Published April 11, 2011
BLACKBURN, England – Prince William and fiancee Kate Middleton brought their electric smiles to northwest England on Monday for the last trip in their pre-wedding tour of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Adoring crowds in Blackburn ignored a steady rain and lined up early to get a glimpse of the royal couple, who plan to marry April 29 at Westminster Abbey in London. One of them, Lillian Sleigh, braved the weather in her wheelchair, which was decorated with Union Jacks and pictures of the royal couple.
"I came here early, even though it's pouring with rain, to make sure I get the best chance of seeing William and Kate," she said. "They're a lovely couple and as for William, his mother Diana would have been so proud of him."
The trip marked Middleton's final introduction to the royal duties that will become a regular part of her life and gave people across the United Kingdom a glimpse of their likely future queen.
Most observers agree the four trips were a big success, with the youthful Middleton showing an adroit touch with Britons from all walks of life. She also won style points for her fashion choices and won people over with her easy smile and relaxed demeanor.
William, in a blue suit and dark tie, played the role of proud husband-to-be to near perfection. He let Middleton take center stage most of the time even as he handled public speaking duties, including a brief speech Monday in support of an educational charity.
The royal couple arrived first at the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy, where William launched a "prince's award" for the educational charity SkillForce.
They then visited Witton Country Park in the afternoon as part of William's commitment to protect outdoor recreational spaces. Crowds swelled there despite the damp, leaden skies and police were out in force.
The sun came out, as if on cue, when William and Middleton arrived at the sports field.
"It was absolutely worth the wait," said Linda Gregson, 52, of Darwen, after spending 2 and 1/2 hours in the rain with her son to briefly see the royal couple.
Middleton looked elegant, with her hair partly swept up and wearing a navy skirt and matching tailored jacket. She carried a matching clutch bag and wore high-heeled shoes despite the damp weather and mushy athletic field, where she started a race for teenage girls by dropping a white flag.
She and William mingled easily with youths competing in a series of athletic events, including a cycling competition for disabled teens. They shook hands several well-wishers and accepted bouquets of flowers, and Middleton showed her sapphire-and-diamond engagement ring to two young girls who asked for a close-up look.
The couple also met with some Olympic hopefuls who had been invited, including pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale.
"We had a bit of a chat about how my training was going," said Bleasdale, 19. "They were very interested in how I got into it. Kate said that she used to be a bit of a high jumper, so that's good to know that they're quite sporty."
The couple showed no obvious signs of pre-wedding jitters, although William has said he is getting nervous as the big day approaches. Middleton has still managed to keep her wedding dress details secret from Britain's ravenous tabloids.
Associated Press Writer Gregory Katz contributed to this report.