William wows crowds with easy manner

By Andrew Koubaridis

Prince William meeting locals during his walkabout in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prince William meeting locals during his walkabout in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The crowds gathered to watch Prince William plant a small tree after yesterday's memorial service in Hagley Park but it was his impromptu meet-and-greet that stole the show.

The Prince was met with cheers from a three-deep crowd who stood behind a security barrier at a corner of the park near the Avon River.

As he waited for the Prime Minister to arrive, he walked over to shake hands with people and pose for photographs. He got close enough for the crowds to touch and though his dark-suited security guards were close behind, they didn't interfere with his connection with the crowd.

The onlookers were mainly women but there were a few men - some in army uniform - who also stood trying to get a picture as he moved past.

William stopped only briefly but it was long enough for the fans, who thanked him for coming.

At times it felt more like a visit by a celebrity than a future head of state, but speaking to people afterwards it was clear a combination of the Prince's star power and appreciation of his visit stirred emotions.

Michelle Reynolds, 38, said she took her family to the memorial hoping to see him up close, and she wasn't disappointed.

"I think it's wonderful he came here. I guess it would be a bad look if he didn't but I do think he's genuine. He seemed moved by what he saw."

The Prince appeared at ease with the adulation, carrying on through the squeals of delight and noisy chatter which were in stark contrast to the sombre mood of the memorial that had just ended.

When it was time to plant the tree, an English beech from the Botanical Gardens nursery, Prince William shovelled the first dirt followed by the Prime Minister, John Key, and his wife, Bronagh Key.

The Prince joked with her: "You have the heels for it."

The tree was planted in an area where many old oaks came crashing down in the February 22 earthquake, their roots in the air.

Before the planting, William was given a carving made of wood taken from one of the ruined trees, presented with rubble from the damaged ground.

Earlier, the Prince spoke confidently on stage, saying he brought a personal message.

"For you who are so close to these events and have lost so much, it must be hard to grasp the degree of admiration, indeed awe, with which you are regarded by the rest of the world."

Cara Crawford, 16, of Christchurch, who was there for the service but also got to meet William, said the service would have built up the city's morale.

"We said, 'Congratulations on your marriage' and 'It was nice to meet you' and he said, 'It's good to meet you too'. It was pretty cool."

Cara said she wouldn't wash the hand that was shaken by the Prince.

Police had to resort to crowd control earlier in the day, as residents of quake-damaged Sumner strained to get a glimpse of William.

Security staff moved in as the excited crowd swarmed around him but the Prince remained calm.

- NZ Herald

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