Royals charm L.A. as North American tour ends
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ended their North American tour on Sunday, spending their final day in Los Angeles with the poor and unemployed.
Their Southern California stopover followed a nine-day visit to Canada, the first tour Prince William and his bride Catherine have made since getting married in April.
After raising money among California's moneyed elite at a charity polo event on Saturday and hob-nobbing with Hollywood stars at an event that night to benefit emerging British talent, William and Kate ended their stay with visits with the less fortunate.
On Sunday morning, the royal couple donned smocks at a children's art program in a neighbourhood with one of the highest homeless populations in the United States.
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"Just seeing the smile on Catherine, it was great," said Iliana Samaniego, 15, who, along with more than a dozen other performers, danced for the couple at Skid Row's Inner-City Arts academy.
Like many who saw the couple, the performers were taken by their easy charm. Jessica Cornejo, 19, said she was thrilled when William gave a double thumbs-up and told them "brilliant" at the end of their performance.
Many at the school were impressed by how down-to-earth and casual the couple were.
"They were like your oldest friends and family," said Bob Bates, co-founder of Inner-City Arts. "The kids really took them to heart."
After attending a swanky reception to raise money for Tusk Trust, an African wildlife conservation group, their final stop before departing for home was with the group ServiceNation: Mission Serve, which aims to help veterans find jobs.
Inside the event in Culver City, giant U.S. and British flags hung behind a stage where the smiling duke addressed a cheering crowd.
"All the companies and employers taking part today are providing opportunities, which mean something very immediate and personal to us," said William, a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue helicopter pilot. "Catherine and I both have friends back in Britain who could benefit from a brilliant initiative like this."
Kelly York, a 23-year U.S. Air Force veteran, came to the fair hoping to find a job that will allow her to remain in the Los Angeles area when she retires next year.
"I'm sure that they had 50 million places they could go and see," York said. "The fact that they even take five minutes to stop here and say something to the veterans, that's huge."
The duke and duchess met for about 15 minutes with the Fraijo family, which includes three generations of Marine Corps veterans. Steve Fraijo said William seemed committed to veterans issues.
"He knows what war is about," said Fraijo, 48.
"I think there's a kinship we all have with her and also with him because he's serving his country," added veteran Narges Rabii.
Tour 'a resounding success'
The couple's ease and warmth impressed even the stodgiest critics, and the British media were effusive in their praise.
"Looking at this tour objectively, I think its been a resounding success, not to say a triumph," said Tim Ewart, royal correspondent for Britain's ITV News.
The brightest spolight was on the newest royal, and Catherine impressed.
Beyond the perfectly chosen dresses and warm smiles, observers see her first royal tour as a part of something bigger.
"I think that they're going to restore a lot of popularity that's become lost in the last few decades since Diana died," Ewart said. "I think that's restored now."
The U.S. portion of their travels was a somewhat low-key affair compared with their northern visit, where — French separatists aside — the duke and duchess were greeted with rapturous welcomes.
Their flight to London departed shortly after 4 p.m. PT.
"As this is my last opportunity before we leave this afternoon, I would just say, on behalf of us both, how grateful we are to have been welcomed so warmly in the Golden State and the City of Angels," the duke said as they left the meeting with unemployed veterans. "Thank you so much."