Harry and Meghan moved by celebration of children's courage and resilience in the face of illness

Upstaged by children whose personal triumphs of optimism over adversity were beacons of inspiration for the adults who surrounded them, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex appeared unusually humble today.

The  Duchess of Sussex meeting seven-year-old Matilda Booth during the annual WellChild Awards at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire.
The Duchess of Sussex meeting seven-year-old Matilda Booth during the annual WellChild Awards at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire.

They had arrived by limousine at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel, but there was no doubting that this time, Harry and Meghan were not the stars of the show.

They had come to honour youngsters and the medical staff who care for them, at a glittering ceremony staged by WellChild, the national charity for seriously ill children and their families.

Among this year’s winners was Matilda Booth, just turned seven, from Sowerby Bridge near Halifax. She has spina bifida, is paralysed from the chest down and has had brain surgery seven times, among more than 40 operations.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the annual WellChild Awards at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire.

There was a sparkle in her eye as she gave Meghan a bouquet of white blooms and the two touched hands. In return, the Duchess picked a rose from the bunch and handed it back.

It was a fairytale moment, but Matilda confessed that not even a Royal could hold a candle to Simon Cowell.

“I’ve met Simon lots of times,” she said. “I’ve got a signed pillow and a Simon Cowell wheelchair.”

She showed the Duke and Duchess a cuddly pug toy, which is named after the star.

Her mother, Sharon, said after the royal encounter: “Matilda chose the flowers, she was shell-shocked to be given the rose. She said she’s going to put it in her memory box.”

Harry also held hands with the little girl, hooking his little finger around hers.

Mrs Booth, who gave up her job as a paediatric nurse to look after Matilda full-time, said the Royals urged her daughter, who wants to be a nurse, to “never stop smiling as you’ve got a beautiful smile”.

She told The Yorkshire Post previously: “Despite all the painful procedures she goes through, constant hospital admissions, daily physio as well as being in pain and having to rely on an adult for everything – even a change of position – she is the happiest little girl I know, always smiling and laughing.

“What amazes me about her is she sees herself as any other little girl, she will happily tell people her legs don’t work and loves to explain to people what all her tubes are for and how they work.

Matilda and her twin, Layla, were born six weeks early in September 2011.

“Matilda is our beautiful swan,” Mrs Booth said. “Her future is very uncertain and she has so many potential life-threatening conditions that we feel we are living with a time bomb some days. Despite all this Matilda uses the abilities she has to her advantage.”

Her therapist, Alison Honour, said: “She is a very sociable little girl. She’s unique. There is only one Matilda in the world.”

Big sister Darcie said: “Even though I’m older, I look up to her. She’s inspired me.”

The Duke has been patron of WellChild since 2007 and attends its annual awards regularly. He and Meghan, who wore a trouser suit by Altuzarra and a Deitas blouse, were joined at the ceremony by the former England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward, and presenters Gaby Roslin and Matt Allwright.

In his foreword in the event’s official programme, Harry wrote: “We are celebrating remarkable stories of hope, resilience and selflessness.”

Among the other winners was four-year-old Mckenzie Brackley, from Fife, who had to learn to speak, swallow, eat and drink and move again due to acute flaccid paralysis, and was praised for being there for other children when they were “scared or sad”.

A 10-year-old cancer patient has implored members of the public to join him in raising money for the hospital that saved his life.

Rowan Pethard rang the Great Ormond Street “end of treatment” bell on August 8, marking the last chemotherapy cycle after being diagnosed with leukaemia in 2015, and now plans to take part in a fun run to help the hospital’s charity.

The youngster is aiming to get at least 100 people to join his team as he takes part in the Race for the Kids event.

His mother Abby Pethard, said: “Rowan got his disability very early on, in the first six months, but we’ve still done Race for the Kids every year, and every year Rowan has been determined to do it.”