Hundreds greet Prince Harry and Meghan on first royal visit

Nottingham (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


Prince Harry and his American actress fiancee Meghan Markle were welcomed by hundreds of people Friday on their first royal visit as a couple since announcing their engagement this week.

Harry and Meghan, who broke the news of their forthcoming marriage on Monday, went on a walkabout in the central English city of Nottingham, spending more than 20 minutes meeting enthusiastic wellwishers.

Markle, dressed in a navy blue coat and pale beige skirt and carrying a maroon-and-blue handbag, set off arm-in-arm with her future husband but soon went to meet crowds across the road.

The 36-year-old laughed and smiled as she shook hands and doled out high-fives to those who had braved the icy conditions, many of whom had come with bouquets, gifts and Union Jack flags.

"I'm so happy," she was heard to say at one point. "It's just such a thrill to be here".

The two visited an AIDS Day charity fair at a museum before being driven to a school taking part in a programme to combat youth violence.

In their engagement interview on Monday, Markle said she wanted to get to know the "different communities" which make up Britain.

The couple will take a six-month tour of Britain before getting married in May at Windsor Castle, the weekend residence of Harry's grandmother Queen Elizabeth II and the place where he was baptised.

Harry's spokesman Jason Knauf said the 33-year-old prince had visited Nottingham many times and he was "looking forward to introducing Ms Markle to a community that has become very special to him".

Veteran royal supporter Irene Hardman, 81, told the Press Association it was "absolutely wonderful and fantastic, and we're privileged they've chosen Nottingham to be their first official engagement."

"She kept saying: 'I can't believe it, I've been made so welcome and I can't believe it'."

One well-wisher put up an American flag and another clutched a pink hot-water bottle on a chilly morning.

One fan brought his pet barn owl to the event.

- Transition to British royalty -

The prince and the US television star got engaged after a 16-month transatlantic romance.

Harry, a one-time playboy and soldier who is now best known for his work on AIDS awareness and veterans' issues, revealed how he had proposed to Markle over a roast chicken dinner at his cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace, his family's sprawling estate.

In the first interview marking their engagement, the pair revealed they were set up on a "blind date" in London in July last year. They quickly grew close, but tried to keep their relationship private.

Markle, who is mixed-race, divorced and an outspoken feminist, does not fit the mould of most British royal women and she admitted that some of the media coverage about her was "disheartening".

But the queen has led a chorus of congratulations, saying she was "delighted for the couple".

Harry has himself railed against the confines of royal life, recently admitting he came close to a nervous breakdown in his 20s as he struggled to deal with the legacy of the death of his mother, Princess Diana.

Harry is fifth in line to the throne and will soon be sixth when his brother Prince William's wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, gives birth to their third child in April.

Markle, who is best known for her role as a lawyer in the hit US television series "Suits", has said she is giving up acting, applying for British citizenship and getting baptised into the Church of England.

She will also give up her work on gender equality for UN Women and take up royal charity duties instead.

Harry and Meghan had tried to keep their relationship private for as long as possible, and when news of their involvement first hit the headlines, he lashed out at the media.

In their engagement interview, he said media attention was "not easy for anybody".