William, Kate off to Canada, California for first overseas tour; charity appeal to be tested
LONDON - It sounds like a bit of a racket: $4,000 for a three-course meal and a chance to see a polo match up close.
It gets better when you throw in the chance to rub shoulders with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in southern California, where bragging about having a glass of wine with the new royal couple may be the ultimate Hollywood glamour trip.
The charity event at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club will be one of the highlights of the first official overseas trip by Prince William and the former Kate Middleton, which kicks off Thursday in Canada and takes them later to southern California.
There's no doubt the athletic prince and his fashion-forward bride have star power to burn. So far, about 1,000 VIP tickets have been sold to the polo match along with about 400 general admission passes, raising nearly $4.4 million for the July 9 charity event. William plans to play in the match, and his wife will award the trophy to the winning team.
"The members are thrilled to host the royal couple and the public's reaction to this special day and event has been fantastic," said club chairman Glen Holden, a former U.S. ambassador to Jamaica who said he has never seen anything like it in his 38 years with the exclusive polo club.
In Canada, William and Kate will join in raucous Canada Day celebrations, open the Calgary Stampede, and canoeing in the vast northwest territories. They will meet veterans and their families, as well as youth groups in several parts of the country.
Canada's prime minister Wednesday unveiled a personal flag for William to use during his visit. It is the first flag to be created by Canada for a member of the royal family since 1962, when Queen Elizabeth II adopted a personal flag for her own use in Canada.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the flag was approved by the queen and William.
William plans to demonstrate his skills as a helicopter rescue pilot by taking part in a water landing demonstration, and the couple also plan to put on aprons and take part in a cooking workshop in Quebec City.
They jet to Los Angeles on July 8 and will host a gala dinner there the next night to introduce up-and-coming British film talent to Hollywood executives.
It doesn't take a foreign venue to spark interest in the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the formal royal titles the newlyweds received from the queen on their wedding day. Their first charity appearance, as guests of honour at a gala dinner in London earlier this month, raised hundreds of thousands of pounds (dollars) for a children's' charity and drew luminaries from Britain's film world.
The couple even managed to use their wedding day as a way to raise more than 1 million pounds ($1.6 million) for 26 designated charities. They urged guests, and well-wishers around the world, to make contributions to the charities rather than give them presents.
The innovative tactic was successful in focusing public attention on a number of groups that are usually overlooked, said Gareth Harper, managing director of the Peace Players, a Northern Ireland charity that was among the charities singled out by the royal couple.
The group, which uses basketball to bring together people from both sides of Northern Ireland's religious and cultural divide, received several direct donations from people heeding the couple's charity call. President Barack Obama (a noted basketball fan) and his wife, Michelle, sent the charity six Apple computers.
"We were flabbergasted," said Harper of the surprise gift. He said the royal couple took an active interest in a pre-wedding meeting with the charity's leaders.
"We don't know how we go on their list," Harper said. "We were very impressed by their knowledge of our program. They obviously had a hands-on role and they had a lot of enthusiasm for this initiative."
Palace officials said money donated to the central wedding charity fund will shortly be distributed to the 26 charities.
Jessica Dallyn, fundraising director for Combat Stress, a charity that helps military veterans cope with stress-related ailments and other problems, said she expects to hear in the coming weeks how much the group will receive from the central fund.
She said the royal couple probably chose to back the group because it has received strong support for years from Prince Charles, William's father.
"Charles has been very pro-active, and I'm sure his commitment has been passed down to his sons," she said. "And I think Princess Diana's commitment would have had a huge impact on both of them."