Royal visit: Gifts galore for charmers

Kate and William earn the affection of thousands during visit to Waikato

Prince William won many hearts in Cambridge, where 15,000 to 20,000 turned out to greet him and wife Kate. Some had waited for up to eight hours. Photo / Pool
Prince William won many hearts in Cambridge, where 15,000 to 20,000 turned out to greet him and wife Kate. Some had waited for up to eight hours. Photo / Pool

We gave them a baby shawl, a grey onesie, a Chiefs jersey and a rugby ball. We gave them a boxed set of pens, a toddler bike, and a single red rose. We gave them tomato, ham and egg club sandwiches for lunch, washed down with water and Diet Coke.

They gave us themselves.

It doesn't sound like much of a trade, but when William and Kate arrived in Waikato yesterday, they brought a warmth and generosity of spirit that won over some of their toughest critics.

As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge touched down at Hamilton Airport, a chant of "Kate, Kate, Kate" rang out.

Royalists and republicans alike were enchanted by the couple's first visit to the region. "My girlfriend dragged me out here because I'm a bit cynical about the whole idea of the royal family," said Hamilton's Brendan Taylor. "But I've got to admit, my heart skipped a couple of beats when Kate smiled at me."

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And when the royals left — well, it sounds unctuous and fawning, but it's true — they left thousands of people feeling just a little bit richer for the time in their company.

Thousands? Tens of thousands.

About 100 people were outside the airport as the Duke and Duchess flew in. The admirers waved Union Jacks — the first of many red, white and blue ensigns the couple would see bedecking the green farmland of the Waikato yesterday.

Many more were waiting as William arrived at Pacific Aerospace to unveil the latest model of the company's flagship P-750 XTOL aircraft — and accept the first present of the day, a pint-sized rugby jersey and ball. "Presents!" William exclaimed loudly. "Thank you very, very much."

Joy Verissimo's tights. Photo / Doug Sherring
Joy Verissimo's tights. Photo / Doug Sherring

Joy Verissimo, wife of the company chairman, cheekily greeted him wearing leggings emblazoned with the Sex Pistols' anarchic "God Save the Queen" — but like cynical Brendan Taylor, she was quickly won over. "He's such a wonderful person," she gushed. "So lovely and natural. It was lovely that he shook everyone's hand."

Across Hamilton at Rainbow Place hospice, the Duchess met cancer sufferer Jacqui Frazer, 47, and her daughter Clementine, 10.

Thirty years ago, Frazer was attending Wanganui Collegiate, where Prince Edward was a house master, when William — then a baby — and his parents visited. She and Edward performed in a play together — and Charles and Diana attended a rehearsal. "It made it a little more special today getting to meet the Duchess of Cambridge, you know. She's here with William as an adult and it's a nice symmetry in that his parents were here all those years ago."

Catherine was more "confident and comfortable in her own skin" than the young Diana all those years ago, Frazer said. "Diana was a lot younger and I don't think she was able to independently and confidently do what Catherine is doing on her own now. I think Catherine has got a lot of power to do a lot of good with children's hospices and causes like that."

Then, in the small settlement of Tamahere, so stricken by the fatal coolstore fire of 2008, the entire community turned out to meet the couple, just for a couple of minutes, as they stopped to change cars in an appearance that security staff and the town successfully kept secret from the trailing media.

Clementine Frazer-Wilkins and mother Jacqui Frazer. Photo / Doug Sherring
Clementine Frazer-Wilkins and mother Jacqui Frazer. Photo / Doug Sherring

In the centre of Cambridge alone, 15,000 to 20,000 people are estimated to have lined Victoria St, Alpha St and encircled the war memorial as Kate and William drove into town. Some had waited eight hours.

Helen Tuck, 64, travelled from Tauranga especially to give Kate a single stem red rose. "As she took the rose she said, 'I'm sure this is for William,' and we all laughed. She was absolutely gorgeous."

At the war memorial, the Duke and Duchess each laid a rose in memory of New Zealand's war dead.

Later in the afternoon, it fell to John Struthers, the founder of Avanti bikes, to present the couple with their last gift of the day, a specially made bike for little Prince George, and an accompanying set of Lycras.

He just worried that the couple might have difficulty getting all their gifts back home.

"I hope Air New Zealand don't charge them excess baggage," he said. "You know what airlines are like these days."


Pictures: The royals in Waikato

- Herald on Sunday

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