Nothing could have prepared us for this. The member of staff had been reluctant when I asked her to unlock the door of the building. Now it was clear why.
Before us was a sea of red and blue cribs - hundreds of them. Toddlers and teenagers alike were confined, many tied by hands or ankles to the cribs’ metal bars. In a far corner, one little boy peered over the edge of the 5ft-high box in which he was kept. According to staff, he was too hyperactive for a crib. This wasn’t an orphanage. This was a warehouse for abandoned children.
Two months ago, I travelled to Turkey to film a documentary about conditions inside state-run institutions for unwanted and disabled children. It was an unusual and affecting trip. Not least because my travelling companion and fellow witness to some truly horrific scenes was the Duchess of York. The Duchess herself has worked to improve the lives of children over the past 15 years, using funds from her commercial work and private donations to help care for children with Aids and build schools for deprived children in Africa.
Now she wanted to come with me on my next venture and lend her profile to a cause in need of exposure. More than that, her teenage daughters Beatrice and Eugenie wanted to join us for sections of the journey and all had agreed to allow ITV1’s Tonight cameras to follow our progress.
For Sarah, too, this was ‘a trip as mother and daughter’ rather than Duchess and Princess on a tour of duty. ‘I am sharing my life with her,’ she said.
Later, Eugenie told me that what she had seen had completely changed her outlook, saying: ‘In a cosmopolitan city, a popular tourist destination, it’s hard to comprehend places like that exist. My eyes have been opened. This is something I will never be able to explain to people who have never seen it themselves. But I will try.’ The theory sounds promising, but when I filmed undercover in 2006, shortly before the country joined the EU, I discovered that bricks and mortar ‘improvements’ mean little in the absence of proper care.
The Duchess - keen to find out if Romania had changed since my last trip - was joined by Beatrice this time.