A Belfast crowd enjoyed what must be one of the most comprehensive royal walkabouts in the history of the city yesterday.
Prince Harry spent more than 20 minutes carefully working his way through a large number of well-wishers by individually greeting almost every one of them.
The fifth in line to the throne emerged at lunchtime from the MAC theatre, in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, to find that a large crowd of people had learned of his visit and had gathered behind crash barriers.
The 32-year-old prince, on his first visit to Northern Ireland, took time to shake hands with everyone who came forward to the barrier, and posed for ‘selfie’ photographs with many of them.
He chatted and asked where they were from and laughed and pointed to the sky, in a gesture to recognise that the rain had stopped.
“I’m loving it, absolutely loving,” he told the News Letter, when asked his first impressions of the Province. “And the weather has stayed up as well.”
Claire Nikolai from Bangor, who was delighted to get a photograph taken with the prince, said that he had “heard people talking on the street” about the visit.
“So I had to come over here. He was really lovely. He had a lot of time for people.”
Ester and Jurg Knaus, visiting Belfast from Zurich, also found out by chance of the royal visit.
“There were two ladies in the street telling us to come here,” said Ester. “He was very friendly and easy going.”
Owen Williamson, a solicitor, and his friend Jessica Wolseley, a barrister, came round to the theatre at lunchtime to see the prince when they heard of his visit.
“He saw that I was in a suit and commented on it. I joked that I was more formal than him,” said Owen.
Prince Harry had arrived at the theatre shortly after midday from Ballymena (see page four). He spent about an hour inside the arts complex, where he said he was inspired after meeting young people working to prevent suicide in Northern Ireland.
He added: “The older generation have had it one way and handed whatever you want to call it, the bad habits, down to all of us, as the younger generation. What we have been trying to do is remove the stigma around mental health, to encourage people to have a conversation.”
At the MAC the prince met young people aged 15 to 17 from the Northern Ireland National Citizen Service, whose motto is “Say yes”.
He said: “It is easy to bury your head in the sand and not do anything about it, but much more inspiring and uplifting to go to a group like this with like-minded people.”
Harry revealed in an interview with the Daily Telegraph he spent nearly 20 years “not thinking” about his mother Diana, Princess of Wales’s death and eventually got help after two years of “chaos”.
Later, the royal visitor travelled to Hillsborough Castle in Co Down for a garden party where he joined around 2,000 guests.