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Royals Charm Californians With Casualness, Grace

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge attend the Mission Serve: Hiring Our Heroes event on July 10, 2011 in Culver City, California.
Jae C. Hong
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge attend the Mission Serve: Hiring Our Heroes event on July 10, 2011 in Culver City, California.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge returned to Britain on Monday after charming Californians ranging from Hollywood household names to inner-city school children with their mix of youthful casualness and graceful glamour.

The nonstop weekend, which included playing a few chukkers of polo, mingling with Hollywood stars, and chatting with inner-city kids and jobless veterans, capped the couple's first official overseas tour since their storybook wedding in April.

Before stopping in Southern California, Prince William and his bride Catherine visited Canada for nine days, where they received an enthusiastic reception.


In California, excitement was considerably more muted, though small crowds of well-wishers waving British and American flags lined up for an in-person view of the newlyweds outside their scheduled events.

The duke said he and Catherine appreciated the friendly reception.

"I would just say, on behalf of us both, how grateful we are to have been welcomed so warmly in the Golden State and the City of Angels," he told the crowd at the couple's last event Sunday, a military veterans' job fair. "Thank you so much."

The trip was a tightly scripted, formal affair, but a few moments revealed glimpses of personality.

Much to fans' delight, the couple took a few impromptu minutes early Sunday morning to shake hands and exchange pleasantries outside the British consul's residence in Los Angeles where they stayed.


Later Sunday, William, who is a military helicopter pilot, generated laughs when he took a friendly dig at his younger brother Harry, also a chopper pilot, calling him his "low-flying, Apache, very average brother" during a speech at the job fair. Apache is a type of helicopter.

The couple even indulged in a chaste, but rare display of royal affection: William kissed his wife on each cheek when she presented him with the trophy.

The trip was designed around promoting Prince William's causes.

The prince played in a charity polo match on Saturday in Santa Barbara, where a ticket in the stands fetched $400 and a champagne reception with the royals $4,000. The event benefited the prince and his brother's foundation, which supports a variety of causes.

That evening, the couple starred among Hollywood's version of royalty at a black-tie gala to promote British film industry talent to the likes of Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman and Barbra Streisand.

On Sunday, they saw another side of Los Angeles when they visited an arts academy for disadvantaged children in Skid Row, downtown's gritty homeless core.

Like many who interacted with the couple, both administrators and students were struck by the couple's down-to-earth style.

Jessica Cornejo, one of 16 teen dancers who performed for the duke and duchess, said she was thrilled when William gave a double thumbs-up and lauded them with "brilliant" at the end of their performance.

Others said the couple's easy manner made any nerves go out the window.

"They were like your oldest friends and family," said Bob Bates, co-founder of Inner-City Arts. "The kids really took them to heart."

Sunday's agenda also included a swanky private breakfast with patrons of Tusk Trust, an African wildlife conservation group, and a final stop with the group ServiceNation: Mission Serve, which helps veterans find jobs.

Inside the event in Culver City, giant U.S. and British flags hung behind a stage where the smiling duke addressed a cheering crowd.

"All the companies and employers taking part today are providing opportunities which mean something very immediate and personal to us," said William, who is a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue helicopter pilot. "Catherine and I both have friends back in Britain who could benefit from a brilliant initiative like this."

Kelly York, a 23-year Air Force veteran, said she was touched that the prince cared.

"I'm sure that they had 50 million places they could go and see," York said. "The fact that they even take five minutes to stop here and say something to the veterans, that's huge."

The duke and duchess also met for about 15 minutes with the Fraijo family, which includes three generations of Marine Corps veterans. Steve Fraijo said William seemed committed to veterans issues.

"He knows what war is about," said Fraijo, 48.

After speaking with veterans, the couple packed teddy bears in boxes to be sent to children of deployed service members. Their flight to London departed from Los Angeles International Airport shortly after 4 p.m.