Dr Alex George has confirmed what royal watchers may have already suspected about the Prince and Princess of Wales – that they are "warm, kind" and "really hands-on" when it comes to their campaign for mental health.
The TV star, who serves as the government's Youth Mental Health Ambassador, was handpicked by William and Kate to host a panel last month on World Mental Health Day in front of a group of 100 young people.
Dr Alex's meeting with Prince William and Princess Kate
In an exclusive interview with HELLO!, Dr Alex, 32, recalled: "I deeply respect the work that both the Prince and Princess of Wales have done in the mental health sphere, and I've always loved the royal family.
"I really loved the late Queen. I think what she stood for, especially in hard times, was really important and special. Her speech during COVID captured the nation. I've got 'We'll meet again' tattooed on my arm because of her. Those things carry a lot with me.
"So, there were multiple reasons why I was excited to meet the Prince and Princess and to be honest, very, very nervous. I don't tend to get nervous of people. I don't think anyone's any better or any worse than anyone else. My mum always brought me up that way.
"But I was more nervous meeting them than when I was appointed Youth Mental Health Ambassador by the Prime Minister, which is perhaps an odd thought. I stumbled on the first few words, but they were just so welcoming, so warm and kind – the loveliest people."
William and Kate's genuine passion for mental health
During the event hosted by the Royal Foundation in partnership with charity The Mix, Princess Kate gave a speech reiterating her goals with the Early Years and why days like World Mental Health Day mattered. Chairing the panel, Dr Alex shared his insights about the challenges and possible solutions in youth mental health.
"Meeting them, I didn't feel that they were like, 'We're the royal family,'" said Dr Alex. "I was really impressed by how long they spent with the young people and how they got involved in the activities. They were active listeners, responding, putting everyone at ease. I do really look up to them particularly because of the work they do. They're heroes in that way and I'm really glad they were who I expected them to be."
Dr Alex added: "I've met a lot of people along the way, and I think it's pretty obvious when people really do care about mental health and I would say this is something they're very passionate about. You can tell they've spent a lot of time learning.
"I was told by senior people in the Royal Foundation that they are involved daily, asking, 'What are the updates? What's going on? How's this campaign going? How can I help?' It's not from a distance. They're really hands-on, which perhaps you wouldn't expect."
Dr Alex had about five minutes with William and Kate before the panel and used that time to thank the royals for shining a light on mental health, and for choosing him to host the panel.
"It blew my mind that they knew who I was," said the former Love Island contestant. "It was really cool, really awesome. I know that they want to continue to work together.
"They're very supportive of the things that I'm doing and it's great to have good allies in this space because I always believe that not one person can fix a world problem. It's the actions of the many that change the status quo, as cheesy as that sounds. I'm just one person amongst many that can help and do something good."
Dr Alex's mission with Early Support Hubs
Dr Alex's mission for providing early intervention for young people had a breakthrough on 26 October when, after three years of "blood, sweat and tears" and three Prime Ministers later, he secured funding to launch his 'Early Support Hubs' pilot nationwide.
"I've campaigned all around the country. I've held meetings at Downing Street, Westminster, rallied support from MPs, wrote letters, had millions of Zoom calls, explaining to stakeholders why it's important," Dr Alex said. "Five million pounds might seem like a small amount of funding, but this will be a really big change in the way that we approach mental health in this country. It will mark a turning point in how we prevent illness."
The £5million funding will go towards operating ten drop-in community hubs. Aimed at 11- to 25-year-olds, an age group that is sometimes ignored but often the most transitional period of a person's life, the drop-in centres will allow young people to walk in for free mental health support and advice on a range of topics such as relationships, finance, and education.
Young people will not need a referral or an appointment, allowing them to instantly access services such as counselling, group work, and psychological therapies and in turn, help them before they reach a possible crisis point.
"When you roll them out across England, these hubs will serve around half a million children a year," said Dr Alex. "That's nearly six Wembley stadiums of young people that can go into these hubs. Kids who have been waiting two years for referrals from a GP – this is it; they walk in and get the support they need.
"As a mental health ambassador, it's where I put my stake in the ground on. This is what I pinned my hat on. These hubs won't fix everything, but they will be a big part of the solution."
Dr Alex's passion for photography
Social prescribing is another service that is deeply embedded in Dr Alex's work. It is when a GP or healthcare professional refers a patient to a link worker who prescribes activities, instead of medication, to enrich the patient's life.
Dr Alex, a keen photographer himself, is backing a campaign run by Wex Photo Video where photography is prescribed for people struggling with their mental health. Available in three sites in London, Bristol and Manchester, Wex's service sees people come together to take part in photography masterclasses.
"Medicines are really important. I've been on anti-depressants in the past and I take medication for ADHD now," said Dr Alex. "But I think we've been neglecting the basic needs of people, like having social connections.
"Not many people know, but being lonely is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. People who are lonely tend to live less longer and have less quality of life. So the Wex campaign is a perfect example of getting people in person together, talking, building confidence, learning a new skill like photography, and giving a sense of purpose again."
"I think we're moving so much more into that direction where early intervention, prevention, and wellbeing in the community are becoming a priority," said Dr Alex. "The NHS is largely based on treatment. But actually, if we can prevent the stuff, that's a huge thing.
"I don't see mental illness being solved entirely in our lifetime, so I think I'll be busy for a long time and that's fine. My campaigning and activism won't end. I'm here for the long run."
Dr Alex George is currently working with Wex Photo Video to raise awareness of their 'Photography on Prescription' campaign. For more information on how to use photography as a therapeutic tool, please visit the Wex website here.
Listen to HELLO!'s A Right Royal Podcast and find out if Harry and Meghan are really leaving Montecito, plus we reveal the Duchess' new Instagram account: