Aleyna, who is recovering from a brain tumor, has been exchanging letters with the Duchess of Sussex for the past two years

By Stephanie Petit
October 10, 2019 01:33 PM
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Prince Harry stepped out solo for World Mental Health Day, but he made sure to connect one special student with her longtime pen pal, Meghan Markle.

The royal dad headed to Nottingham on Thursday, where he visited Nottingham Academy to join an EPIC Partners Nurture Session with students discussing mental health and emotional well-being. As he was heading out, 14-year-old Aleyna Genc presented Harry with a gift for his 5-month-old son Archie — and received an unimaginable present in return.

Aleyna, who is recovering from a brain tumor, has been exchanging letters with the Duchess of Sussex for the past two years. Prince Harry pulled her aside and let the student listen to a voicemail that Meghan had recorded especially for her pen pal!

“Wow. Just wow,” Aleyna told reporters after listening to the message and giving Harry a big hug. “I’ve been lettering with Meghan for around two years now and she sent me a little voicemail, and I listened to that.”

“I just sent her a letter because she made a speech and that was the one that really inspired me: her UN women’s speech,” the student added. “I just wrote to her to say how much it inspired me, and we have been lettering ever since.”

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
Prince Harry
| Credit: Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
Prince Harry
| Credit: Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty

Aleyna presented Harry with a stuffed animal dog with a Pets as Therapy bandana. (In fact, Kate Middleton‘s brother James has a dog, Ella, who is certified with the organization!)

“They give therapy for children with actual pets,” she said. “It’s for children going through tough times in hospital or mental health issues — they give them a little dog to play with and it kind of releases stress.”

And while the toy was meant for Archie, the little royal may need to share the dog with Harry!

“He said thank you and that he loved it,” Aleyna said. “He said he would love it because he hasn’t been able to sleep because of Archie for the past few days.”

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
Prince Harry
| Credit: Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

The Duke of Sussex’s day in Nottingham also included meeting Barney the therapy dog and joining a school assembly where he learned how students are dealing with stress from exams, home life and feeling overwhelmed.

Next up, the Duke of Sussex visited the Community Recording Studio, a charity that teaches young people film and music skills by providing access to professional equipment and key industry contacts.

Harry met some of the young people who are developing a new “hip hopera” that highlights mental health issues. They will share some of their personal experiences with the prince before performing an extract of the hip hopera.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex
Prince Harry
| Credit: Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

Nottingham, about 125 miles north of London, also holds special meaning to Prince Harry and Meghan — it’s where they took on their first official royal outing as a couple just after their Nov. 2017 engagement. (Meghan and Harry lived at Kensington Palace’s Nottingham Cottage before moving to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor Castle — and it’s even where the royal proposed during a “cozy” night roasting a chicken dinner!)

In honor of World Mental Health Day, Harry also teamed up with singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran for a fun video shared to his @SussexRoyal Instagram page. The short clip shows Sheeran meeting up with the prince in order to talk about an issue he thinks they have in common: being teased for having red hair.

“I’ve been trying to write a song about this to get it out to more people,” the hitmaker tells the royal. “People just don’t understand what it’s like for people like us — with the jokes and the snide comments. I just feel like it’s time we stood up and said, ‘We are ginger, and we are going to fight.’ ”

Harry chimes in and corrects him, “Um, okay. This is slightly awkward. There may have been a miscommunication — this is about World Mental Health Day?”

When the singer realizes his mistake, he quickly deletes the title of his song — “Gingers Unite” — on his computer.

The pair then turn to the serious message: “Reach out, make sure your friends, strangers, look out for anybody that might be suffering in silence. We’re all in this together,” Harry says directly into the camera. “Cheers.”