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King Charles and royals greet well-wishers ahead of coronation

LONDON, United Kingdom - King Charles greeted excited crowds gathering for his coronation before hosting a reception for world leaders at Buckingham Palace on Friday ahead of what will be the biggest ceremonial event in Britain for 70 years.

Charles, 74, and his wife Camilla will be crowned at London's Westminster Abbey in a glittering but solemn religious ceremony with traditions dating back some 1,000 years, followed by a procession, resplendent with pomp and pageantry.

Royal fans have already begun camping out on The Mall, the grand boulevard that leads to Buckingham Palace, and they were rewarded when Charles and his eldest son, Prince William, and the heir's wife Kate staged an impromptu walkabout.

The royals were greeted by cheers of "hip, hip, hurrah!" and "God save the King!" as they greeted the well-wishers, many of whom had travelled from across the world.

"There is not much sleeping going on, I hear," William told one woman in the crowd, referring to people in tents who have created a party atmosphere despite occasional heavy downpours. "I pray you guys stay dry."

Earlier, Charles met leaders from the Commonwealth of Nations, the voluntary associations of 56 countries which he also heads, and held a lunch for prime ministers and royal representatives from the 14 other realms where he is head of state, including Australia and Canada.

Charles automatically became king when his mother Queen Elizabeth died aged 96 in September. The coronation, although not essential, is regarded as a hugely symbolic moment that legitimizes the monarch in a public way.

The leaders of Australia and New Zealand will pledge their allegiance to Charles at the coronation even though both are life-long republicans who do not shy away from making their positions clear.

On Friday evening, world leaders and dignitaries were seen arriving at Buckingham Palace for a reception held by the king and other senior members of the royal family.

The Princess of Wales, wife of heir-to-the-throne Prince William, was pictured with US First Lady Jill Biden, and Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, at the event in a photograph released by Kensington Palace.

"It's an honor to represent the United States for this historic moment and celebrate the special relationship between our countries," tweeted Biden.

The Princess of Wales told crowds she had met earlier that her family were "excited, a bit nervous" about the "big day".

Well-wishers already camping out to bag the best spots were thrilled by the surprise royal walkabout.

"All the people who said I was mad coming, I don’t care because you can’t get that on television. Words fail me. It was just lovely," said Eunice Harstone, 79, after meeting the king. -- Reuters