By Agence France-Presse
Prince Harry and pregnant wife Meghan visited the New Zealand resort town of Rotorua Wednesday to wrap up a lengthy Pacific tour which has confirmed the star appeal of Britain’s newest royal.
Meghan, displaying what Harry affectionately refers to as “our little bump”, has drawn adoring crowds in Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand on her first international tour since the couple married in May.
The American-born former actress and her husband attended 76 engagements over 16 days in the former British colonies, with Meghan sometimes changing designer outfits four times in a single day.
While they observed the inevitable formalities with prime ministers and other dignitaries, members of the public who met the touring royals said they came across as down-to-earth and personable.
Meghan did not stand on ceremony, happily participating in a “welly-wanging” (gumboot throwing) competition, halting their royal entourage several times to give shy toddlers a cuddle and bringing her home-made banana bread to afternoon tea in outback Dubbo.
“They were very nice, chatty and relaxed,” was a typical assessment, offered by teenager Milan Chapman after she met them in New Zealand’s South Island.
The tour opened with the bombshell announcement that Meghan was expecting the couple’s first baby early next year, sparking fears she would be vulnerable to Zika virus in Fiji and Tonga.
But the World Health Organization reported there had been no cases this year on the islands of the mosquito-borne virus, which can cause deformities in unborn babies, and the leg of the trip went ahead unchanged.
Meghan proved so popular in Fiji that her minders whisked her away from an engagement at a Suva market, fearing it was becoming overcrowded.
– Fashion and feminism –
The 37-year-old’s wardrobe largely consisted of local designers and she won plaudits in Tonga when she arrived in a bright red dress, the colour of the national flag.
But Meghan, who became Duchess of Sussex when she married Harry, showed she was more than a clothes horse, giving several speeches expressing her support for female empowerment.
She spoke in Fiji about her own struggles to afford university in the United States, arguing the case for open education.
“When girls are given the right tools to succeed they can create incredible futures, not only for themselves but for all of those around them,” she said.
In Wellington, her message was “feminism is about fairness” and human rights for all “including members of society who have been marginalised — whether for reasons of race, gender, ethnicity, or orientation”.
Harry also used the tour to promote his favoured causes — mental health and the Invictus Games, the Olympics-style sporting event for wounded soldiers he helped found in 2014.
At the Games’ closing ceremony in Sydney last Saturday, Harry spoke of the need to talk openly about anxiety, stress and depression, revealing his own struggles.
“I’ve been there, you’ve been there, and we now need to reach out to those who can never even imagine themselves in that place,” he said.
The mood on the tour’s final day was upbeat as Harry and Meghan wore traditional Maori cloaks and received a spectacular welcome from the local Te Arawa tribe.
Tribal spokesman Toby Curtis singled out Meghan, who has a mixed race background, as an inspiration for young Maori, saying she brought “a fresh perspective and diversity” to the monarchy.
“She has shown you can succeed, make a difference and be your own person while also celebrating your heritage. This inspires us all,” he said.