Prince George revels in royal play day in New Zealand
Catherine (L), the Duchess of Cambridge, holds Prince George (R) during a Plunket nurse and parents group visit at Government House in Wellington on April 9, 2014 - by Marty Melville
The play session at Wellington's Government House was organised by non-profit childcare group Plunket to give Prince William and Kate a relaxed start to a three-week tour of New Zealand and Australia after their arrival in the capital on Monday.
Formalities were cast aside for the occasion, with the eight-month-old prince crawling on the floor alongside 10 local babies while his proud parents looked on.
George, who was born on July 22 last year, looked comfortable in the spotlight, playing with a purple tambourine and exercising his royal prerogative at one point to snatch a doll from the mouth of a little girl.
Wellington photographer Grant Collinge, whose eight-month-old Lukas was among the babies, said George showed an inquisitive nature and it was clear he "was his own little man".
"He took control and went into the middle of the circle of toys. He hunted out the biggest toy, propped himself up and owned the place, basically," Collinge said.
The babies mingled in a room with a large portrait of George's great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth II looking down from the wall, with cushions and toys scattered on the floor, including a giant blue teddy bear.
- Tears and joy -
There were tears from some of the other infants as introductions were made but George, dressed in navy-blue dungaree shorts and a white t-shirt, appeared calm even after dropping a toy to the floor.
He was content to chew Kate's hair as his mother gently bounced him in her arms while chatting to his playmates' parents, pausing occasionally to wipe a spot of drool from the royal chin.
Kate wore a knee-length black and white Tory Burch dress, while William opted for an open-necked blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up as he sipped a soft drink.
Plunket said the babies were all roughly the same age as George and were born to first-time parents, just like William and Kate.
They were also selected to reflect the diversity of New Zealand society, including various ethnic groups and a same-sex couple.
Gay dad Jared Mullen, father to nine-month-old Isabella, said the royal parents were "lovely" and shared their tips on raising George.
"As first time parents, in many ways they are in the same boat as all of us trying to get used to it," he said.
"The whole day’s been a privilege, just to share our babies with the Duke and Duchess (of Cambridge) and to have them share their beautiful one with us."
The prince's play time is expected to be his last public appearance in New Zealand, where he will remain based in Wellington under the care of Spanish nanny Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo as his parents make day trips around the country.
The New Zealand Republic lobby group said any of the 10 Kiwi babies at Government House would be better qualified as the country's head of state than George, who is third in line to the throne in both Britain and New Zealand.
"Baby George is as cute as any other baby... but unfortunately he cannot be New Zealand's future head of state, not unless he one day migrates to New Zealand and becomes a citizen," it said.
But opposition Labour party leader David Cunliffe, an avowed republican, said the question of whether to retain the monarchy should be put on hold while the royals were visiting.
"I actually don't think that's an appropriate conversation for now," he said.
The visit takes a sombre tone on Thursday, when William will lay a wreath at a war memorial in the South Island town of Blenheim.
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