Prince William and Kate visit Paris 20 years after Diana's death

Guy JACKSON
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French President Francois Hollande (C) welcomes Britain's Prince William (L), The Duke of Cambridge, and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge at the Elysee Palace in Paris on March 17, 2017

British royals William and Kate are due to arrive in Paris on Friday in the prince's first official visit to the French capital since his mother Diana died there.

During the two-day trip, the couple will meet survivors of the 2015 terror attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris as well as President Francois Hollande.

The trip comes as William, second-in-line to the throne, is under fire in the British media for missing a Commonwealth celebration to go skiing with friends.

William, 34, and Kate, 35, will be acting as goodwill ambassadors for Britain just as the country prepares to trigger the formal process of leaving the European Union.

French magazines have described their trip, organised at the request of Britain's foreign ministry, as a charm offensive by Britain as it prepares to break away from the European Union.

Gala magazine called them "the glamorous card to make you forget Brexit" -- a tactic that will also be tested when they travel to Germany and Poland in July.

The royals will launch a initiative called "Les Voisins" (The Neighbours), celebrating relations between France and Britain.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will also host a black-tie dinner at the British embassy attended by stars including "Godzilla" and "Leon" actor Jean Reno and British actress Kristin Scott Thomas, who has a home in Paris.

In a nod to Kate's keen interest in fashion, newly appointed Givenchy designer Clare Waight Keller is also on the guest list.

They will be served a starter of langoustine before a main course of roast lamb -- but to the French media's amusement, the traditional British mint sauce for the meat will not feature.

On Saturday, the couple will attend a Six Nations rugby match between France and Wales at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Although no official commemoration is planned during the trip, it will be impossible to escape the poignancy of Diana's eldest son visiting the city where she died on August 31, 1997.

William was just 15 and his brother Harry 12 when their mother and her boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed were killed after their Mercedes crashed in central Paris as it was being pursued by press photographers.

Their French chauffeur Henri Paul, who was over the legal blood alcohol limit, also died.

Officials say there are no plans for the prince to visit the crash site in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel.

- 'To help forget Brexit' -

William has announced he is stepping down as an air ambulance helicopter pilot to focus more on royal business.

But he has been attacked in some British newspapers this week after a video emerged of him dancing at a nightclub during a skiing trip with friends in the Swiss resort of Verbier.

Some commentators questioned his work ethic after he missed a Commonwealth ceremony attended by his 90-year-old grandmother Queen Elizabeth II to go on the holiday.

The royal couple will be travelling to Paris without their children, three-year-old George and one-year-old Charlotte.

The prince has made private visits to Paris since his mother's death, including with Harry to watch England play in the 2007 rugby World Cup.

During a holiday in the south of France in 2012, long lens photographs were taken showing Kate topless.

The shots were published in the celebrity magazine Closer but the royal couple took action in the French courts to prevent them being published around the world.