The Duchess of Cambridge has written of how the pandemic showed the “importance of simply being together” as she hosted a festive Christmas carol concert.
Kate, in a moving message about “how powerful human connection is to us all”, reflected on the “countless and previously unimaginable challenges” of the Covid-19 crisis.
She described the “heart-wrenching isolation from those we hold most dear” in the programme booklet for her special service.
The duchess, who hosted the celebratory event, said: “We have lost loved ones, seen our frontline workers placed under immeasurable pressure, and we have experienced heart-wrenching isolation from those we hold most dear.
“Alongside this, we have seen how communities have come together to support those most in need.
“And through our separation from others, we have been reminded just how powerful human connection is to us all.
“Just how much we need one another. And how loving and feeling a sense of belonging to one another can provide comfort in tough times. The importance of simply being together.”
The duchess’s Together at Christmas service in London’s Westminster Abbey on Wednesday is being broadcast on ITV on Christmas Eve, having been switched from the BBC in the fallout over a BBC Two documentary about the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex.
Kate also wrote: “Christmas is a time when we can reflect on the past, listen to one another, focus on the relationships that nurture us and build our resilience, so we can look forward to a brighter shared future.”
The duchess, who was joined by William at the event, wore a festive red Catherine Walker coat with large bow detail, and the Queen Mother’s sapphire fringe earrings loaned to her by the Queen.
They were greeted by carol-singing schoolchildren and reindeers outside the Abbey.
Popstars Leona Lewis and Ellie Goulding, England footballer Jordan Henderson and comic Jason Manford also attended, as did Zara and Mike Tindall, Princess Beatrice and husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, Princess Eugenie and the Countess of Wessex.
Also there was Kate’s family – her parents Carole and Michael Middleton, sister Pippa Matthews, brother James Middleton and his wife Alizee.
The duchess was separated from the Middleton family for many months during the pandemic.
Guests wore masks as they walked around the Abbey amid the threat of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.
Kate staged the concert to reflect on the challenges of the pandemic and pay tribute those who supported communities throughout.
The congregation was filled with 1,200 unsung Covid heroes, and the duchess welcomed familiar faces including Mila Sneddon who charmed the duchess after bravely coping with leukaemia during the pandemic.
Mila, six, gave the duchess a twirl in her sequinned dress before taking her seat behind the royals.
She said afterwards: “She asked me what I was getting from Father Christmas and I told her I wanted a Barbie Dreamhouse.
“I showed her my dress and she said I looked lovely.”
Her mother Lynda said: “Last two Christmases Mila has been in hospital so we are looking forward to having Mila at home this year. We are just an ordinary family. It is amazing to be invited.”
The youngster, from Falkirk, in Scotland, who was a guest of honour after meeting the duchess through the Hold Still photo project, sat behind Kate and the rest of the royals, and also gave a short reading during the hour-long ceremony.
The duchess chatted with Goulding and Lewis who performed at the service.
Kate said to Goulding: “It is nice to get doing things like this as not been able for so long.”
Lewis added: “This is very special. It my first time here.”
William and Kate spent up to 15 minutes mingling with many of those they invited.
Colonel David Blum, 98, who met the duchess last month as part of the Remembrance Day celebrations, beamed after she sought him out in the seats.
He said: “My family are far away so I won’t be seeing them at Christmas so I am very grateful to be invited. It is a lovely trip to London. Kate is very charming.”
The duke gave his own star turn by delivering a reading, as did TV presenter Kate Garraway and paralympian and doctor Kim Daybell.
Armed forces personnel involved in Operation Pitting to evacuate 15,000 people from Afghanistan were also in the audience, as were representatives from patronages and charities of of the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Cambridges.
Comic Manford was rewarded for taking up a job as a delivery driver for Iceland and driving over-80s for medical appointments, while footballer Henderson was praised for starting the Players Together initiative where Premiership stars donated wages to help NHS charities.
Singer George Ezra, who gave his songs to Joe Wicks to use during his Covid PE lessons, and radio DJ Adele Roberts, who supported the Cambridges’ Our Frontline campaign to provide help for 999 heroes, were also in the audience.
Full details of the service are being kept secret ahead of the hour-long Christmas Eve screening.