LONDON, Feb. 10 -- Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles strode beaming into a dinner at Windsor Castle on Thursday evening, their first public appearance since trading in the label of prince and mistress for officially engaged couple. The bride-to-be sported an elegant platinum and diamond ring, a royal heirloom that signifies their plans to marry on April 8.
The surprise engagement announcement earlier in the day capped several years of quiet campaigning by the heir to the British throne to wed his longtime companion, casting off the stigma of adultery and the shadow of his glamorous ex-wife, the late Princess Diana.
The Prince of Wales and his partner Camilla Parker Bowles attend the Mey Games in Caithness, Scotland on Aug. 7, 2004.
(David Cheskin - PA)
Asked at the dinner Thursday evening if Charles had gone down on his knees to propose, Parker Bowles answered, "Of course," adding, "I'm just coming down to earth."
In 1981, the announcement of Charles's engagement to Diana brought crowds spontaneously to the gates of Buckingham Palace. There was nothing like that in London on Thursday; Britons who care about the royal family seemed to think of this more as a long-delayed wrapping up of unfinished business.
A YouGov agency poll conducted for the Daily Telegraph newspaper after the announcement found that a majority of respondents favored the marriage. "There's broad support for them to conduct their private lives, but not as much support for them to play a public role," said Peter Kellner, YouGov's chairman. But for the first time, he said, a poll by the group found majority support for Charles's eldest son, Prince William, succeeding Queen Elizabeth II as monarch.
Several factors came together to produce the carefully brokered deal among the British government, the queen and the Church of England to allow the wedding to go forward, according to knowledgeable observers.
Chief among them was the support of the new archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the negotiating efforts of Michael Peat, the prince's chief of staff, and Charles's own growing impatience with the ambiguous status and occasional public humiliation of Parker Bowles.
Charles had planned to wait until summer, following the expected completion of a Scotland Yard inquest into Diana's death in a Paris car crash more than seven years ago. But he decided to act, due to a possible delay in that inquiry and dismay over an incident in November involving his godson's wedding. He and Parker Bowles declined to attend after he was informed that she would have to sit several rows behind him at the ceremony and come and go in a separate car.
"He was prepared to sit separately, but driving in separate cars was just a nonsense," said Robert Lacey, the queen's biographer. "I know from close friends of his that he was deeply upset by this. And for once, this man, notorious for wavering, has stepped up to the plate and made a strong decision."
The deal that will allow Charles to wed the woman with whom he conducted a long affair while both were married to other people was carefully constructed to meet the demands of both church and state.
The wedding will be a private civil ceremony at Windsor Castle, but a service of prayer and dedication in the castle's 14th-century St. George's Chapel will follow, presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury. The Church of England altered its rules two years ago to allow the remarriage of divorced people in church services, but only for those who were deemed innocent parties in the previous breakups. Neither Charles nor Camilla would seem to qualify by that standard.
No official heir to the throne has ever wed in a civil ceremony.
Officials at Clarence House, Charles's headquarters, emphasized that Parker Bowles would take the title of Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall and would not be known as the Princess of Wales, the title held by and popularly identified with Diana.
They also noted that if Charles, who is 56, becomes king, Camilla, 57, will be known as the Princess Consort and will not be crowned queen. Prince William and Prince Harry, Charles's children with Diana, will remain his heirs.