s by female sewing machinists at the nearby Ford Motor Plant triggered the passing of the legislation. That struggle was depicted in the 2010 film Made in Dagenham.
Meghan told around 700 pupils in an assembly: “I think being able to be in Dagenham is incredibly profound…
“It is the best example of no matter how small you might feel, how low you may feel on the ladder or the totem pole, no matter what colour you are, no matter what gender you are, you have a voice and you certainly have the right to speak up for what is right.”
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex received a standing ovation on Saturday evening at Royal Albert Hall as they attended one of their final public engagements before they step back as senior royals.
The couple were treated to a sustained round of applause ahead of the national anthem, as they took their seats in the royal box at the London venue on Saturday evening.
They had been greeted warmly by members of the Royal Marines when they arrived at the South Kensington venue for the annual Mountbatten Festival of Music.