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William, Kate don cowboy hats in Calgary

Prince William and Kate appeared to initially snub their western Canadian hosts by declining a time-honored Calgary tradition of wearing white cowboy hats — but later turned up for a rodeo show decked out in the hats and full western regalia.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Prince William and Kate appeared to initially snub their western Canadian hosts by declining a time-honored Calgary tradition of wearing white cowboy hats — but later turned up for a rodeo show decked out in the hats and full western regalia.

The royal couple, on their first official overseas tour since their April wedding, landed at Calgary's airport on Thursday where they were scheduled to try on the white cowboy hats.

But William and Kate opted out after Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, himself sporting a cowboy hat, presented them.

The incident set the microblogging site Twitter abuzz and was a rare misstep for the young royals, who have charmed Canadians at every stop of their tour.

Miguel Head, a spokesman for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, told The Associated Press that the couple was looking forward to wearing the hats and "in no way are they snubbing what is a very honored gift."

Sure enough, hours later the royal couple sported the white cowboy hats as they arrived in western wear on a stagecoach in downtown Calgary for a bull riding demonstration.

William and Kate both appeared in buttoned-down shirts and jeans. The duchess wore a printed white long-sleeved blouse by Alice Temperley, while the duke opted for a short-sleeved green, blue and white checkered shirt.

"Well, this is different," the prince said with a laugh as he touched the tip of his cowboy hat at a reception later. "We have been hugely struck by the diversity of this beautiful country: from Ottawa to Quebec; from Prince Edward Island to the Northwest Territories; and now the excitement of Calgary — and what about these fantastic white hats."

William, in his last remarks before he leaves Canada for southern California on Friday, said the nine-day trip to Canada exceeded expectations and promised to return.

"In 1939, my great grandmother, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, said of her first Tour of Canada with her husband, King George VI: 'Canada made us.' Catherine and I now know very well what she meant," he said.

William's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, remains the head of state in Canada, a member of the British Commonwealth of former colonies.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid tribute to the royal couple, noting the rousing welcome they've received by tens of thousands of Canadians who have been eager to see the newlyweds.

"I have to say we haven't seen a love-in like that since the first visit of the Beatles!" Harper said. "Indeed, everywhere you went you left a trail of utterly charmed Canadians in your wake."

The couple's choice not to don the hats on the windy airport tarmac, however, raised a few eyebrows among those gathered to greet them.

The custom-made white Smithbilt cowboy hats are Calgary's version of the key to the city. The white-hatting ceremony has been celebrated by dignitaries visiting Calgary for more than 60 years and is a symbol of the city's cowboy culture. Its honorees range from the Dalai Lama to TV personality Dr. Phil.

Previous members of the Royal Family to be white-hatted include Prince Philip, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Philip, who received his third cowboy cover in 1969, ruffled some feathers when he quipped about not knowing what to do with another hat other than to carry water or plant flowers in it.

That prompted the city to give Prince Charles a black cowboy hat when he arrived eight years later.

Kate, who was having trouble keeping her primrose silk crepe dress by Jenny Packham down in the blustery conditions at the airport, focused her attention on a six-year-old cancer patient who presented her with flowers.

Diamond Marshall has had two life-saving surgeries in recent months and had spent nearly a month in intensive care. Her biggest wish was to one day meet a "real princess." She had written Kate a note from the hospital bed where she watched the royal wedding earlier this year, and the Children's Wish Foundation went to work.

"She was beautiful," Diamond later told reporters, her words muffled as she tired to hide her face in her father's chest.

The couple arrived in Calgary after a private break. They spent the night at Skoki Lodge in Banff National Park. Head said they spent their time "exploring the local area on foot and enjoying the peace, tranquility and picturesque scenery around the Lodge."

On Friday, the newlyweds are scheduled to kickoff the world-famous Calgary Stampede, the 10-day exhibition and rodeo that celebrates the western way of life.

The royal pair is slated to open the Stampede parade, visit the zoo and meet homeless youth, attend an Alberta government reception and lay a wreath before leaving Canada for Los Angeles.


Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.