A Crash Course in Pomp and Protocol

At the National Building Museum, Shelagh Cole cleans stained glass pieces, part of an exhibit prepared for the visit of Charles and Camilla.
At the National Building Museum, Shelagh Cole cleans stained glass pieces, part of an exhibit prepared for the visit of Charles and Camilla. (Photos By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

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By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Kendra Roberts, a 15-year-old unaccustomed to socializing with anyone who lives in a palace, will lead a trio of visitors today on a tour of her high school in Southeast Washington.

That she is nervous may be an acute understatement.

"It's a prince. I'm going to get to walk around with royalty," gushed the ninth-grader at the School of Educational Evolution and Development, a public charter boarding school. "It's something I've been dreaming about."

As Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall, arrive today for their first visit as a royal couple to the nation's capital, Washingtonians are planning and preparing and choreographing the itinerary down to the last hors d'oeuvre.

Part of a weeklong trip to the United States, the three-day royal stay in Washington is to include plenty of face time with the mighty, including lunch with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush at the White House today. Seven hours and a visit to Kendra's school later, they will return to the White House, where the Bushes will hold a black-tie dinner in their honor.

After the day of White House glitz, the royal couple will make stops related to their interests. Tomorrow morning, as part of Camilla's quest to help find a cure for osteoporosis, they will attend a seminar on the subject at the National Institutes of Health. That afternoon, they will visit the National Building Museum, where Charles will speak and pick up a prize for his championing of architecture and urban design.

Kendra said that to prepare for the visit to her school, she has learned the dos and don'ts of how to address the royal couple, including that "we have to wait to shake his hand."

In recent days, she said, she researched Prince Charles on the Internet, read about Princess Diana and learned that they had two sons. She said she hopes she can ask him at least one question: "Does he have time to relax?"

This being Washington, where the powerful can be found shopping at the market, not everyone is so star-struck. Stephen Katz, an NIH director who will help lead the seminar on osteoporosis, said he has met plenty of important people in his long career, including two presidents and countless senators and congressmen.

In other words, Katz said, he's not sweating his wardrobe. "I wear what I'm going to wear," he said. "There's no black tie and no tails."

Nor is he all that concerned, he said, about the whens and ifs of the royal handshake. "If they put out the hand, you shake the hand," he said, adding that he is more preoccupied with the visit's larger significance.

"It helps us with our information dissemination, and what could be better than that?" he asked.

Others are focused on the whens and ifs, though. Shar Taylor, vice president of development at the building museum, said she learned five weeks ago that the royal couple would visit the institution. "At that point, we had to start running," she said, seated at her desk, which was cluttered with guest lists and a diagram of the museum's main floor.

The logistical challenges are daunting, she said, particularly when it comes to ensuring that 1,200 invited guests make it through a gantlet of security, that they register and that they take their seats -- all within 60 minutes.

Taylor's tasks have also included sending e-mails to 80 VIP guests advising them to greet the prince and duchess as "your royal highness." If the conversation goes beyond that, she recommended that guests refer to Charles as "sir" and to Camilla as "ma'am."

Then there are the more mundane details, such as figuring out which restrooms the prince and duchess will use, if necessary -- a subject she was not all that eager to delve into.

"Maybe it's because I'm British," said Taylor, 38.

She was more willing to recall her mother's reaction when she told her that she was arranging the royal visit to the museum.

"She said, 'I'm just so proud of you,' and then burst into tears," Taylor recalled, her face momentarily breaking into a grin.


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