Sarah Ferguson Praises Daughters Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie: 'They Have Such Empathy and Compassion'

"Their actions show their commitment and dedication to their grandmother and this country," Sarah, Duchess of York, told PEOPLE

Sarah, Duchess of York, and her daughters Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie spread festive cheer on Friday as they supported young people with cancer.

The event at the University College Hospital in London marked the official start of the princesses joining their mom as a patron of the charity Teenage Cancer Trust. During the visit, they helped make Christmas decorations and chatted with patients at a holiday party at the charity’s unit, which recently underwent a $400,000 refurbishment.

“Both [their father] the Duke [Prince Andrew] and myself could not be more proud of this moment,” Ferguson, 57, told PEOPLE of daughters Beatrice, 28, and Eugenie, 26. “These are two girls who’ve worked so hard in their own careers and have taken time off today to spread the word on teen cancer, which is so important.

“It’s an extraordinary example of good parenting and listening to children and getting them to take responsibility for their own actions, which is why they have such empathy and compassion.”

Princess Beatrice the Duchess of York and Princess Eugenie
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Fergie says her daughters’ connection to the cause is years in the making.

“When Beatrice was 18, I bought her here as birthday present. Nice mum, eh?” she said with a smile.

But Beatrice immediately jumped in and said, “It was great, Mum, to be able to learn from you and everything that you’ve achieved with the Teenage Cancer Trust over the past 28 years and to be able to do this together as a family — because that’s what it really feels like.

“The Teenage Cancer Trust is a family, it’s about supporting young people and making sure we all recognize that teenagers have to go through so much and add cancer on top of that — and we are able to support it from a position of family unity.”

Eugenie, meanwhile, shared a special moment with Elias Taylor, 30, from Birmingham, who is having a bone marrow transplant next Thursday as part of his acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment. The two painted Santa decorations together as they chatted about student life.

“We were talking about her being in Newcastle and the sorts of things young people talk about and do instead of being in hospital,” Taylor told PEOPLE.

“You don’t feel you’re talking to royalty.”

“He was awesome,” Eugenie told PEOPLE of Taylor. “He lived in a house in Birmingham with four boys and I went to Newcastle and lived in a house with seven girls and we have a similar path. We were talking about holidays we’ve been on. We bonded. I didn’t want to leave.”

Princess Beatrice and the Duchess of York
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Beatrice and her mother also got to know Harry Sadler, 17, who recently survived a brain tumor.

“It’s real,” Beatrice said. “You’re talking to patients who are going through something and you learn so much from their strength. He wanted to be a musician and a rapper and he said, ‘I don’t want to talk that things that rappers talk about. I want to talk about real things that people go through, like cancer.’ His strength taught me so much about what it is to be strong within yourself.”

Sadler added, “They were asking how I stay strong and said it started with family and making friends in the ward.

“It’s really great to have moments like this and having iconic figures come in.”

“Beatrice was warm and vibrant,” he said of the princess. “Her age also helps — she can relate and has that common ground of interest.”

Siobhan Dunn, chief executive of the charity, told PEOPLE, “The princesses are incredibly natural. They have been brought up in a way that is open and there’s no sense of them being different from anyone else. They do so much good.”

Princess Beatrice, the Duchess of York and Princess Eugenie
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The Duchess of York is a longtime supporter of the charity and opened their first specialist cancer unit in 1990. She has attended almost all of the charity’s 28 subsequent new unit openings across the U.K. — meeting thousands of young people with cancer and raising awareness.

“What I’ve been through in my life…in the darkest day, you come in to a wonderful social area like this and you see a child, young adult fighting to live and everything else is irrelevant,” she said.

Beatrice’s charity endeavors also have recently extended to a grueling marathon alongside tycoon Sir Richard Branson and his family in Italy for the Virgin Strive Challenge.

Eugenie, meanwhile, has been speaking out against modern-day slavery and recently visited a safe house that helps survivors.

The trio also teamed up to promote a painting that they helped create to aid Ferguson’s charity, Children in Crisis.

“They are the most humble people I know, and the Duke and I are lucky to have the most incredible young adults,” Ferguson said of her daughters. “They speak for themselves and their actions show their commitment and dedication to their grandmother and this country.

“It’s so great to see them shining. I’m really very proud. And we’re looking forward to telling the Duke — Papa —all about today.”

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