SYDNEY: British royals Harry and Meghan received baby gifts, met a koala couple and posed in front of Sydney's dazzling Opera House Tuesday, on their first public outing since announcing they are to become parents.
The happy prince and his US-born wife laughed as they were given a pair of Australian baby Ugg boots from the country's governor general, watched eucalyptus-munching koalas at the zoo and took a boat ride across Sydney Harbour as they began a lengthy tour of the Pacific. Meghan, wearing a tight white dress by Australian designer Karen Gee, showed few signs of having a baby bump, but smiled broadly as she stepped back into the limelight -- posing against the backdrop of the Opera House sails, which gleamed in the spring sunshine.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are welcomed by the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove at Admiralty House, Kirribilli, with Akubra hats, as they begin #RoyalVisitAustralia 🇦🇺 pic.twitter.com/PwJNKWEBZ1— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) October 16, 2018
Shortly after the appearance, Gee's website was down, apparently due to the volume of traffic it was receiving. At the foot of the Opera House a crowd of hundreds pressed against security fences for a royal outdoor meet-and-greet, waving Australian flags, assorted pictures and carrying human-size koala toys, all under the gaze of police snipers and close protection officers.
"I've been following them since the wedding," 90-year-old retiree Edward Atkinson told AFP, adding that he would be looking out for any signs of Meghan's pregnancy. "I want to see how she interacts with the crowd," added Atkinson, who saw Harry's mother Princess Diana when she visited Australia for the country's bicentenary celebrations in January 1988.
This royal couple are on 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 that will test Australia's large contingent of royal-sceptic republicans.
Shortly after the pair stepped off the plane 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 from March until May or June -- and newspapers mused 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. The celebrity couple can expect a warm welcome on their tour, even if polls show half of Australians would like to ditch British monarchs as their country's head of state.
Kensington palace said they did not expect any changes to the trip schedule, although Meghan is not expected to join Harry in scaling the Sydney Harbour Bridge to mark the start of the Invictus Games later in the week. They are still expected to visit Fiji and Tonga despite a notice advising pregnant women to stay away because of the Zika virus.
The decision came after consultations with doctors, Kensington Palace said. The BBC's royal correspondent said scrutiny will only intensify with the announcement Meghan is expecting. "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 paralegal Rachel Zane in the US television legal drama "Suits", a world far removed from Buckingham Palace. Her first steps as a British royal have 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, the 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 blaze. Britons also swooned after seeing Meghan nonchalantly closing her own car door at her first solo engagement last month in London.