Simon Woolf says the couple clearly “love each other deeply,” and share a sense of humor and a genuine compassion for others.
Woolf was the official New Zealand government photographer allowed at every event that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended during their nine-day tour of the country.
And it was his picture of little George cuddling into his mum’s shoulder as he attended his first royal engagement – a playdate with other babies – that has been reproduced so many times. A black and white version of was given to Kate, 32, as the family left for Australia.
Woolf says he was told that Kate called the photo her favorite of the tour (though the palace has not been able to confirm this).
In the shot, the prince had just been woken from his nap and was resting on his mum’s shoulder, as a tea party for the Plunket Group playdate was about to take place. “He just raised his head, smiled and dropped his head back on Princess Catherine’s shoulder. And I just got that shot. It was only one shot,” Woolf tells PEOPLE.
This, like other moments, was before the other reporters and photographers had access to the couple. “That photo represented the lovely closeness of the family. I was so totally reassured that it is a great relationship,” he adds.
“At the Plunket session with the kids, Prince George just went for it, the prince and the princess were down on the floor with all the parents and if you hadn’t known they were royals it would have been totally usual,” he says.
“It could have been a group of parents meeting up and having their kids meeting up and playing with toys and sharing.”
“He was so well-adjusted and cruisy,” adds Woolf of Prince George.
Woolf has met William a couple of times before, on the prince’s previous visits to the country, but he was seeing Kate for the first time. “I have been a wedding photographer for most of my life and I know when two people love each other deeply and that’s what I saw.”
The Royal Couple’s Love – and Compassion
He was particularly impressed when he saw Will and Kate sparring at the America’s Cup yachting in Auckland harbor – especially when she won. “She said she was going to give the prince a hard time. When I went over to his group and said to him, ‘Your wife is very happy,’ he said, ‘I’m sure she is and I’m going to get a hard time.’ And that is what happened.”
He adds that Kate impressed the onlooker Kiwis. “No one expected her to go out there and play cricket on a soggy park in Christchurch. Nobody would have begrudged her standing and watching but she went in and participated. They make what they do fun and that they are enjoying themselves. They love it and it comes through.”
On several occasions, says Woolf, William, “saw kids in the crowd and had them brought out to him or he went to them. That wasn’t planned. They were magnificent with elderly, sick and young people. People say it’s their job but they definitely go beyond the call.”
He adds, “I don’t think it is a chore for them.”
It was in Christchurch, which had been hit by a 6.3 richter scale earthquake killing nearly 200 people in 2011, where this was most evident.
Woolf had seen the devastation firsthand. “To go back there with the prince and princess and see how they uplifted the victims was so amazing. They gave the victims such quality time,” he says of the time they met victims’ families. “The faces as they were waiting were apprehensive and were probably thinking of their loved ones who passed away but to then see the prince and princess work their magic was so special.”
He believes the couple is “totally in sync. They have empathy and in that situation they had sympathy. The prince has empathy through what he has been through himself and is able to show compassion. And on the other side people understand that too. And the duchess also has that also.”
Woolf adds, “If there’s one moment in the tour that sums up what fantastic people they are and what class they are in respect of being the full package, that was it. In those moments they showed the ability to raise people.”