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Why veteran Kemsley Whittlesea who lives in Maidstone met up with US president Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at Heathrow Airport

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An Army veteran couldn't hide his delight at catching up with the American president and the First Lady this week.

Kemsley Whittlesea, a former Abbey School student who moved to Maidstone from Faversham in 2019, saw Joe and Jill Biden on Monday in London, with Mrs Biden having been the US patron of Walking with the Wounded.

Mr Whittlesea took part in Walk for America in aid of Prince Harry’s charity in 2018.

The challenge, which saw three British ex-servicemen and three American veterans walk from the country’s west to east coast in just over three months, also allowed Mr Whittlesea to meet Prince Harry, and the Bidens.

Since then, the American couple have stayed in touch with their UK counterparts and they arranged a get-together at Heathrow Airport on Monday after the couple met Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle after the G7 summit in Cornwall.

"In 2018 when I was coming out of the Army, I did a 1,000-mile walk across America. Prince Harry was the UK patron and Jill Biden was the US patron," said Mr Whittlesea, now a tattoo artist working from his home on London Road.

"We did loads of bits and pieces with them when we were over there but, since we have come back, over the last couple of years, we have got little check-ins every now and then from their aides.

Army veteran Kemsley Whittlesea outside Air Force One at Heathrow Airport. Picture: Kemsley Whittlesea
Army veteran Kemsley Whittlesea outside Air Force One at Heathrow Airport. Picture: Kemsley Whittlesea

"Last week, I got a phone call, saying ‘The president and the First Lady would love to meet up with you before they fly back to the States’.

"I just thought it would be a nice chance to get a bit more light shone onto the charity.

"It was nice because I hadn’t seen them for two years.

"They are very down-to-earth and just very supportive."

Among those who saw Mr and Mrs Biden were the British ex-servicemen involved in the challenge, including Mr Whittlesea who served with the Royal Signals for 15 years until he was medically discharged due to a shoulder injury, and chief executive of Walking with the Wounded Ed Parker.

Mr Whittlesea says they spent 20 minutes catching up with them on the runway between their planned flights while lunch was also provided for them in the holding room, which they had with some of Mr Biden's staff.

Mr Whittlesea with his group of walkers in 2018
Mr Whittlesea with his group of walkers in 2018

"Forever in my heart: the 2018 Walk of America UK team from @walkingwiththewounded," said Mrs Biden on Instagram.

"Seeing them again was the perfect send-off before heading back to the USA."

Established in 2010, Walking with the Wounded supports a pathway for disadvantaged veterans to re-integrate back into society.

"Behind the scenes, when they aren’t in front of the press, they are very involved," said Mr Whittlesea whose time in the army included tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"On my birthday, I had them, singing 'Happy Birthday' down the phone to me. It is all stuff that they have not done in front of the media.

"They have done it all because they want to do it, not just because they have to do it."

Mr Biden replaced controversial Donald Trump as president of the United States last November.

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