"I'm in charge of the banana messaging!” Meghan Markle exclaimed in Bristol on Friday.
Her visit here was a complete secret: everybody knew the Duchess of Sussex and her husband Prince Harry were in the city for royal engagements, according to a report from CNN, but the pair reportedly requested that their visit to One25 — a local organisation that supports sex workers — remained private until much later.
And while in the kitchen, surrounded by food packages ready to be sent to those women, Markle spontaneously decided to write messages of empowerment on several bananas.
“You are strong,” one read. Others included: “you are brave,” and “you are special.”
"I saw this project that someone had started somewhere in the States, this school lunch program, where on each of the bananas she wrote an affirmation or something to make the kids feel really empowered," Markle said after requesting a pen from staff. "It was this most incredible idea, this really small gesture."
One25 provides support to around 240 women a year through night outreach and its drop-in centre. It attempts to help women build independent lives, according to its website, and it’s the only charity in Bristol that focuses specifically on street sex work.
One volunteer and former sex worker described Markle’s gesture as “lush”, as the royal couple met employees, volunteers, and people the nonprofit has helped while touring the office.
“That really touched me — and I’m not even a royalist,” One25 CEO Anna Smith told Harpers Bazaar. "She was just watching the food being packed up and suddenly decided she wanted to write these beautiful messages on every banana they had there.”
“She had clearly listened and heard what we are all about — that we don't judge, we simply offer the service and unconditional love,” Smith added. “She totally got it."
While the couple were grappling with the freezing temperatures in Bristol, they also checked out the Old Vic Theatre — where Meghan made a speech about the importance of the arts to young people — and Empire Fighting Chance, a group that helps young people change their lives through non-contact boxing.
.@One25Charity provides emotional and practical support to help women break free from street sex work and addiction.— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) February 1, 2019
While packing food that will later be delivered by the ‘Yellow Van’ outreach programme, The Duchess asked to write empowering messages on the bananas to the women pic.twitter.com/v8QnjgF8N5
In 2004, a Home Office report stated that the vast majority of sex workers are mothers attempting to support their families. It found that 74% use the work to “pay household expenses and support their children."
Indeed, research by Leeds University in 2015 discovered that 71% of sex workers surveyed had previously worked in health, education, or in the charity sector — while over a third had at least an undergraduate degree.
Yet stigma and violence continues to dog the industry. The UK government understands that there are 72,800 sex workers in the UK — with one survey finding that just under half are worried about their safety.
However, with the work of charities like One25, it appears that the number of women in sex work are beginning to fall. In 2017, the organisation helped 37 women take the “bold choice” to leave sex work, according to its impact report, and continued to support 63 women who had already built new lives.
Thank you so much for all your wonderful messages of kindness and support. You can help us continue to be there for the brave, resilient women on Bristol’s streets by giving what you feel you can at https://t.co/CQ5Ku1jEAOhttps://t.co/3M0rJ4ZU8S— One25 (@One25Charity) February 2, 2019