SOUTHAMPTON, Jun 13 – Prince William’s wife Catherine carried out her last solo public engagement on Thursday before she gives birth next month — although many wellwishers who turned up for a final glimpse of the royal bump were left disappointed.
Catherine launched a new liner in the southern English port of Southampton, sending a 15-litre bottle of champagne smashing into its hull in a time-honoured tradition met with cheers and the sounding of the ship’s horn.
The wind whipped at her black and white printed Hobbs coat and the grey sky threatened rain, but the 31-year-old appeared relaxed as she announced: “I name this ship Royal Princess, may God bless her and all who sail in her.”
The ceremony, conducted under a large grandstand on the quayside in front of nearly 2,000 invited guests, had echoes of a cold day in 1984 when William’s late mother, Diana, officially named the first Royal Princess.
The event was closed to the public, but about 100 well-wishers gathered outside the gates of the docks to catch “just a glimpse” of the duchess of Cambridge, who is expected to give birth in mid-July.
“I want to wave this flag at the royal bump,” said Liz Carvalho, 53, her plastic Union Jack fluttering in the chilly wind. “To name this ship the Royal Princess, when she might be carrying the royal princess, is just brilliant.”
Genette Spooner, 30, brought along her two-year-old daughter Abbie, who retreated into her pink puffa coat as they waited for Catherine’s arrival.
“It’s going to be amazing for us, it’s going to bring everyone closer to the royal family. Everyone loves a baby,” said Spooner. Asked if she had any advice for the mother-to-be, she replied: “Just enjoy it.”
Louis Taylor, 58, made the journey from nearby Bournemouth with his daughter Emma, 27, and daughter-in-law, Sara, 30, all carrying bouquets of flowers which they hoped to present to the duchess.
“This one’s blue, this one’s pink and this one’s white — we’ll let her choose and give us a clue!” said Emma Taylor, referring to the royals’ biggest secret — the sex of the new royal heir.
Taylor’s sister-in-law, who is from Boston in the United States, was desperate to catch a glimpse of a real-life royal. “And I want to see her baby bump so badly! She has a king or a queen in her belly — how cool is that?” she told AFP.
After two hours of waiting, however, Catherine’s small convoy of cars and police motorcycles sped by so fast that she missed the duchess completely.
“She was in there? No way! I totally missed her,” she lamented.
Catherine was flown to Southampton by helicopter from London and driven onto the quayside to the docked vessel, which embarks on its maiden voyage on Sunday.
She was later given a brief tour of the enormous ship, operated by Princess Cruises. It has room for 3,600 passengers, weighs 141,000 tons, has 19 decks and claims to have the largest pastry shop at sea.
A large noise was heard from the hull during the naming ceremony, causing Catherine and other guests to look over. But the proceedings carried on, with music from pop star Natasha Bedingfield and two military bands.
Most of the guests were associated with charities supported by William, his wife and his brother Prince Harry, and many had attended a gala dinner on the ship on Wednesday evening before spending the night on board.
Alan Buckelew, president of Princess Cruises, said he was “incredibly honoured” to have Catherine as the ship’s godmother — a kind of patron — saying she was an “inspiring ambassador for Britain”.
Across the harbour, onlookers stood on the pier seeking out the duchess using binoculars and camera zooms, but the only thing they could see was a big screen displaying the events to the assembled guests.
“Anything happening?” an Australian tourist asked his wife. “She’s having a good chat to somebody,” she replied, adding admiringly: “She looks very nice. Still wearing those high heels.”