‘She’s Just Beautiful’: Crowds Welcome William and Kate in Final Appearance Before Wedding

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Prince William and Kate Middleton make their final public appearance before their wedding at the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy.

Diana will always be the People’s Princess. But this morning Kate Middleton proved she’s a princess of the people.

Around 2,000 well-wishers lined the streets of Darwen in Lancashire—a village 250 miles northwest of London—to catch a glimpse of the 29-year old and her fiancé Prince William as they took part in their final public appearance before they become man and wife. Officially, the royal couple had come to open the Darwen Aldridge Community Academy (DACA). Unofficially, the appearance afforded Kate one last chance to test the spotlight before she walks down the aisle as a commoner and leaves it as a princess.

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of Kate Middleton tea towels and other royal wedding souvenirs)

Wearing a navy blue skirt suit and balancing on three-inch heels, she sheltered under a massive umbrella—which she carried herself— while waving to an approving audience. “She’s just beautiful,” Marion Riley, 57, told NewsFeed after seeing Kate Middleton in front of the school for approximately one minute. “There could have been more guards around her, but she didn’t want them. She went to shake hands, and she waved at everybody.” Margaret Worthington, 71, seemed even more moved by the future princess. “She really does appear a nice person. It brings tears to my eyes.”

And while the blue-haired grandma set came out in droves, so too did their children and grandchildren—many of whom have come down with a serious case of wedding fever. “It’s a love story,” says Natalie Philipps, a 20-year old journalism student. “She’s just this normal girl and suddenly she’s living this fairy tale dream of becoming a princess complete with a big wedding. I think she’s the kind of girl that a lot of young girls can aspire to be. Even though her family had lots of money and stuff like that, she’s worked her way to the top, and to William.”

As the mobs dried their tears outside of the school, Wills and Kate watched a troupe of dancers inside. The prince also delivered a speech on the contribution that young people can make to their communities, and launched the SkillForce Prince’s Award to honor those efforts. “I know that I am very fortunate. I have the support of my family and friends, I do a job I enjoy… and I have Catherine,” he said, drawing awws from notoriously stoic Brits.

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of Kate Middleton)

If you didn’t know the future king and his fiancé were in town, you might think England was at war. As their motorcade pulled up to the school, helicopters swirled overhead, children screamed bloody murder, and grown women cried. At least one photographer scaled a house opposite the school so he could snap the action from a rooftop. And, in a display of patriotism that probably required a great deal of exertion, an elderly woman visible from the school climbed onto her kitchen counter, opened the window and waved the St. George’s Cross with one hand, the Union Jack with the other.

Despite the festive mood at the school—and at the nearby Witton Country Park, where William and Kate greeted up to 15,000 supporters later in the afternoon—the naysayers did rear their heads. One suggested that Kate and Will will always appear happy given the public-relations debacle that was Charles’ marriage to Diana. Another claimed the couple had only visited northern England—known for its working class towns—to improve their image with poor people.

And Annie Snape, who brought her three-year old son to see the “historic occasion,” warns that its foolish to get wrapped up in the couple’s public appearances. “I think they look nice together, but it takes more than looking nice to make a relationship work, doesn’t it?” As the hysteria builds, Kate would be wise to keep that comment close to heart.

(More on TIME.com: William and Kate have split up? Yes, on a poorly thought-out stamp)