Kate Middleton and Prince William joined King Charles for a surprise walkabout at The Mall by Buckingham Palace in London on the eve of the coronation. The three royals were greeted with cheers on Friday afternoon as they hopped out of their cars around 1:45 p.m. local time. Princess Kate, 41, Prince William, 40, and King Charles, 74, separately strolled along the streets to greet the well-wishers who came out to see them. The spontaneous meet and greet in the sunshine, despite intermittent rain showers, delighted those who camped out before the crowning ceremony.
The royals seemed to shake as many hands as possible, and festive fans were bedecked with flags, bunting and other patriotic pomp. Prince William leaned down to speak with a young girl and boy holding an Australian flag, while well-wishers told King Charles they traveled in from Germany, Ireland, Italy and more.
«I shook his hand and chatted with him. He saw my hat and asked me where I am from in Canada and said he liked that part of the world,» Lovel Vining from Toronto told reporters.
«It was a real thrill to shake his hand. To be able to chat to the King on the eve of his coronation is incredible,» Vining, 69, continues. «I think he looks great, really well. There is a lot going on, but I think he’s doing really well — he has difficult shoes to fill. But he’s been preparing for this for a lifetime, so I think he will do a brilliant job.»
«I wouldn’t miss this for the world, this is a bucket list item for me,» he added.
Justin Nakrin, who is visiting from New York, agreed that being in London for the coronation is «the experience of a lifetime.» Justin, 31, and his mother Rosaria also came to the U.K. in September for Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral.
«That was a solemn occasion but this is more of a celebration, the street parties. It’s like a festival,» he says of today’s atmosphere.
Rosaria and her son got the chance to meet Charles, recalling, «I told him we were from the States and he said ‘I hope you’re not camping’. I told him I am 72 and he said ‘That’s incredible.’ «
While connecting with the crowd, the sovereign even spoke Welsh!
«I was waving a Welsh flag and Charles saw it,» Keri Pullen tells PEOPLE. «I said ‘Prynhawn Da, Your Majesty’, which means ‘Good afternoon your majesty’ as he shook my hand. Said ‘Rydw i mor falch,’ which means ‘I’m so pleased,’ and he said ‘Diolch yn fawr iawn,’ which is ‘Thank you very much,’ and then he said I’m so pleased to see a Welsh flag here.»
«He was lovely. Nothing but delightful,» adds Keri, 78, who lives in Hampshire but is originally from Wales. «I couldn’t believe my luck.»
As the King chatted with well-wishers, cries of «three cheers for the King» rang out from some on the St. James’s Park side of the Mall. As Prince William and PrincessKate Middleton moved through the Green Park side, one American fan had a lucky exchange— mingling with the royals for two days in a row!
Christy Butler from Flagler Beach, Florida shook William’s hand outside the Dog & Duck Pub in Soho yesterday and got to meet King Charles today.
«He said ‘You’re American! You’re not camping out here, are you?'» Butler, 41, tells PEOPLE. «I’m shaking.»
«He was so kind, and thorough, taking his time to talk to everyone and shake hands,» she added. «It doesn’t feel like real life. I have been watching this man on TV my entire life and it’s an absolute dream that I am, one, here and, two, that I got to meet the royals.»
A little further along, Sicilia Hendry from Claygate, Surrey, southwest of London, was in the crowd which Charles first stepped towards.
«He greeted his people with respect. He was rather doing the kind of job a King should do — greeting his people,» Hendry, 61, tells PEOPLE. «Tomorrow we will welcome him as he is crowned king of the U.K. and hope he can change the outlook in respect of our relationship with the Commonwealth and the rest of the world.»
Crowds cheered as Charles gave a final wave and retreated into the gates of the royal residence on foot, while Prince William and Kate Middleton got back in a Range Rover.
Manuela and Giavanna Paz, a grandmother and granddaughter visiting from New Jersey, tell PEOPLE they were thrilled to spontaneously see the royals.
«I told her we would come and see the Queen and then she passed away so I thought the coronation would be a wonderful trip and I knew she would love it and look at her she is so happy!» Giavanna, 21, says. Manuela, 67, even got close to Prince William and Kate!
«Oh my goodness, I was screaming and crying! She is so approachable, so much more beautiful in real life. I shook her hand and told her her children were beautiful and she thanked me,» Manuela tells PEOPLE of her exchange with Kate. «And I shook William’s hand.»
The royals have been out and about since the early morning on coronation eve.
On Friday morning, King Charles and Prince William were among the royal family members who attended another rehearsal for the crowning ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
King Charles left Westminster Abbey through a side door at Dean’s Yard, looking cheery and shaking hands with the man escorting him before getting into the back of his car — a quick exit as the rain came down. The monarch was very smiley and had a spring in his step.