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John Caldwell among host of well-known faces at Hillsborough garden party

There are not many things which can rival the appearance of the King and Queen at a garden party in Royal Hillsborough – but the attendance of detective John Caldwell did just that.

The high-profile detective had not been seen in public since he survived a murder bid by dissident republicans in Co Tyrone in February.

After recuperating for several weeks at hospital and at home, Mr Caldwell joined hundreds of guests at the garden party in the Co Down village which is home to the royal residence in Northern Ireland.

King Charles III visit to Northern Ireland – Day 1
John Caldwell attending a garden party at Hillsborough Castle (Brian Lawless/PA)

Before appearing in the garden, Mr Caldwell had a private audience with the King.

He then walked down the steps inside the grounds of the castle and took his place on the large lawn.

The senior detective, who has led many of the PSNI’s most high-profile investigations, looked well and stood throughout the event.

As she left the party, Camilla spent several minutes talking with Mr Caldwell.

There were other well-known faces among the crowd including DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris and PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton.

Also there was Daithi Mac Gabhann’s father Mairtin, who led the campaign to change organ donation laws in Northern Ireland, and who got the opportunity to meet Charles.

“I was the first person he was introduced to by Chris Heaton-Harris when he entered the garden, me loving a yarn, I was talking away to him about Daithi and the campaign,” he told the PA news agency.

“He congratulated us on the campaign and Chris Heaton-Harris told us what an amazing campaign it was.

“He was asking about the lack of donors, and to be honest, he was there for ages.

King Charles III visit to Northern Ireland – Day 1
Charles is greeted by DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Brian Lawless/PA)

“The big thing that I’m happy that I said to him was that not only is there a lack of donors, but paediatric organ donation is what we’re about and trying to normalise that.

“He gave us his full support and was asking about Daithi. It was great to hear that especially around the paediatric organ donation he wasn’t shocked or anything, he just said, keep going and keep doing what you’re doing.

“He was very personable, it was a proper chat, not just a shake hands, an introduction and away. He seemed very interested in Daithi’s story, and I said one day he can meet him. He said absolutely.

“Unfortunately it was over-18s or else I would have had him with me.”

The King and Queen also met children from Blythefield Primary School in Belfast, which was selected as one of the winners of Historic Royal Palaces’ national Coronation Benches competition.

King Charles III visit to Northern Ireland – Day 1
Charles views a special bench at Hillsborough Castle (Brian Lawless/PA)

The competition invited schools across the UK to submit designs for benches that will be installed across Historic Royal Palaces’ sites, as a lasting reminder of the coronation.

School principal Catherine Roulston said: “Our boys and girls designed a coronation bench and they were of just 15 winners out of all of the UK and the only winner from Northern Ireland.

“They designed it with protecting the environment in mind, with all of the lovely flowers the children drew and the crown, the orb and the sceptre.

“They took a lot of pride in designing it.

“They were so excited about meeting the King and the Queen, this is a day they will remember for the rest of their lives.

“I think they were very pleased and we were so delighted that they sat on it.

“We were just over the moon to be able to share this with them today.”