Wearside Echoes: Roker roar for Di

The Princess of Wales at St Bendict's Hospice in 1993
The Princess of Wales at St Bendict's Hospice in 1993
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THE Roker Roar rang out as “a radiant” Princess Diana made her first visit to Sunderland in 1985 – in the company of husband Charles.

“The Prince and Princess of Wales won’t forget the warmth of their Wearside welcome in a hurry,” reported the Echo on May 22.

“Despite the chilly weather, there was a carnival atmosphere as young and old alike thronged the route – cheering, waving and pushing with excitement to see their Royal favourites.”

Diana’s first visit to Wearside included a whistle-stop tour of Houghton, Philadelphia, Sunderland Civic Centre and St Vincent Street in Hendon – with cheering crowds greeting her at every venue.

“The Royal walkabouts were the highlight of the tour. Prince Charles and Princess Diana took every opportunity to stop and chat, often falling behind schedule to do so,” reported the Echo.

The “People’s Princess” was to make several return trips to the North East before her death in 1997, with a visit to Age Concern at Durham drawing the crowds in September 1987.

Thousands flocked to welcome the Princess to Peterlee in 1983 too, when she opened the Fisher Price Toy Factory, and in September 1993 she spent time with the patients of St Benedict’s Hospice in Sunderland.

“She draws a smile wherever she goes,” reported the Echo. “People are always delighted to welcome her to Wearside, as she takes such a genuine interest in all she has come to see.”

Although May 1985 marked Princess Diana’s first trip to Wearside, her husband Prince Charles was already a seasoned visitor to the North East.

Indeed, the month of May 1978 saw him meet members of Sunderland’s 1st Airborne Association and, just a few weeks later, he returned to inspect models made by scouts at Dow House in Seaham.

Other visits by the prince have included a trip to the Enterprise Centre in High Street West in July 1988, several tours of Durham and a trip around the shops of Pennywell in April 1996.

“Wearsiders have traditionally held a very soft spot for Royalty, always providing a warm welcome during their official visits to the city,” said Echo editor Rob Lawson.

“It would be nice to think that, if and when William brings Kate to Sunderland, we can ‘welcome her home’ with the same Roker Roar given to Princess Diana back in 1985.”