Sunday September 16, 2012 09:30 AM EDT
Prince William & Kate 'Very Important' to Solomon Islands
by Maggie Coughlan and Simon PerryDespite an ongoing photo scandal, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge forged ahead with their tour of South Asia, landing Sunday in the Solomon Islands.
As Italian magazine Chi prepares to publish 26 pages of photos of the young royals on vacation in France, where Kate was photographed topless, the couple seemed carefree as they toured the country's capital Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal.
After visiting the rainforests of Borneo, William and Kate landed at the airport, where they were gifted floral garlands and greeted by traditional warrior dancers dressed in raffia loin cloths, wielding spears, bows and musical instruments.
Kate, in green Jonathan Saunders dress and bespoke hat by Jane Taylor, smiled from ear-to-ear as the warriors performed the custom of "challenging" William.
Tribal elder Father Henry Theo, 58, said as he prepared to greet them, "It's popular because Prince William is the son of [Princess] Diana, who was very much popular here." Adding of Kate, "We just heard of her when she married the Prince. She is the chosen one, so she is important. Very important."
Upon leaving the airport, William and Kate were whisked away in a new sort of royal carriage – a truck disguised as canoe. The makeshift canoe – called Tomoko and traditionally used for fighting, now shuttles VIPs when they visit the islands – added to the carnival atmosphere as roughly 60,000 onlookers flocked to the streets to welcome the couple.
As the vehicle headed toward St. Barnabas Cathedral, visitors from surrounding islands joined locals to catch a glimpse.
Parked in a prominent position was a van offering free ice cream to William and Kate.
"I hope they will stop and accept our invitation," Emily Patay says while leaning out of her van. "We have been waiting for this for a couple of months and people have come from different provinces just to hopefully meet them."
Upon arriving at their hotel after the service of thanksgiving for the Queen, the couple were still wearing their garlands and were treated to a performance by local dancers, who wore black shirts that read "Welcome To Solomon Islands."
As young women showed off their hip-shaking dance to the delight of William and Kate, the couple stood patiently with hotel guests and tourists hovering around them, eager to watch the girls swirl their grass skirts.
The dancers performed to a slow and gentle tune described as a "welcome song" by Agnes Beia. "We just wanted to show them our appreciation," she says. "They are beautiful, beautiful. Perfectly matched."
And fellow dancer Barbara Wu added of Kate: "She was very calm and pretty – very much prettier than the photos."