Return of the Prince

Prince Charles and Camilla after their wedding in April, with William and Harry. The younger prince says he does not think of her as his
Prince Charles and Camilla after their wedding in April, with William and Harry. The younger prince says he does not think of her as his "wicked stepmother." Below, Camilla, Prince Philip, left, and Queen Elizabeth II before a banquet for Norway's royals in Buckingham Palace on Tuesday. (Pool Photo By Phil Wilkinson)
By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, October 30, 2005

LONDON Almost exactly 20 years ago, the thirty-something Prince of Wales and his dazzling young wife made their first official trip to the United States, and America went all wobbly-kneed. Diana was the Intergalactic It Girl dancing at the White House with John Travolta. And Charles, after a lifetime of ponies and palaces and Mummy dressing him in silly pants, seemed suddenly hip.

This week, a graying Prince Charles arrives again, this time with his second wife, a woman as private as Diana was public, as country as she was city, granite to her diamonds. Camilla Parker Bowles, who became the Duchess of Cornwall when she married Charles in a small civil ceremony in April, has until now been carefully low profile in Britain. She favors boots, preferably muddy. If she has met Bono, the photos have not been in the papers. She is president of an association that fights osteoporosis, which afflicted her mother and grandmother, and she is passionate about good bone health.

She is Charles's comfort and companion, and finally his wife, after decades of being his confidante -- and oh-so-famously, his adulterous paramour -- since they first met in 1970. She is his friend. And she is his age.

Jonathan Dimbleby, the prince's biographer and a noted British broadcaster, said the royal couple's trip to the United States, which starts Tuesday at Ground Zero in Manhattan, will give Americans a chance to see firsthand the new and more sedate reality of Charles's life as Britain's king-in-waiting.

"It will be a much quieter experience," Dimbleby said.

It will also give the former colony a flesh-and-blue-blood look at a royal bride whose fairy tale has been anything but.

The duchess has no speeches -- or official public utterances of any kind -- scheduled on the seven-day trip to New York, Washington and San Francisco. She mainly will play companion to Charles at events as diverse as a black-tie dinner in the early-to-bed Bush White House to a production of "Beach Blanket Babylon" in harder-partying San Francisco.

The royal spin machine has been ratcheting up the duchess's profile in the past week to prepare for her big coming-out party among the coffee-swilling colonists. At a state dinner for the Norwegian monarch, she appeared for the first time publicly wearing a diamond tiara, a headpiece with roughly the same assessed value as Maine. The sparkly photos in all the newspapers were accompanied by stories fawning over Camilla's new role as a style trendsetter -- in a remarkable display of media hypnosis by Charles's image-meisters.

The duchess will certainly be front and center on her upcoming trip, and another public appearance last Sunday also hinted at the way she might conduct herself among the Yanks. At a service at St. Paul's Cathedral marking the 200th anniversary of Britain's great naval victory at Trafalgar, she was smiling, charming, confident and largely silent -- big image, small verbiage. The duchess walked slowly down the long church aisle -- the same one Charles and Diana walked down on their wedding day in 1981 -- wearing an elegant aqua-blue velvet dress and matching hat, her prince at her side.

Jackie Holloway was there, looking jolly well pleased.

"It was sad his marriage to Diana broke down," said Holloway, 56, quickly adding that the new couple made a lovely pair.

Still, said her friend Shirley Roberson, 49, it would be a mistake to make Camilla queen.

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