January 18, 2010 / 5:44 AM / 9 years ago

Prince William wins plaudits on first solo official tour

AUCKLAND (Reuters Life!) - Prince William, the second in line to the British throne, was hailed as a “man of the people” in New Zealand during his first official overseas trip which also sparked some protests by pro-republicans.

Prince William of Britain goes on a walkabout after opening the new Supreme Court building in Wellington on the second day of a three-day visit to New Zealand January 18, 2010. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps

Representing his grandmother Queen Elizabeth, Prince William arrived in Auckland on Sunday to be greeted by 10 enthusiastic royalists at the airport, according to local media, before inspecting Eden Park stadium, a 2011 Rugby World Cup venue.

But on Monday up to 1,000 supporters turned up to see the 27-year-old prince as he opened a new Supreme Court building in Wellington, rubbing noses with VIPs in a traditional Maori greeting and donning a feathered ceremonial korowai cloak.

“He’s very down to earth, he’s just like us,” Tania Walkin, one of the crowd, told NZPA of Prince William, the eldest son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key described the prince as a “very charming young man.”

“He’s extremely relaxed. I found him very, very personable. I wasn’t sure entirely what to expect but he’s very down to earth, he’s got a great sense of humor,” Key told Newstalk ZB radio.

“I think he’s got a strong sense of the responsibilities that he currently commands and those that lie before him and yeah he’s just a fine young man.”

But not all the crowd was supportive, with protests by a handful of republicans unfurling a banner reading “It’s Time For A Republic” who want New Zealand to cut ties with the British royal family.

The British monarch remains the head-of-state in both New Zealand and neighboring Australia, former British colonies, but support to replace the monarch with a homegrown head-of-state has not reached a critical mass in either country.

The prince would not be drawn on other possible official tours following this visit which sparked rumors that he was being groomed as a “shadow king.” Royal officials denied this.

He said he had to think about his RAF training while standing in for the Queen, 83, was important.

“It means an awful lot because obviously she’s extremely busy and I want to be able to do something good and keep the standards up that she’s led the way with,” he told reporters.

Key told the BBC that the prince’s official visit was a “significant event.”

“Having Prince William in his first capacity officiating for the Queen, representing the Queen, makes it even more special,” he said.

The visiting royal arrives in Sydney on Tuesday for a three-day informal visit to Australia where he will meet Governor-General Quentin Bryce, the Queen’s representative in Australia and is expected to take a Sydney Harbour cruise.

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy

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