Six months after their wedding, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive in Washington next week for a carefully choreographed visit designed to show a more mature and happier heir to the throne.
The visit, which includes a lunch and dinner at the White House, a seminar at Georgetown and a visit to the National Institutes of Health, will also give Americans their first close-up glimpse of Camilla, who has undergone a remarkable image makeover since her wedding.
No longer described as frumpy in the media here, Camilla is now seen as a fashion trendsetter, albeit more for the Burberry and tweed crowd.
"I don't think people associated Camilla with the word 'chic' before her wedding," but now they do, said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty, a magazine about royal life.
In fact a new book of colloquial expressions includes the phrase "Camilla chic," part of an overall lifting of the duchess's image since Princess Diana, Prince Charles's first wife, famously called her the "Rottweiler." Diana, an enormously beloved figure who died in a car crash in 1997, had complained that Charles and Camilla had carried on a relationship while she was married to him, causing a backlash against the woman who now has taken her place.
But as time has passed since Diana's death, and especially since the April wedding, Camilla has received decidedly better reviews. Little noted that perhaps it's as simple as Camilla coming out of the shadows and people liking what they see: "Before, nobody really knew much about her."
Susie Dent, the author of the pop culture language book, said the turnaround in perception about Camilla's fashion sense "has gone hand in hand with change in opinion about her. She was an outsider and now she is very much accepted. She has been legitimized."
Of course, Dent pointed out, Camilla's "status is still fairly precarious. Who knows what will happen to the royal family tomorrow?"
Camilla's face -- framed by a massive diamond tiara -- was splashed across front pages here Tuesday as newspapers prominently noted that it was the first time she wore in public a tiara loaned to her by the queen. "Resplendent in diamonds, the Duchess of Cornwall last night staked her place as the second lady of the land," the Daily Mail gushed, describing her as having "regal composure" at the state dinner at Buckingham Palace for the king and queen of Norway. That kind of positive tabloid press was all but unthinkable six months ago.
The royal couple are to arrive in New York Tuesday and their first stop is a visit to Ground Zero, where British victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are also to be remembered. Prince Charles and Camilla are to meet U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and attend a reception at the Museum of Modern Art.
Their three-day Washington visit starts Wednesday with a private lunch at the White House, followed by a visit to the School for Educational Evolution and Development in Southeast Washington and an official White House dinner.
Thursday and Friday, the couple have numerous appearances including an NIH seminar on osteoporosis -- a passionate interest of Camilla, whose mother and grandmother suffered from the disease -- and a Georgetown seminar on "faith and social responsibility."
Prince Charles will accept the Vincent Scully Prize at the National Building Museum in recognition of his interest in architecture and urban planning. The couple are also to lay a wreath at the National World War II Memorial, and attend a children's workshop at the Folger Shakespeare Library, before heading off to San Francisco for the weekend.
On the West Coast, Prince Charles is to deliver a speech on environmental issues and meet with organic farmers. Sunday in San Francisco the couple are to attend a performance of "Beach Blanket Babylon" (perhaps on a recommendation from Queen Elizabeth, who saw the long-running musical spoof on her U.S. visit in 1983). "Beach Blanket Babylon" follows Snow White as she, in search of her Prince Charming, encounters pop-culture characters along the way, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paris Hilton, Jennifer Lopez, the Beatles and George W. Bush.
At a reception Tuesday at Clarence House, the couple's London residence, Charles and Camilla worked two roomfuls of Americans living in London, from business leaders to members of the media. Royal conversations were declared off the record, but much of the interest in the room was focused on Camilla, who has a deep and aristocratic voice yet speaks in a down-to-earth, engaging way. She gave no hint of nervousness about her first royal visit as she made her way around the room in her tweed suit with a turquoise velvet collar and buttons, yet another outfit for the photographers waiting in the hallway.
After speaking with her, U.S. Ambassador Robert Tuttle said there was enormous excitement and curiosity about the couple's upcoming trip to the United States. As for Camilla, he said, Americans are "going to love her."
Palace spokesmen and advisers are hoping the trip will help highlight the charity work Prince Charles does, work that has been overshadowed over the years amid all the brouhaha over his love life.
Prince Charles spokesman Paddy Harverson called the heir to the throne a "charitable entrepreneur," and said he had raised $180 million last year for a variety of causes. In describing the prince's typical day, Harverson noted that he does not do e-mail, preferring written memos, and that he spends considerable time on correspondence and keeping abreast of important news and state affairs. He also heads the Prince's Charities, 16 charities that focus on a range of services from youth job training to obtaining loans for older people to start small businesses.
Duchy Originals, the organic food brand that Charles established in 1990, earned a $1.7 million profit that was turned over to charity, his aides said. While much has been made in the British press of rich Americans donating to the prince's charities in exchange for dinner with him -- so called "cash for royal access" -- they said less than 1 percent of the charity money comes from U.S. patrons.
Perhaps in the hope of erasing any images of the prince spending his days doing little more than walking around his considerable gardens, if not talking to his plants, Harverson noted that Charles's schedule is full of meetings and fundraisers -- and that he attended 501 public events last year. While Harverson said this U.S. trip was not about "changing the prince's image," he added that there was "insufficient understanding of his role."