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The Queen and Prince Philip visited King’s Lynn’s £400 million mill owned by Palm Paper to meet staff and some of those involved in bringing the facility to West Norfolk.

Palm Paper began production at the Saddlebow site in August 2009 and provides all the paper used by national newspapers and much of that used by the regional press.

A technical hitch at the plant meant the 24-hour production was stalled for two hours before the royal couple arrived on Wednesday morning, but the vast machinery was back on track in time.

Dr Wolfgang Palm, chief executive of the Palm Group, said: “That is the most important day I have ever experienced. We are extremely honoured that her majesty and her husband visited our operation.

“She picked up the information I gave her and really asked questions. She wanted to know the process and to know what people are doing and how long they have been involved and if they like their job.”

The royal couple spent 40 minutes at the operation. Initially they met company and West Norfolk dignitaries, including West Norfolk Mayor Zipha Christopher, before the Queen went to see the control room and the Duke had a tour of the mill, which houses the widest newsprint machine in the world.

The couple then came back together to meet 70 of the mill’s 150 staff, representing all departments, unveil a plaque to commemorate their visit and sign the visitor’s book before the Queen was presented with flowers by Dr Palm’s wife Suzanne.

The Duke raised a laugh as he turned to the Queen and asked: “What date is it?” before completing his entry in the book.

Shift supervisor Andy Ely, 47, of Ashwicken, introduced the Queen to staff in the control room.

He said: “For her age she looks very well and she spoke well. She seemed very interested in the process and what the job involved for us all.”

West Norfolk Council’s executive director for regeneration John Norton was one of a contingent from the authority at the site for the visit.

He said: “This is one of the biggest moments of my working career. The Queen was very interested in the role of myself and my colleagues in bringing Palm Paper to King’s Lynn. I can’t tell you how much work went into achieving that.”

Bryan Carton, 40, of Little Walsingham Close, South Wootton, who works in the effluent treatment plant, said: “The Queen asked where we get the water from and where it goes to. She was quite interested as to what goes on in our department. It was a great honour to meet her.”

Head of technical maintenance Chris Lord, 41, of Westry Close, Walsoken, said: “I introduced her to the rest of the maintenance team and she asked about the jobs they did and how long people had been with the site.”

Secretary to Derek Harman, the managing director of sales and marketing, Jacqui Saunders, 39, of Pound Lane, Heacham, said: “We have been trying to secure a date with the Queen for over a year. It was lovely and everyone has been so excited.

“The Duke was just very informal and approachable. He asked us what our roles were and if we were local, which we all were.”

Stephen Gruber, managing director of production, said the visit was particularly exciting for the 20 or so German employees present, such as himself, who never thought they would get to meet the Queen.

He said: “It was amazing. We only know them from the telly. I would have never have thought I would have the opportunity of welcoming her and shaking her hand.

“My grandmother is the same age as the Queen and she will be very pleased to have a picture of her grandson with the Queen.”

Mr Gruber gave The Duke a tour of the mill. He said: “He asked where people had worked before and made some jokes. It was a very warm atmosphere. He got people involved and talking with him.”

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