Sydney: Prince Harry and Meghan are set to make their first public appearance since announcing they are expecting a baby, kicking off a high-profile Pacific trip with a jaunt around dazzling Sydney Harbour Tuesday.
The prince and his US-born wife are starting a 16-day tour of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga that had already been keenly watched, but is now set to be a media frenzy, and will test republican sentiment Down Under to the limit.
Shortly after the pair arrived in Australia on Monday, Kensington Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II’s 34-year-old grandson and the 37-year-old actress, are “expecting a baby in the spring of 2019,” triggering a chorus of coos and rampant tabloid speculation about baby names.
“What fantastic news!” tweeted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “Australia is thrilled for you both. Looking forward to sharing in the joy during your stay down under.”
The queen was said to be “delighted”, British Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted her “warmest congratulations”, and Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland said she was “very happy about this lovely news”.
As TV stations in the English-speaking world broke into their regular coverage, Google saw a spike in searches for “when is spring?” — the answer in Britain is March through May — and newspapers played up an intercontinental rivalry over what the baby, who will become either an earl or lady, will be called.
The bookies’ instant pick was Diana — the name of the late princess who was mother to both Prince Harry and his older brother Prince William — along with Arthur and Alice.
Australian newspapers also got in on the act, splashing snatched images of the couple wandering through gum trees in a “love stroll” in the grounds of Sydney’s Admiralty House.
But the world will get its first proper look at any hidden baby bump later Tuesday when the pair are welcomed by Australia’s governor general, close to Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge.
That will be followed by a trip to Taronga Zoo, where the couple are expected to meet some koalas and their joeys and take a boat trip to the world famous Opera House.
While Queen Elizabeth II is officially the head of state in Australia and the couple can expect public support and well wishes, polls show that around half of voters would like to become fully independent, appointing an Australian head of state.
In the past polls show little change in the 50-50 split on news of royal babies born to William and Kate, the duke and duchess of Cambridge.
Regardless, baby talk had greeted the couple’s arrival in Sydney, with newspapers noticing that Meghan was carrying two large purple folders over her stomach.
“Is the Duchess of Sussex hiding a Royal secret?” Sydney’s Daily Telegraph asked.
– American princess –
The BBC’s royal correspondent said this scrutiny will only intensify in Australia, New Zealand and the islands of Fiji and Tonga, which the couple will visit despite a notice advising pregnant women to stay away because of the Zika virus.
The decision came after consultations with doctors, Kensington Palace said, adding that no changes are expected to the planned schedule.
“This is now the duchess’s pregnancy tour — every step of the way she will be greeted with a new level of excitement and with some degree of concern,” the BBC’s Jonny Dymond wrote.
Meghan made her name in acting as savvy para-legal Rachel Zane in the US television legal drama “Suits”, a world far removed from Buckingham Palace.
Her first steps as a British royal have therefore been cautious, immaculately scripted and well received. It is all but mandatory for a major royal to have a charity project, and Meghan’s choice addressed the biggest tragedy to befall Britain in the past years.
The June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London killed 71 people and raised uncomfortable questions about the government’s approach to low income families who lived there.
Meghan wrote the foreword to the recipe collection entitled “Together: Our Community Cookbook”, produced by women who suffered in the fatal blaze.
Britons also swooned after seeing Meghan nonchalantly closing her own car door at her first solo engagement last month in London.