The Prince of Wales made an historic visit to GCHQ in Cheltenham today as part of centenary celebrations for the UK’s intelligence, security and cyber agency.
The Intelligence Agency opened up its doors on this ‘rare’ occasion, allowing visitors into the very heart of GCHQ to catch a glimpse of the secret world of intelligence gathering.
The Prince was given a tour by GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming, where he met some of the staff from the 6,000-strong team and was given a number of Top Secret briefings.
The event was concluded in style with a ‘Centenary Flypast’ from the world-famous Royal Airforce Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, which caused the gathered crowds below to gasp in awe.
Addressing staff, His Royal Highness said he was immensely proud to join them in Cheltenham today, adding ‘it has been one of the greatest privileges of his life to have been Royal Patron of the three Intelligence Agencies.’
Prince Charles said: “To you, walking in past the razor wire each day becomes routine.
“But I hope that you will never lose sight of the fact that you are part of an extraordinary, world-leading organisation that has achieved remarkable things during its proud one hundred year history, and which will continue to play an indispensable role over the century to come.”
Mr Fleming said: “It was an honour to welcome His Royal Highness to our headquarters to commemorate 100 years of GCHQ’s crucial work keeping the country safe.
“This was an opportunity to say thank you to our brilliant workforce who, over the last century, have saved countless lives, shortened wars and solved some of the world’s hardest technology challenges.”
The Prince of Wales received a number of Top Secret briefings about GCHQ’s 24-hour-a-day operations, including how they work to tackle serious organised crime, counter-terrorism and the monitoring of state activity.
“I have immense pride in each and every one of you”
Upon entering the building, The Prince met Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk, who yesterday wished GCHQ a happy birthday in parliament, in Morse code. He was introduced to the Chairman of Gloucestershrie County Council, Councillor Roy Thesalodou, and Roger Whyborn.
Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice Director, Elise Hoadley has met The Prince of Wales previously in his role as Patron.
She said he was amazing and very friendly.
Prince Charles also met representatives from the James Hopkins Trust and Gardens for All, and spoke with members of Girlguiding South West England, who have launched a Cyber Security badge to raise awareness about the issues surrounding staying safe online.
His Royal Highness was introduced to staff and students from Cleeve School, Wyedean School and Newent Community School, as part of GCHQ’s commitment to inspire the next generation of STEM and cyber experts.
The schools are taking part in the ‘Cyber Schools Hubs’ pilot, which encourages a diverse range of students to take up computer science and supports them through learning.
A simple wave to staff gathered above The Prince on the balconies was enough to garner laughs and gasps, as they watched on in amazement.
During his tour of the organisation The Prince was shown artifacts by GCHQ’s departmental historian Tony Comer, which included ‘Noreen’ from the Royal Yacht Britannia – a ‘sophisticated deciphering device.’
Mr Comer, who has been working at GCHQ since 1983, said a visit like this was rare.
However he added it was fun for staff and allowed visitors to get a glimpse inside the heart of GCHQ and experience something they would never get to see.
Mr Comer, 61, added that The Prince of Wales also has a bit of fun and “genuinely cares about what we do.”
What Prince Charles said
Speaking to staff who lined the walkways of GCHQ, The Prince of Wales said: “Since 2011, it has been one of the greatest privileges in my life to have been Royal Patron of the three Intelligence Agencies, in which capacity I have sought to champion and celebrate the remarkable work that you do and the essential role you play on behalf of this country.”
He added it was important for him to come to “the heart of GCHQ, to visit you all in person, in such a special year so that, for what it is worth, I can offer my deepest appreciation for the crucial contribution you make to this country’s security.”
“History alone cannot help us predict the threats the next 100 years will bring, but looking back at GCHQ’s unfailing ability to rise to the challenges of its time gives me every confidence that this country, our freedom and our way of life, will continue to be well served by all of you, no matter what comes at us.”
“The work you do is utterly essential”
Prince Charles said: “Its very nature means that your achievements are rarely made public, and that few people in this country will ever know just how great a debt we all owe you.
“But for those of us privileged enough to understand something of what you do, the difference you make to our security, our prosperity and to the defence of our values, is both clear and of the utmost importance.
“I also wanted to provide an opportunity to celebrate your success with friends and family, many of whom carry a heavy burden, whilst having little knowledge of the work that you do.
“They play a vital role in supporting you and enabling you to perform as you do, and I do hope that you might pass on my heartfelt gratitude to each of them.
Speaking of the challenges staff at the site in Cheltenham face at work, Prince Charles said: “None of this is easy.
“I appreciate the challenges you face and the pressures you endure. On the hardest of days, in the toughest of hours, during the busiest of moments – please remember that you are part of something bigger.
“Each and every one of you has a part to play in writing the next chapter of GCHQ’s history – you are, quite literally, its future.
“It simply remains for me to say, once again, on behalf of all those in this country who hold you in such high esteem – thank you.
“For my part, I can only say that I have immense pride in each and every one of you, and promise you that I will be following the next chapter of the G.C.H.Q. story with the closest of interest and the deepest appreciation for the selfless service you render to this nation.
The Prince of Wales planted a tree to officially open a centenary garden for GCHQ staff before departing.
The tree, which is similar to those found at his private residence at Highgrove, will form part of garden to promote mental health and wellbeing.
The sight of the Red Arrows flying over the building sent the gathered crowds into gasps and applause.
The jubilant celebration at GCHQ forms part of a number of special events, which will build to mark 100 years since the organisations formation on November 1 2019.
This content was originally published here.