WILLIAM Hunter has been seriously-ill for most of his young life – and that is why days like last Thursday are so special for the schoolboy and others like him.

The eight-year-old, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) on his third birthday, was one of 400 poorly children who came to Popham Airfield for Starlight Escape Day.

Now in its 16th year, the event, organised by the Starlight Children’s Foundation, gives children with serious and terminal illnesses the chance to have a ride in planes, helicopters, hovercrafts and double-decker buses.

William, from Pamber Heath, came to Popham with his grandparents Terry and Angie Allen, of Valley Way, Pamber Heath, and his 10-year-old sister Jess.

Joining William was his best friend Ryan Edworthy, aged eight, from Bordon, who is also recovering from ALL. The pair met in Basingstoke hospital and have remained friends ever since.

Mrs Allen, 64, told The Gazette : “Today, has been a fantastic experience because they have been through some horrible times. Today, they can forget about the bad times and really enjoy themselves for a day.”

Also at Popham were 10-year-old James MacGregor, of Tufton, near Whitchurch, and his parents Iain and Liz.

The youngster is also recovering from ALL, after being diagnosed in March 2010.

Mrs MacGregor said: “It gives all of the children a really good day out. There are things they would not do normally and they are the right age for it.”

Other attractions included a petting zoo, stilt-walkers, pony rides and a large marquee with arts and craft stalls.

The day began with a flight in an antique airplane Gipsy Moth for a 14-year-old boy from Bradford. Other children came to Popham from all over the South.

Neil Swan, chief executive of Starlight, said: “The 16th Popham Escape was bigger and better than ever, and we are hugely grateful to airfield manager Dick Richardson and his team for hosting such a magical day.”

To make a donation or to refer a child for a wish, visit starlight.co.uk.