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Prince William trip sparks memories of Diana

By Peter Hunt
Royal correspondent, BBC News

A woman touches Prince William's cheek
About 2,000 people turned up to see Prince William in Redfern

It must be intoxicating. People shouting, screaming and cheering as you pass. Women - young and old alike - mildly hyper-ventilating.

This has been the "Prince William experience" during his rapid progress across New Zealand and Australia in just five days.

He's been obliging - shaking hands, kissing proffered cheeks and posing for photographs.

A banner in one location declared "You're King in our eyes Will"; four young men in another place wore matching T-shirts bearing the slogan, "We love Willy"; and a female recipient of a royal peck on the cheek declared afterwards: "Oh I'm shaking. It's wonderful."

William has even received a marriage proposal or two. As the poster held aloft in the crowd in Melbourne put it bluntly: "Kate has competition Down Under".

He's unfazed by such demands. This after all is the prince who was approached in St Andrews, when a student there, by a woman asking him which was the best shop in town to buy underwear.

The crowds have been enthusiastic and large. They've not been vast. Judged from a historical perspective, they are tiny.

'Besotted' with Diana

When William's parents were here in 1983 the newspapers estimated around one million Australians turned out to welcome them.

Prince Charles didn't relish the experience and the besotted focus on his wife. He wrote: "How can anyone, let alone a 21-year-old be expected to come out of all this obsessed and crazed attention unscathed?"

And more than 50 years ago, the Queen made a triumphant three-month tour across New Zealand and Australia.

Prince William playing cricket in the Australian town of Flowerdale
The prince hit a few balls bowled by children in Flowerdale

An estimated three-quarters of the entire population of the two countries turned out to see her in person.

As the Royal party travelled slowly by train through remote areas, her husband used to delight in waving at drunks outside bars. Prince Philip wanted to see if they'd return the greeting and in the process, topple over.

In the intervening years, Australia's links with the mother country have loosened and the institution of monarchy has taken a battering.

So how will this trip be judged? It's involved the future of the Windsor brand being market tested in an overseas realm.

The reports back are likely to be positive. In a sign of how important it was, the Queen had her own man in the audience for William's keynote speech in Wellington when he opened New Zealand's new Supreme Court building.

Christopher Geidt, the Queen's private secretary, was rumbled by an observant photographer. Mr Geidt said he'd been asked to "look in" while he was on holiday in the country.

Prince William's style, as befits his youth, is relaxed and informal. He favours open-necked shirts and cords. Casual for his father is a blazer with a tie. William's been tactile, spontaneous and handled countless flirtatious women with aplomb.

Mother's influence?

The striking thing about the visit has been the one word which has been uttered by most people - Diana. They have seen, or wanted to see, the mother's influence at work when William cuddled a child or smiled in a particular way.

Diana, Princes of Wales, who both energised and drove to distraction the institution of the monarchy, lives on in her sons.

After the high-profile exposure comes the return to the relative privacy of the military. William likes it this way.

Next week, he begins the latest stage of his training to be an RAF search and rescue pilot.

The second-in-line to the throne is in no rush to embrace work as a full-time royal and it gives his advisers more time to fine tune their balancing act - how do you promote the son without overshadowing the father?

Prince William has had the briefest of experiences of his unavoidable future. He appeared to like it. We've had a hint of what he might be like on the public stage. But in essence, even after five days in New Zealand and Australia, William as an active royal is still a blank canvas.



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