A cheeky teenager left the Duchess of Sussex speechless as stole a kiss and declared “she’s beautiful” to a packed assembly hall during a secret royal visit to his school.
Meghan appeared in front of stunned pupils at Robert Clack Upper School in Dagenham urging teenage boys to “value, appreciate and protect” the women in their lives.
As part of her rallying speech to celebrate International Women’s Day – which falls tomorrow – the Duchess went “off the cuff” and invited one “brave young man” to go up to the stage to speak about why the anniversary was important to him.
To wild applause, up stepped Aker Okoye, the 16-year-old Head Boy, before he made his way to the stage to greet Meghan with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Waiting until the noise died down before leaning into the microphone and telling them: "She really is beautiful, innit."
The Duchess burst into laughter, wagging her finger at him in mock admonishment and crossing her arms.
“I had to speak the truth there,” he added. "International Women’s Day is a reminder to everyone that women can do it all and do do it all.
“This is more of a message to all you guys. Maybe this Sunday could be the one day we don’t look at women as objects.
“I just want International Women’s Day for all of us to be a reminder of how strong our community is with women inside."
To screams and applause, he gave Meghan a hug and left the stage as she said: "Well done. Very well said. And incredible confidence, won't you all agree?"
Speaking afterwards, Aker said calling Meghan beautiful was an “ice-breaker”.
He added: “It's different when you meet people in person from on TV. It's a different feeling.
“Sorry about the ice-breaker, I don't want to objectify women. It was amazing.”
Asked how he thought his peers would react, he said: “It's going to be for a few days, they're going to be asking me questions.
"I had to stand up. I looked around, I wasn't sure there was anybody else [volunteering]. I thought: this day means so much to me, it would be an insult for me not to speak and say how much it means to me.”
On what he was thinking as he approached the stage, he said: "Don't mess up, don't mess up.
"My heart was racing because I knew I had to speak in front of all of my cohort. I was really amazed and surprised.”
Saying he had only learned Meghan was coming towards the end of the school day, he added: “It means a lot to have her here. It's not every day that you meet someone from the royal family.”
During the visit, Meghan’s last solo engagement before leaving the Royal Family, she appeared alongside a real-life “Dagenham Girl” who fought for equal pay at the nearby Ford factory, the Duchess told youngsters: “No matter how small you might feel… you have a voice and you certainly have the right to speak up for what is right.”
Meeting Geraldine Dear, 66, one of the women who took part in the 1984 strike for equal pay at the Ford Motor Plant in Dagenham, Meghan told her: “Well done on making such an important change for this country. I'm sure it's not an easy thing to do but it's the right thing to do."
After a few moments of conversation with a class the Duchess walked out of the building to see a corridor of around 250 pupils who had been assembled to cheer their mystery guest.
One guessed the Queen would be arriving, while others had sussed it was the Duchess of Sussex.
Other possibilities, student leaders later disclosed, included Boris Johnson, Jackie Chan, and Beyonce.
In the the assembly, in front of a display reading How the Women of Dagenham Change the World, around 700 students heard from head girl Renee Palmer-Davies and Rhyanna Williams, both 16, who spoke about the women who inspired them.
They had been told about the Duchess’s visit two weeks in advance to allow them to prepare, successfully keeping the secret from their friends, family and school.
Taking to the stage, Meghan said: "It is such an honour for me to be here today.
"When we thought about what I wanted to do for International Women's Day this year, for me it was incredibly important to be with the women of our future.
"And that is all of you young women here as well as you young men who play a very large part in this.
"I think specifically coming to your school made a lot of sense for me because of this social justice and the impact that it's rooted in.
"Your school mantra, as you all know is what? Excellence for all, excellence from all, right?
"So if that's the case, how does that apply in your mind, do you think, to International Women's Day?
"I think it's very much the same thing isn't it? This idea of excellence for all and from all; equality for all and from all."
Pupil Rhyanna Williams said: "Especially in Dagenham, you think it's a forgotten part of London. To have a royal at your school makes you think: we're important, we matter.”
Asked what the Duchess had said to them, Renee added: "She was like, ‘that was great girls’. I was extremely nervous but she made me feel comfortable.
"She was like a long-time friend. This is the best day. There is no day that could top this."
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