Has there been a better royal visit than the one that finishes today? That old fashioned term "triumph" for royal tours is deserved this time. It was glorious, another unfashionable word, both for the visitors and for New Zealand. Prince William brought his wife Catherine to this country for the first time and their baby George for the world to see properly for the first time. It was an honour that this should happen here and a great benefit to the country.
The New Zealanders who organised and participated in the itinerary should be especially proud. The range of events, solemn, social and sporting, was perfect. The idea of a play session with other babies for George's first public activity was nothing short of brilliant. The pictures that went around the world would have warmed hearts everywhere.
It would not have worked nearly so well, of course, if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had not entered so easily and pleasantly into the spirit of every engagement. Whether it was sailing America's Cup yachts in Auckland, jet boating at Queenstown, guiding children's rugby games in Dunedin or playing cricket in Christchurch, they seemed to be having fun. A little needle of competition between them was delightful.
William was almost in the shade as all eyes and cameras focused on Catherine. This tour was her triumph above all. She remained at ease, interested, friendly and dignified throughout. It cannot be easy to be at your best through seven days of intense public attention on your appearance, demeanour and especially your dress. The fashion choices seemed to pass expert reviews.
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Her baby would have attracted some of that attention if he had been out with them more often. But after his command performance at the Plunket gathering little George was hardly seen. For his sake the tour took the form of day trips from Wellington where he stayed throughout. It was no doubt for his sake, too, that the royal couple were largely in seclusion for their first two days in the country and had another rest day yesterday before their departure today. Breaks in momentum are not ideal for a royal tour but that price was well worth paying to have the baby here.
If the tour organisers could have one disappointment, it was the weather. Rain clouds seemed to follow the royals everywhere. Yet just a week or two earlier the country had been still basking in sunshine, as it had been since November. Waikato farmers had become desperate for rain but even they might have preferred it not to arrive with the royal couple last Saturday. How much brighter the New Zealand landscape would have looked in the background of a visit a week earlier.
The only other blemish, a complaint from the Labour Party leader that the Prime Minister was gaining an advantage from the tour, is not worthy of more than passing note. John Key's role was lower key than it might have been if this was not election year. The Key family is well acquainted with the young couple, who were at Balmoral Castle for the weekend with them last year. Having them to a private dinner at Premier House on Monday night was natural.
Has there been a better royal tour? The Queen's first tour more than 60 years ago doubtless attracted bigger crowds. Charles and Diana 30 years ago was more also a celebration of mother and baby. The mother may have been more glittering and the baby, William, played with a more iconic toy. But William and Catherine look more balanced. They are doing royalty their own way, relating easily to people they meet and crowds they see. They have enchanted this country and they should come again, in the summer.