HAMPSHIRE is preparing a right royal welcome for the Earl and Countess of Wessex, who are due to visit the county next Friday.

The royal couple will carry out five engagements between them, including visits to Winchester Cathedral and Associated British Ports in Southampton.

They will begin their day-long trip to Hampshire by visiting the cathedral.

The earl recently became the royal patron of the Winchester Cathedral Appeal, which aims to raise £5m towards the cost of making the ancient building an even bigger attraction.

Plans include three new exhibitions and a new-look learning centre as well as vital conservation work and repairs to the church fabric.

Speaking shortly after the earl agreed to back the appeal, the dean, The Very Rev James Atwell, said: “I am delighted that the Earl of Wessex has agreed to be the royal patron of the appeal. He has already visited and demonstrated a keen interest.

“His support will bring encouragement and renewed energy.

“Prince Edward’s patronage marvellously identifies Winchester’s royal associations with the House of Wessex and the birth of our nation.”

During their visit to the cathedral the earl and his wife will be given an update on the progress of the appeal.

The earl will then head for the New Forest to visit the Minstead Training Trust, which helps people with learning difficulties.

His other engagements include a trip to Associated British Ports at Southampton Docks and a tour of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary naval command centre at Whale Island, Portsmouth.

He will then rejoin his wife for a visit to the Wessex Dance Academy in St Paul’s Hill, Winchester.