- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND (AP) - She flipped a pancake on Shrove Tuesday _ and somehow it even landed back in the pan.

Prince William and fiancee Kate Middleton traveled to Belfast on Tuesday, delighting a surprised but enthusiastic crowd with their first official visit to Northern Ireland before their April 29 wedding.

Police kept watch from the rooftops for a visit that brought the center of Belfast to a standstill. Up to 100 people gathered in the bright sunshine near city hall to greet the couple, but the crowd swelled to several hundred as nearby shoppers realized something special was happening.

“My little heart is beating 90 to the dozen after meeting Kate,” said Gloria Lowry, from Carrickfergus. “She is absolutely beautiful and William so handsome. They make a perfect couple.”

It was the couple’s third public outing in recent weeks, completing a circuit that has taken them to all parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Last month, the couple traveled to Wales and to Scotland.

As they arrived at George Best City Airport, they were welcomed by Lord Mayor Pat Convery and Dame Mary Peters, gold medalist in the pentathlon in the 1972 Olympics and now Lord Lieutenant of Belfast.

Outside city hall, William and Middleton were cheered as they took turns flipping a pancake, the traditional treat eaten on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the Catholic season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

Women from the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children provided the pancake and pan for a fundraiser without knowing they would be meeting royalty.

Middleton, smiling broadly as she greeted people hoping for a handshake, wore a double-breasted cream-colored belted coat with a ruffle hem, black opaque tights and black high-heeled shoes. William wore a navy suit.

Tim and Patricia McCormick, teachers from Tyler, Texas, who were in town to research family roots, got a tip from a policeman about the royal visit.

“I just can’t believe what’s just happened,” said McCormick after the couple had passed by. “I can’t believe they both just walked right up to us.”

“I’m very impressed with both of them,” he added. “They’re a lovely, lovely couple. They both seem very kind and gentle. They certainly were surprised to meet someone from Texas!”

Some in the crowd had guessed that a royal visit might be in the works. Rebecca Fletcher, 11, took the day off school, called “Katie!” and offered Britain’s future queen a bouquet of daffodils.

“You’re a very lucky lady. I’m so jealous!” the girl said.

“I am lucky,” Middleton said. “He’s a very nice man and I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life with him.”

Heather Lindsay, whose daughter Laura Ann is also getting married this year, brought “bride” and “groom” caps in the hope of getting William to wear one.

“He politely declined. He said his mother would not appreciate him wearing the hat,” said Lindsay, from Killyleagh. “I told her not to lose any more weight. She laughed and said it was all part of the wedding planning.”

Another well-wisher, Lilian Bradford, judged the couple to be “so genuine.”

“There are absolutely no airs or graces about either of them. They are so down-to-earth,” Bradford said.

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