Duchess Kate has moving phone call with granddaughter who submitted photo of late grandparents for 'Hold Still' book

By Heather Cichowski

Duchess Kate has been having a series of a deeply moving phone calls with finalists from the Hold Still: A Portrait of Our Nation in 2020 book, and the latest has just been released.

Mom of three Kate of three spoke with Hayley Evans about her "Forever Holding Hands" portrait, an emotional image that captured a close-up of her grandparents, Pat and Ron Woods, who passed away from COVID-19 just days apart.

The chat between Hayley and Kate, as with all of the conversations with Hold Still finalists, happened in the fall of 2020, and is being shared now to coincide with the launch of the Hold Still: A Portrait of Our Nation in 2020 book. The Duchess of Cambridge wanted to speak with some of the 100 finalists in the competition to find out more about the stories behind the images and listen to their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kate called Hayley's photograph of her grandparents "wonderful [and] very moving," and Hayley explained about their touching love story. They were married for 71 years!

The couple were independent during the start of isolation, and Hayley said she and her family would help out by leaving things for them at their back door. Unfortunately, Ron fell and fractured his hip. He picked up COVID-19 around the time he went to hospital and Pat later tested positive. Hayley's mom, who was Ron's carer during his recovery from the fall, also contracted the illness.

"My grandparents, Pat and Ron Wood, were married 71 years ago on St George’s Day," Hayley wrote in her portrait submission. "In May 2020 they were admitted a week apart to the Covid ward at Worthing Hospital.

"At first they were nursed separately, but were soon reunited. Kind staff pushed their beds together and gave them their own room. They spent their final days exactly where they were meant to be and exactly how they had spent the last 71 years… together. Pat passed away in her sleep, lying next to her dear Ron and he followed her five days later. Together, forever holding hands."

Kate was very moved as she listened to the story. She told Hayley how much she appreciated the personal story, photograph and the incredible message Ron and Pat had about appreciating the tiny things and taking nothing for granted.

Hayley said she has mixed emotions seeing the photograph of her late grandparents, and said she finds it sad but also comforting to know they were able to be together in their final days.

"It was the best thing they could have done for them," she said at one point about how the hospital staff pushed Ron and Pat's beds together.

"I loved your sentence about saying how they appreciate the tiny things and they took nothing for granted, and it was just the ability to touch each other and hold each other in those last few days," said Kate. "I think things like that shouldn't be taken for granted, particularly, you know, in the last few days of life."

The second phone call was shared a few days earlier on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's recently launched YouTube channel. It was entitled "Cancelled" after the photograph mom Niaz Maleknia took of daughter Romy as she graduated in 2020 and dealt with cancelled exams, proms and graduation ceremonies. They also chatted about the impact COVID-19 had on young people's mental health.

The first phone call was uploaded on May 6. The Duchess of Cambridge chatted with Lynda Sneddon and her four-year-old daughter, Mila. The photo Lynda submitted for the Hold Still project depicts Mila kissing a window as her dad stands outside and smiles at his little girl. Lynda and her daughter isolated separately from him to protect Mila, who was only four months into her chemotherapy journey for acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the time the image was taken.

The Hold Still: A Portrait of Our Nation in 2020 book was released on May 7 and is available at stores in the U.K. as well as online.

Hold Still was a very powerful project Kate launched with her patronage, the National Portrait Gallery, in May 2020. She encouraged people in the U.K. to submit their personal photographs that captured their new pandemic realities. The book features 100 of those incredible photographs.

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