Nottingham (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Prince Harry and his American actress fiancee Meghan Markle were welcomed by hundreds of people Friday on their first royal visit as a couple since announcing their engagement this week.
Harry and Meghan, who broke the news of their forthcoming marriage on Monday, went on a walkabout in the central English city of Nottingham, spending more than 20 minutes meeting enthusiastic wellwishers.
Markle, dressed in a navy blue coat and pale beige skirt and carrying a maroon-and-blue handbag, set off arm-in-arm with her 33-year-old future husband but soon went to meet crowds across the road.
The 36-year-old laughed and smiled as she shook hands and doled out high-fives to those who had braved the icy conditions, many of whom had come with bouquets, gifts and Union Jack and American flags.
"I'm so happy," she was heard to say at one point. "It's just such a thrill to be here."
Veteran royal supporter Irene Hardman, 81, told the Press Association: "She kept saying: 'I can't believe it, I've been made so welcome and I can't believe it'."
- Meghan sparkles -
Markle's royal debut was well received, with the Daily Telegraph saying she "proved she is already well-versed in the working life of the Royal Family."
A Daily Mail headline read: "Radiant Meghan wins an army of starstruck new young British fans."
The two later visited an AIDS Day charity fair at a museum before being driven to a school taking part in a programme to combat youth violence where they attended a kickboxing class.
"On statistics, we are the worst area for a number of things, knife crime being one of them. It's good for him to come here because people can lose hope," said Cain Thomas, a 22-year-old mentor.
At the school Meghan and Harry also watched a performance with four actors in a short sketch which started with a couple arguing over whether to spread news of their relationship, which echoed the secrecy of their own 16-month romance.
In their engagement interview on Monday, Markle said she wanted to get to know the "different communities" which make up Britain.
The couple will take a six-month tour of the country before getting married in May at Windsor Castle, the weekend residence of Harry's grandmother Queen Elizabeth II and the place where he was baptised.
- Transition to British royalty -
The prince and the US television star got engaged after a 16-month transatlantic romance.
Harry, a one-time playboy and soldier who is now best known for his work on AIDS awareness and veterans' issues, revealed how he had proposed to Markle over a roast chicken dinner at his cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace, his family's sprawling estate.
In the first interview marking their engagement, the pair revealed they were set up on a "blind date" in London in July last year.
They quickly grew close, but tried to keep their relationship private.
Markle, who is mixed-race, divorced and an outspoken feminist, does not fit the mould of most British royal women and she admitted that some of the media coverage about her was "disheartening".
But the queen has led a chorus of congratulations, saying she was "delighted for the couple".
Harry has himself railed against the confines of royal life, recently admitting he came close to a nervous breakdown in his 20s as he struggled to deal with the legacy of the death of his mother, Princess Diana.
- Baptised as an Anglican -
Harry is fifth in line to the throne and will soon be sixth when his brother Prince William's wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, gives birth to their third child in April.
Markle, who is best known for her role as a lawyer in the hit US television series "Suits", has said she is giving up acting, applying for British citizenship and getting baptised into the Church of England.
She will also give up her work on gender equality for UN Women and take up royal charity duties instead.
Harry and Meghan had tried to keep their relationship private for as long as possible, and when news of their involvement first hit the headlines, he lashed out at the media.
In their engagement interview, he said media attention was "not easy for anybody".