A Down-to-Earth Royal Twosome

By Libby Copeland and Paul Richard
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 4, 2005

For the longest time, people other than Camilla Parker Bowles spoke for Camilla Parker Bowles, and they said the most awful things.

Now, nearly 35 years after she first met and fell for the Prince of Wales, she is the Duchess of Cornwall, and she carries herself as such. Good riddance to Charles's frumpy mistress. In a dark teal suit and pearls yesterday, she was dignified, not at all other-womanly, and even that winged blond hair -- moppish under the worst circumstances -- looked lustrous.

The duchess was at the National Institutes of Health to make a rare public statement, the only one planned for her U.S. visit. With the prince beside her, she addressed a boardroom full of doctors, U.S. officials and advocates in the fight against osteoporosis, a disease that afflicted her mother and grandmother.

"Ladies and gentlemen," she said, "as president of the National Osteoporosis Society, I would just like to say how delighted my husband and I are to be at the NIH today."

Husband! Yes, indeed. Camilla has been waiting a long time to say that word, and perhaps it still thrills her; they've been married only seven months. But they seem easy together, two royal highnesses with few fairy-tale illusions, two adults of middle age who were lovers off and on for decades, even while married, even while being pummeled in the press. They have watched each other age. They have seen each other's worst photographs, along with the rest of the world. Britain is a country that bans the chasing of foxes by dogs, but has no similar restrictions on the hounding of its royals.

By now, one imagines, they have learned to shake off the indignities of public life.

When they arrived at NIH yesterday morning, Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona mistakenly guided the duchess over to a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows, perhaps thinking they were sliding doors. The two stopped just short of the glass. The photographers click-clicked away at the gaffe.

The duchess laughed. The prince laughed. They all went inside.

In the lobby of the clinical center, staff and patients cheered and clamored for the royals. The duchess stooped to reach their outstretched hands. Upstairs, she took a seat in a boardroom, her husband beside her in a chair outfitted with a back cushion. (Such are the accompaniments to mature love.) The room filled with U.S. officials and representatives of the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the U.S.-based sister organization to the U.K. charity the duchess has headed since 2001. As NIH Director Elias Zerhouni made introductory remarks, the duchess looked nervous. She sipped her water a few times. She nodded intently, holding her speech propped open in front of her. When she spoke, her voice carried gravitas.

"I first became involved with osteoporosis after both my mother and my grandmother died as a result of this devastating disease," she said. She offered statistics and financial figures, and urged people on both sides of the Atlantic to work together to "prevent future generations worldwide from suffering the pain and ignominy of osteoporosis."

When she finished, she looked at her husband expectantly, and he met her with a warm smile.

Carmona handed the duchess a 404-page tome: an autographed copy of his "Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General," released last year.

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