BEAMING from ear to ear, the Countess of Wessex opened Heatherside Pre-School's Golden Jubilee Fair in her first solo engagement.

The countess spent 45 minutes touring the fair and talking to staff, committee members and children who were helping on the stalls.

She seemed to relish the outing and clearly loved talking to the children.

A spokeswoman for the countess, who lives at Bagshot Park, said: "She loves children, that's obvious, and she has made no secret that she wants to start a family of her own."

She added that the Countess of Wessex was "having a brilliant time" and was "smiling from ear to ear all morning".

She and her husband were devastated last year when the countess had to be airlifted to hospital with an ectopic pregnancy.

The spokeswoman said the first solo visit was "poignant" as it was linked to the Queen's golden jubilee celebrations.

She added that the countess had been "very much looking forward" to opening the fair.

Pre-school committee chairman Juliet Miles and fundraiser Claire Fox had written to the countess directly to invite her to the event.

Mrs Miles said the day would be remembered by all at the pre-school for a very long time.

Crowds with Union flags had gathered around the Heatherside Community Centre to cheer the royal guest as she arrived.

Ryan McCartney and Anna Williamson, both four, were on hand to present her with a posy of white roses as a gift from the pre-school.

Taking her time to tour the fair, the countess chatted to stall holders, staff and children, and showed a great interest in their activities.

She took delight seeing children making crowns from shiny paper and card, and as our picture shows she was intrigued to see Katherine Rowett, four, having her face painted by Kim Anderson.

Hayley Burnell, 14, and Katy Thomas, 13, spoke to the countess about nail varnish and temporary tattoos when she visited their stall.

Hayley said: "She started looking at the tattoos and asked what you had to do with them, and we told her that you had to put them on with warm water. She disappeared a bit quick!"

The teenager added that the countess wasn't keen on the idea of having her own tattoo.

Visitors to the fair and parents of children were anxious to get a glimpse of the guest, who was dressed in a navy skirt and checked jacket.

Throughout the event her smile never wavered and she seemed delighted to see the pre-school enjoying itself.

After cutting a special jubilee cake, the countess had a quick cuppa before moving on to a magic show.

Clearly having fun, she joined children and helped to check whether Bertie the Bunny was asleep in the magic box.

Four-year-olds Jahig Tomkyn and Rachel Bishop presented the countess with a special jubilee card to give to the Queen.

Inside the purple card, each of the pre-school children had drawn his or her face.

Requests for royal visits from the Wessexes had been pouring in since the couple announced they were giving up their businesses to concentrate on royal duties.

"It's a good start for the golden jubilee," added the spokeswoman.

The countess then went on an impromptu walkabout and was presented with a posy of hyacinths and ivy by Jasmine Day, four.

Jasmine had won a disposable camera at the fair and the countess posed for a photograph.

Her mum Lisa said: "I thought it would be nice for Jasmine to give her a posy and Sophie asked if she had picked the flowers herself, and Jasmine said that her mum had."

She described the countess as "incredible".