The Duchess of Sussex has written personal messages of love and empowerment for street sex workers in Bristol to find in food parcels when they access night outreach support.
Meghan spontaneously came up with the idea to inscribe the kind words on bananas with a marker pen during an unannounced visit to the charity One25 on Friday.
The heavily pregnant duchess’s messages to the vulnerable women on five or so of the fruit read, in capital letters and often followed by a heart: “You are strong”, “You are special”, “You are brave” and “You are loved”.
One25 in the St Paul’s area of the city helps sex workers break free from a life of violence, poverty and addiction on the streets.
The duchess, who was joined by the Duke of Sussex, took the initiative as she was about to gather the food in bags in One25’s small kitchen.
Meghan asked: “Actually do you have a Sharpie, a marker? I have an idea – a message.
“I was thinking about this the other day. I saw this programme this woman had started in the States on a school lunch programme when on each of the bananas she wrote an affirmation or something to make the kids feel really empowered.
“I thought it was the most incredible idea – this small gesture.”
She added after asking if Harry also wanted to write a message: “I’m in charge of banana messaging.”
Some of the 150 women who are still street sex-working in Bristol will receive the parcels containing the actress-turned-royal’s message later in the evening.
The night outreach service runs from a fully equipped van, which offers food, first aid, warm clothing, condoms, safety alarms and a safe space to talk.
Harry and Meghan were shown around and took seats inside the large vehicle, which is stocked with blankets, ready for the freezing temperatures amid winter snow storms.
The duke and duchess also privately met a former sex worker who has been helped by One25 to escape from a life on the streets.
Sam told Meghan and Harry about how she was groomed at the age of 14 into prostitution, and became addicted to drugs.
The 43-year-old said afterwards: “For them to decide to come here is heartwarming and makes you think these women are not forgotten.
“One25 were there for me when I had no-one. They helped me keep my children.”
Sam, who has been away from the streets and drugs for 13 years, described the visit as “amazing”, adding: “For the women to know that Harry and Meghan have come here, it says we do matter.
“It sounds really cheesy but it is that feeling that somebody actually cares.”
Sam said of the duchess’s messages: “I can imagine being on the van, and ‘Meghan wrote this thing, and what?’ I think they might not eat it. I think that banana will be at home until it is rotten. Because I would do the same.
“Little things like that when you are out – especially tonight if there’s women out there, we can see the weather – just to get that little thing… Meghan actually took her time out to write that on there. It’s lush.”
Meghan described the charity as “incredible”, while Harry told volunteers: “What you guys are doing is absolutely fantastic.”
The duke said after being taught the local dialect for Bristolians: “You never know there might be even more Bristolians – or Brizzles – who hear about you and set up their own movements around the city.”
The couple expressed their hope that One25’s services could also be modelled across the country.
Anna Smith, One25’s chief executive, praised the duchess, saying: “Meghan showed she really understood that our women need love and support to help them trust and move on.”
She added following the visit that Harry and Meghan had been “very moved” to hear of the women’s stories.
“They seemed very moved by the testimonies of women who spoke about their experiences,” she said.
“The volunteers and staff described how the van is a beacon of light, and I think they were probably most touched by that.”
Ms Smith said: “They understood the need for blankets, hot water bottles and the tender care that we give out on the van and that tonight will be a very hard night for the women.
“The duchess spontaneously signed bananas that were going into those food bags with fantastic messages and that was a really wonderful moment and I think the women will remember that forever.”
The duke and duchess, who are expecting their first baby at the end of April, were given a turquoise knitted sock monkey with buttons for eyes, bearing a tag with the words “Wishing you and Sock Monkey joy and adventure on life’s travels xxx”.
The toy was made by a volunteer from Pause – a service run by the charity which helps women who have had two or more children removed from their care.
The charity’s drop-in centre in St Paul’s offers sex-workers practical and emotional support, such as providing lunch, advocacy or delivering crisis care.
Meghan and Harry also heard about the new Peony project which focuses on women who have moved away from sex-work, but who still need help.
It offers practical and therapeutic workshops to allow the women to build confidence and develop their well-being and skills to enable them to become emotionally and financially independent.