"They’ve shone a light on a community that has been written out of history," Professor Uzo Iwobi exclusively tells PEOPLE of spending time with the Prince and Princess of Wales
On Tuesday, the Prince and Princess of Wales, both 41, traveled to Cardiff to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush to London and start of Black History Month in the U.K.
Prince William and Princess Kate first stopped at the Grange Pavilion to meet members of the Windrush Cymru Elders, Black History Cymru 365 and the Ethnic Minority Youth Forum to learn more about their work and local impact, before moving to Fitzalan High School to hear about the students’ work with Black history and vocational classes.
The royal couple was in great spirits as they met and mingled with the gathering crowds. Kate even flashed a Gen-Z-approved gesture: heart-hands! Taylor Swift’s signature move became an Apple emoji last year, cinching its spot in the lexicon.
Prince William and Princess Kate made an impact earlier in the day at the Grange Pavilion. Just before the Prince of Wales left, there was an urgent request to fulfill for his host.
“He said to me ‘Can I please have a hug? You have been so lovely to us,’ ” Professor Uzo Iwobi exclusively tells PEOPLE. “I said ‘I oblige!’ I grabbed him, yeah. It was a very good hug. Like a brother.’ ”
“The good thing about him is how human he is, how understated he is and how very ordinary he wanted to be. He didn’t want bowing and stuff. He was a Prince of Wales that people could relate to, that was warming for the elders," she adds.
Prof. Iwobi — who also shared an embrace with Kate — is the founder of Race Council Cymru and oversees the work of Windrush Cymru, and showed the couple around the Grange Pavilion. William and Kate met the local elders who arrived in the U.K. on the Windrush and other transport that brought people to the U.K. in the 1950s and 1960s, and “looked into their faces and said thank you for their selflessness, for their sacrifices and their contributions,” Iwobi says.
One of the women was midwife Vernesta Cyril, who has delivered 2,000 Welsh babies and won UK Midwife of the Year in 2006. She is now in her 80s. “For the Prince of Wales to hold her hand and say thank you — that meant the world. They were thanking everybody, saying we appreciate your service and your contribution value all you’ve given to this nation,” Prof. Iwobi adds.
The excitement in the center was palpable. “Oh my gosh. Aunty Roma was running about — I had to go and catch her. She is the leader of the Windrush group and she wanted to take Prince William home. She was threatening to go to his house,” Iwobi tells PEOPLE.
The couple were shown the story of the Windrush generation in Cardiff and south Wales, and were then introduced to young people from the community. “They were talking to people from multinational backgrounds, local white Welsh people. Mixing in and understanding what diversity is all about. It’s not a tick box, a classroom and teaching people not to be racist — it is about interacting together and building cohesion from childhood,” she explains.
The royals also met members of the Cardiff Bay Warriors soccer squad and played ping pong with some young Muslim women.
“They’ve shone a light on a community that has been written out of history. It is a light is that cannot be extinguished. These elders will take this to their grave. They will never forget that one of the biggest leaders of their nation remembered them, traveled all this way and said thank you,” Iwobi says.
Clifton de Pas, 71, was one of those elders. “The interaction they were having felt genuine and real. It was another marker saying ‘Yes we want to recognize your contribution and here we are today as a testament to that.’ They are not just representing the royal family but the country as a whole. They were doing that on the country’s behalf,” he tells PEOPLE.
De Pas, who arrived from Jamaica in 1968 to join his mother, adds, “Britain is what it is today because of some of what you’ve contributed. Many of the people here were joyful for getting to meet the Prince of Wales and have their contribution acknowledged at this level.”
He says that the interaction came “naturally” to the couple.
“The people here today were excited and gracious and wanted to tell — even for a minute — their stories and appreciated the way in which they were listened to," he says.
The Prince and Princess of Wales' outings in Cardiff on Tuesday uniquely shared an intergenerational connection.
In a statement, Kensington Palace explained that the diverse student body of Fitzalan High School, the couple's second stop, includes direct descendants of the Windrush Cymru Elders, who they met with earlier in the day. Fitzalan High School serves one of the most diverse and disadvantaged communities in Wales, and 70% percent of students speak English as a second language. In September, a brand-new school building with state-of-the-art facilities was opened to help attendees reach their highest potential.
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During the busy visit, William and Kate connected with sixth-form students (the American equivalent of twelfth grade) pursuing both A-level and vocational studies plus the English for Speakers of Other Language provision.
The royal couple also checked out lessons on the history of Tiger Bay (where some members of the Windrush generation lived) and the importance of studying cultural heritage, plus gardening from scratch and other projects. On their way out, the Prince and Princess of Wales viewed a new entrance gate that the students helped design to help exemplify “What does Fitzalan Mean to Us”? through art.
King Charles named his eldest son the Prince of Wales in his first speech as King following the death of Queen Elizabeth in September 2022. Kate became the Princess of Wales, an appellation famously linked to William’s late mother, Princess Diana.
Meeting modern times, William opted not to have an investiture as Prince of Wales — unlike his father, who was "crowned" by his mother Queen Elizabeth at Caernarfon Castle when he was 20.
When they received their new titles, those close to William and Kate reiterated their commitment to Wales. A royal source told PEOPLE at the time, "The Prince and Princess of Wales will approach their roles in the modest and humble way they've approached their work previously.”
William and Kate have prioritized their relationship with the people of Wales (where they lived as newlyweds) ever since, and recently led public tributes to Queen Elizabeth on the first anniversary of her death at a Sept. 8 service at ancient St. Davids Cathedral.
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