‘I was shaking and completely speechless’ - Hellesdon nurse remembers a day spent with Princess Diana

Princess Diana meets patients and staff at the Old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Photo: Karen Hicks

Princess Diana meets patients and staff at the Old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Photo: Karen Hicks - Credit: Karen Hicks

It is not every day a Princess comes to visit you at work.

Princess Diana visiting Acle Ward of the Old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Photo: Karen Hicks

Princess Diana visiting Acle Ward of the Old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Photo: Karen Hicks - Credit: Karen Hicks

But on May 11 1988, Karen Hicks, an auxiliary nurse at the Old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, hosted her royal role model Princess Diana.

The picture shows Mrs Hicks, a Hellesdon resident, with the late Diana standing at a patient's bedside; unaware the hospital photographer was capturing the special moment on film.

Although the hospital staff knew a member of the royal family would be visiting, the identity of the guest was kept secret for weeks leading up to the event. Mrs Hicks remembers there being plenty of discussion over who it would be.

She said: 'Nobody was allowed to know who from the royal family was coming. When we found out who it was the excitement was amazing.'

Diana, the Princess of Wales, unveils a plaque to open the Splash swimming pool in Sheringham on 11

Diana, the Princess of Wales, unveils a plaque to open the Splash swimming pool in Sheringham on 11 May, 1988. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library


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Princess Diana was in Norfolk opening leisure pool Splash! in Sheringham, but visited the Acle Ward of the hospital to spend time with patients and staff.

Nobody wanted to miss the visit, including Mrs Hicks, who was supposed to be on annual leave but came in specially to meet her idol.

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She described how patients were moved from surrounding wards and crammed into a few rooms on Acle ward to catch a glimpse of the celebrity princess in person.

She added that although Diana must have known what they had done, she 'didn't even blink' at the over-crowding.

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Security prior to the visit was crucial. Sniffer dogs were sent round to check all the beds and Diana's personal bodyguards arrived early to double check everything was safe for her arrival.

The nurses had their uniforms checked and Mrs Hicks joked that she had to remove her silver necklace so she didn't 'show up' Diana's jewellery. They were also given a firm instruction: do not ask the Princess about her son, Prince Harry.

Mrs Hicks explained that the young prince, then only four years old, had been in hospital having a hernia operation the night before.

She was horrified when a patient broke the rule and asked how he was doing, but Princess Diana just smiled and reassured everyone that he was recovering at their Kensington home with Prince Charles.

Queen at RAF Marham

Queen at RAF Marham - Credit: Archant

When her time came to speak to the Princess, self-confessed chatterbox Mrs Hicks said she was 'lost for words'.

She said: 'We'd been told to do a little curtsey but I couldn't because I was stuck between a hospital bed and a wheel chair. I was shaking and completely speechless.'

Despite her nerves, Mrs Hicks was able to present Diana with a posy she had made using wild flowers picked from a friend's garden.

She added: 'You forgot she was a princess, she was so down to earth.'

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Princess Diana gives Prince Harry a helping hand to have a closer look at the fire engine, 4 January 1988. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

After the visit Mrs Hicks and the other nurses celebrated with a big strawberry gateaux. Although she didn't realise it at the time, the story of her day spend with the Princess would still resonate with Diana fans 30 years later.

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