The Earl of Lichfield, official photographer at the wedding of Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales, sits in his hotel suite, slightly unsettled by the onslaught of media attention directed at him.

"I suppose it's only natural," he says of America's fascination with the British royal family. "We're English-speaking like you are, and" -- he smiles slightly -- "you don't have one."

Yesterday, Washington had Lord Lichfield. He was accompanied by a color print of his official photograph of the wedding party and families, which sat on an easel stand in the Palm Court of the Sheraton-Carlton. The arrival of the prince and princess in Washington is still two weeks away, but the festivities have begun. The royal couple, patrons of the National Gallery's upcoming "Treasure Houses of Britain" show, will remain in Washington for four days and then head on to Palm Beach, Fla.

J.C. Penney -- as part of its "Best of Britain" promotion -- and the Sheraton-Carlton held a tea for Patrick Lichfield (his professional name). Lady Wright, the wife of the British ambassador, acting ashostess, and Mary Pettus, a public relations executive who organized the event, greeted guests as they arrived and sipped sherry or tea and ate cucumber sandwiches and pastries.

Lichfield's photographs are on exhibit at the Virginia Penney stores, one of which -- at Fair Oaks Mall -- he will visit today.

"It's just to give American audiences a taste of Britain," said Deborah Masten, district merchandise coordinator of J.C. Penney. The Springfield Mall store has been selected as one of the few places Charles and Diana will visit during their stay.

Guests yesterday were mostly women, swathed in silk and jewelry. They included Effi Barry, the wife of Washington's mayor, as well as the wives of various ambassadors and congressmen. Catherine Stevens, wife of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), brought her young daughter in a straw-brimmed hat.

Have any of them shopped at J.C. Penney?

"I have," said Carolyn Deaver, wife of former presidential aide Michael Deaver. "Anyone with a 10-year-old son has been there."

In a town where certain invitations are coveted -- and where those to parties featuring Charles and Diana will be the most prized of the season -- few guests wanted to divulge their social schedules.

Deaver and her husband are going to the White House dinner for the royal couple. "It's become almost hysteria," she said. "There's so much written."

"Ask her," said Buffy Cafritz pointing to Jayne Ikard. "Aren't you going to Palm Beach?"

"No," said Ikard. "I thought you were going."

"No," said Cafritz.

"I'm just not talking," said Ikard. "Two friends of mine who told me they were invited to some things told me not to tell anyone."

Betty Lou Ourisman, wife of the car magnate, was annoyed that a statement she made in jest about going to extremes for an invitation was distorted. "Anyone who knows me knows I wouldn't ask for an invitation," Ourisman said. "I wouldn't ask my children for an invitation."

Some have other plans. "I have my own royalty coming," chuckled Ulla Wachtmeister, wife of the Swedish ambassador, who will be busy with the visit of Prince Bertil and Princess Lilian.

Sarah Burns, wife of British embassy press counselor Andrew Burns, will only attend the National Gallery dinner for the royal couple with her husband. "They're here to meet Americans," she said, "not their own people."

Lichfield lamented that he would not get to any of the parties for the royal couple (he will be in Spain, photographing the king). Lichfield, who has an estate in Shugborough, is a lender to the National Gallery show. "I loaned them some Wedgewood china," he said.

Lichfield said he had only 20 minutes to take the royal wedding photographs. For the huge group wedding portrait, he said, "I worked out the various heights the night before. And then I got numbers and stuck them on the floor and told everyone to stand in their place."

To capture the picture of the wedding party collapsed on the floor in a laughing heap of crinolines and satin, with Diana's wedding veil askew, Lichfield said, "I actually employed the old trick of pretending to finish before I had . . . I just said, 'I'm through,' and they all collapsed."