Flip, flip, hooray!
Prince William and Kate Middleton completed the final leg of their pre-wedding warm up tour of the United Kingdom by flying into Northern Ireland and carrying out a day of engagements in and around Belfast.
Earlier visits to England, Wales and Scotland by the couple meant a trip across the Irish Sea was inevitable before the big day, but the region’s troubled past and heightened security level meant the royal whistle stop tour was unveiled to the press with much less notice than the earlier visits.
Reuters’ Ireland photographer Cathal McNaughton was quickly up and running sorting accreditation and scouting out locations, whilst my soccer match between Blackpool and Chelsea was reassigned and flights and hotels quickly sorted. Within hours I was on my way across the Irish sea.
The security risks meant news of the visit was embargoed until just before the couple’s arrival. In light of this, the huge security operation at the venues was greeted with some bemusement by the locals who knew someone was coming but had know idea who. The crash barrier lined streets, which at the couples previous visits were full of eager well-wishers keen to catch a glimpse of the royal couple, were completely empty in Belfast as the press started to gather at the first venues. Even the guests at the venue I was allocated to had no idea who the dignitary was.
This soon changed as the embargo passed and locals quickly put the crush barriers to use and crowded outside the City Hall and local arts college.
Their UK tour has been seen as an opportunity for the couple to be introduced to the nation after their engagement and also a chance to ease Miss Middleton into the full spectrum of Royal life. In Belfast she ticked the final box: the set up photo opportunity!
She’d mastered the other royal staples like the walkabout and ceremonial duties on the earlier visits where she christened a lifeboat and pressed the flesh with the public, but the hands on photo-op was still left to tackle. But tackle it she did.
Shrove Tuesday wouldn’t be complete without pancakes and you can’t make pancakes without tossing them. Following William’s lead Kate took hold of a handily placed frying pan outside the City Hall and launched the pancake into the morning sky. And to the accompaniment of a dozen or so camera shutters, successfully caught it.
With ‘the toss’ captured live on Television 24 hour news, it was only moments before the inevitable email from the desk landed on our BlackBerrys. Tell me you got the pancake?? Call it what you want…local knowledge, skill, talent or just blind luck, Cathal had found himself in exactly the right place and nailed it – the whole sequence. The message could be answered with a smile and a huge sigh of relief.
The pressure was off for the rest of the visit, I guess for both us and her. To have a picture like that in the bag at the start of the day makes you breathe a little easier, especially as the rest of the visit passed off more mundanely. Well, apart from the couple banging in a fence post together in a field!! Theirs is not a normal job but then again, neither is mine.