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Charles jokes about ‘battle’ to stay in shape during visit to shirt maker

UK News | Published:

Emma Willis’ 30-strong team of cutters and seamstresses produce ready-to-wear shirts costing from £200 and bespoke shirts from £310.

The Prince of Wales joked about his efforts to stay in shape when he visited his shirt maker – saying “it’s a never-ending battle”.

Charles’ quip came as he toured the Gloucester workshop of Emma Willis, who has been producing handmade shirts for 30 years and, through her charity Style for Soldiers, supporting wounded servicemen for more than a decade.

Ms Willis’ 30-strong team of cutters and seamstresses produce ready-to-wear shirts costing from £200 and bespoke shirts from £310, and have been creating items for Charles for the past five years.

Prince Charles visit to Gloucester
The Prince of Wales talks to employees during his visit to Emma Willis Ltd in Gloucester (Chris Jackson/PA)

“I struggle to keep them the same, a never-ending battle.”

Ms Willis, who has a shop in Jermyn Street, a central London area famed for its high-end men’s clothing and accessories, described producing items for the prince as an honour.

She said: “I was approached by one of his dressers about six years ago, and the dresser said His Royal Highness would like to try my shirts.

“So I went to Clarence House and measured His Royal Highness for the first time and we’ve been making his shirts ever since.

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“And one of the things we specialise in is very fine Swiss cottons and he loves lovely soft fabrics.”

The prince gave an impromptu speech during the visit, saying to the company’s founder: “I just wanted to come really to thank you, more than anything, for the wonderful things you do, apart from making fantastic shirts and boxer shorts and everything else.

“But everything you do for our armed forces and all those who had the horror of being wounded in one way or another, it is a wonderful thing you do.”

Charles met staff in the cutting room including two Syrian refugees Nareen Hussain and Ibrahim Khalil, employed by the company after they fled their homeland.

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Meeting Ibrahim Khalil, a cutter and Syrian refugee
Meeting Ibrahim Khalil, a cutter and Syrian refugee (Chris Jackson/PA)

The prince was told Mr Khalil had run a clothing factory in Aleppo and said: “My great ambition has always been to go to Syria, now I can’t bear the horror and the destruction.”

In the sewing room Charles chatted to seamstresses making shirts, and also boxer shorts and dressing gowns from linen, and in the finishing workshop joked with Megan Yardley who was embroidering his Prince of Wales feathers onto a handkerchief.

He told her: “It takes a hell of a lot of practice. Can you do it while watching TV. I’m always amazed when they do it – multi-tasking.”

Charles was shown an unusual First World War portable cello, that belongs to a family member of Ms Willis, and other artefacts from the conflict when he met former servicemen supported by Style for Soldiers.

Founded in 2008 by Ms Willis, the organisation provides complimentary smart clothing, bespoke regimental walking sticks and reunion parties for injured service men and women.

In 2018, the charity put on Art In The Aftermath, an exhibition of painting, poetry, film and sculpture by injured service personnel recovering through the creative process from the trauma of war.

The prince chatted to Andy Reid, a fundraiser and ambassador for the charity, who lost three limbs when he was blown up by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in 2009 in Afghanistan, when serving with the 3rd Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment.

Mr Reid, who gives inspirational talks to the corporate world and schools, said: “Motivational speaking, that’s my therapy, rather than being at home dwelling on what’s happened, I go to schools and corporate events speaking about the journey I’ve been on and that helps download it out of my mind.

“What Emma’s created, especially with her get-togethers, is a family, a military family and that’s great. To go to one of Emma’s parties where everyone’s got some sort of injury, whether physical or mental, no one’s looking, no one’s asking questions, we can just relax.”

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