The Prince of Wales attended the London Air Ambulance gala on his first day back to royal duty following wife Kate Middleton's surgery and dad King Charles' cancer news
"Good evening, everyone. Thank you all for being here tonight," he began. "And thank you to all those whose hard work has made this evening possible."
"I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you, also, for the kind messages of support for Catherine and for my father, especially in recent days," William continued. "It means a great deal to us all."
Keeping the mood light, Prince William quipped, "It's fair to say the past few weeks have had a rather 'medical' focus. So I thought I'd come to an air ambulance function to get away from it all!"
Prince William then praised the "top class care" provided by London's Air Ambulance team, which can bring the hospital emergency department to the scene of an incident anywhere in the city.
The organization is hoping to raise $19 million by the fall. "Here in London, the current aircraft have served magnificently," Prince William said. "But our capital city needs a new fleet. And we are Up Against Time. The clue really is in the Appeal's name. By September, we need the two new red birds — decked with the latest kit such as night vision — in our skies."
Prince William specifically appealed to a special guest at the event: Tom Cruise.
"I should also take this opportunity to give a mention to my — our — fellow pilot, Tom Cruise," the royal said. "Tom, huge thanks for supporting us tonight. And Tom, if you wouldn't mind not borrowing either of the new helicopters for the next Mission Impossible, it would be appreciated. We have all seen on our screens that — how can I put it — you seem to have a different take on 'normal wear and tear' to the rest of us. It's not the kind that buffs out."
Prince William previously met the actor on several occasions, most recently at the London premiere of Top Gun: Maverick in May 2022 alongside Princess Kate.
Prince William wrapped up his speech by saying, "Anyway, my thanks to everyone. You are all, each and everyone, lifesavers."
As a former air ambulance pilot in East Anglia, Prince William is passionate about supporting the emergency services. He has been a patron of London's Air Ambulance for four years and took to the air in one of the organization’s helicopters to mark the 30th anniversary of the service.
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Prince William cleared his work calendar to be by his wife’s side and support their three children — Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5 — as Princess Kate had a "planned abdominal surgery" on Jan. 16. The Princess of Wales, 42, was discharged from the hospital on Jan. 29 to continue her recovery at home. She's not expected to return to public engagements until after Easter, the palace previously said.
Earlier this week, King Charles, 75, revealed the news of his cancer diagnosis and treatment, which will keep him largely out of the public eye for the foreseeable future.
As heir to the throne, Prince William may undertake some duties on behalf of his father in addition to his own diary of engagements in the coming weeks, PEOPLE understands. There are currently no plans to appoint Counsellors of State, members of the royal family who can carry out constitutional duties for the monarch if he is abroad or unwell, to act on King Charles’ behalf, and the monarch will continue to perform his duties behind the scenes.
“William will do his best, but the King will want to carry on with his duties as best he can,” a source close to the royal household tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story.
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