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An Opportune Time for a Royal Visit

Entertaining Prince Charles and his wife may provide a welcome respite for a White House under pressure.

November 01, 2005|Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — As Prince Charles and his wife prepare to visit the White House and other sites this week during their first trip to the United States since they married in April, Camilla was said to be "a bit nervous" about her reception in a nation that doted on his first wife, the late Princess Diana.

But at the White House, which has been besieged by weeks of bad news and is bracing for a donnybrook with Democrats over the nomination of conservative jurist Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court, a few hours spent entertaining Britain's royal couple could provide a welcome break.

"For a White House inundated with bad news, this visit will allow the president and Mrs. Bush to shift gears for a day," said Democratic consultant Donna Brazile.

Former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clark, a Republican, agreed. "Everyone will enjoy the visit, and there will probably be a brief respite from the fighting in this town when they are here."

For dedicated royal-watchers on both sides of the Atlantic, the first question was how Prince Charles' wife, the former Camilla Parker Bowles, would handle celebrity-crazed Americans. To the glitterati, Camilla sometimes has seemed a bit dowdy compared with Diana.

But the spotlight will be on her during the visit. These days Camilla is being outfitted with designer gowns and hats and is practicing yoga to project a sense of elan.

As president of Britain's National Osteoporosis Society, she will take the lead in one event during the couple's eight-day stay -- a visit to the National Institutes of Health for a seminar.

In an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday, the prince resisted efforts by correspondent Steve Kroft to discuss his personal life, and the palace turned down all requests for interviews with the duchess.

"The strategy is to present Camilla as an unobtrusive supporting player, rather than as a romantic lead," one royal family advisor told London's Daily Express.

If the trip offers a stage for presenting the royal couple, it's something of a political godsend for Bush and other White House officials, providing the chance to pose with Charles and Camilla and bask in the media frenzy.

The royals' visit is crammed with events both symbolic and substantive -- designed largely to demonstrate that the prince, who turns 57 in two weeks, has the gravitas and grace to be king should his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, relinquish the throne.

In New York today, the couple will dedicate the British Memorial Garden at the World Trade Center site, meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and attend a reception at the Museum of Modern Art.

In Washington, they will lunch at the White House on Wednesday and join First Lady Laura Bush in planting a tree at a Washington-area boarding school before attending a White House dinner hosted by the president.

On Thursday, after the NIH briefing, Charles -- a critic of contemporary architecture -- is to receive the Vincent Scully Prize at the National Building Museum and will attend a seminar on "faith and social responsibility" at Georgetown University. Friday, the couple will lay a wreath to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, and will meet with children at a workshop at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

By Saturday, eager to showcase the prince's organic-farming products -- part of his empire of 16 charities that last year raised $200 million -- the royal couple will visit the Point Reyes Farmers' Market in Marin County. While in the Bay Area, the prince will give a speech on environmental issues and meet graduates of a project to tackle homelessness.

"It's not a grand campaign," Paddy Harverson, the prince's communications secretary, said recently. "The American media are very interested in what the prince does, and we're helping them by showing them. It's what the prince calls 'seeing is believing' "

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Times staff writer Emma Vaughn contributed to this report.

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