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Royals leave big impression on NZ town
01:54 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George are visiting NZ and Australia

Prince William and Catherine visited the small town of Cambridge Saturday

By lunchtime, the town's population had doubled as people gathered to see them

There were scenes of screaming and one well-wisher described going "all gooey"

Cambridge, New Zealand CNN  — 

Cambridge, New Zealand is a small, picturesque town of just 18,400 inhabitants.

The last time there was a royal visit here was a generation ago, in 1953, when Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip came just after the Queen’s coronation. Locals still talk about that moment in local history, but now they have the next chapter.

Excitement about this weekend’s visit by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was on full display in the pretty high street.

Every other shop had been decorated with bunting and royal paraphernalia. It was as if everyone had rummaged through their drawers looking for anything royal or just UK-related and turned it into a display.

There was mannequin wearing a Union flag apron and a tea cozy on her head; tea caddies, tea cups, tea pots; umbrellas, ornamental London phone boxes and buses. There was even a tattered guidebook from Windsor Castle.

Acoustic Mexican wave

The night before the visit, excitement reached fever pitch.

People started camping outside the town hall. By dawn Saturday, the pavements were lined with well-wishers.

People had come from as far away as New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. By lunchtime, the population of the town had doubled.

When we approached them with our camera, they cheered – in fact if anything happened, they cheered.

One teenager said she was a republican but had come here because of her mother who was a big royal fan. Both got in the spirit of things with matching tiara hair grips.

There’s always an eery calm before the royals actually turn up. The roads are cleared, security is locked down and then there is a pause before you hear – then see – police outriders.

Suddenly, the royal limo is right there before you. Cue: scream. It’s inverted “Bieber fever,” mums and daughters – but with the mums shouting.

In Cambridge, the royal convoy did a loop through the town and there was an acoustic Mexican wave as the cheers followed them.

As the couple pulled up at the town hall and got out, the cheers erupted into screams … then a huge boo, which was odd. Turns out a van had blocked the crowd’s view but was quickly moved on, allowing the screams to resume.

The Duchess hasn’t been to New Zealand before and she wanted to meet as many people as possible, so “walkabouts” have been built into the schedule.

Republican to royalist

At the Cambridge Town Hall, after meeting dignitaries and paying their respects at the war memorial, The Duke and Duchess crossed the road to the now heaving crowds.

“I was here at half past two in the morning,” said one lady. “But this was an opportunity that I was not prepared to let go by any means of the imagination. I was going to be here come whatever.”

After less than an hour, the royal visit was over. I spotted the royalist mother with her republican daughter. “How did you cope?” I asked. “I know you were quite excited beforehand.”

“I was, I went all gooey,” she said. “Completely lost it but the good news is, I think I have converted my daughter to a royalist.”

I put that to the daughter who said: “Yep. He shook my hand.”

“That’s all it takes?” I asked and she said; “Yep.”

This royal tour must be sending shudders through the spine of the New Zealand republican movement.

But we won’t know what real impact it has had until the whirlwind is over, the window displays are back in the drawers and New Zealanders have had a proper chance to consider whether the Cambridges are people they like to see – or would like to reign.