SAN FRANCISCO — Prince Charles, one of the world's wealthiest and most famous organic farmers, traveled more than 5,000 miles to support a message children worldwide are fond of ignoring: Skip the junk food and get to know vegetables.
Guided by restaurateur and organic food doyenne Alice Waters, the prince and Camilla, duchess of Cornwall, toured the "Edible Schoolyard" of Berkeley's Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, where children grow food, cook it and learn the cultural value of sharing meals.
It was just part of the royal juggernaut in the Bay Area that had this sophisticated city agog over the graying middle-aged heir to the British throne and his new wife.
No one here could give any reason why the denizens of this city seemed so enthralled -- at least not any reason that wouldn't be given in a small town unaccustomed to visiting celebrities.
"It's royalty; I think there's an intrigue, a mystery to it," San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said before he joined the couple Sunday night for a showing of his city's beloved "Beach Blanket Babylon," touted as the longest-running musical revue in history.
Even the other visiting foreign dignitary, the Dalai Lama, in town over the weekend, took second billing to the royal couple on some nightly newscasts.
A marquee in front of Big Al's, an adult bookstore, proclaimed "ROYAL SALE -- 20% OFF FOR CHUCK & CAMILLA."
On Monday, after watching children industriously grind greens and cook pizza with garden-grown toppings in Berkeley, the royal couple was ferried across the bay to San Francisco's Embarcadero, where Charles gave a speech on the environment before several hundred leaders of business and civic organizations. The prince drew applause when he said: "It's wonderful to be back in this part of the world with my darling wife."
"It seems far too long since I was last in California -- 29 years ago," Charles told the group as he fingered the University of California tie with yellow bears he sported -- "when I picked up this splendid tie."
Unquestionably, the real power of a royal visit is the global media that follows the visitors and envelops everyone around them -- the anti-Ethiopian regime protesters in Berkeley clutching placards, Waters with her dream of organically sustainable school cafeterias, the city's mayor proclaiming before the prince's speech that San Francisco has the most electrified vehicles of any city and a homeless shelter featuring organic foods.
Charles and Camilla, for their part, were said to be enjoying the swing through the West Coast -- particularly their stay in woodsy west Marin County. "They're never happier than when they're in their homes in the country," said Paddy Harverson, communications secretary for the couple. "They're country people, really."
On Sunday afternoon, the couple made their way into the city, setting up camp at the Fairmont Hotel. That evening was their night to cut loose.
"They both wanted to do something in town," said Harverson. "This was our big chance."
So like millions of tourists before them, including Queen Elizabeth, they trooped off to "Beach Blanket Babylon."
The show, featuring elaborate hats and costumes, gently parodies reigning pop icons. But it only brushed at the pop icons sitting down front when the actors onstage needled the prince: "The duchess, so charming, does she share your passion for organic farming?"
The audience was an invitation-only collection of San Francisco's political and social elite -- the mayor, Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris, socialite Ann Getty, Gordon Getty and author Danielle Steel.
And for the finale, San Francisco chief of protocol Charlotte Maillard Shultz donned a Wonder Woman costume and flew briefly on a wire over the theater before her husband, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, came out, ripped open his dress shirt to reveal a Superman T-shirt and "saved" her from the wire. (The couple have done a version of this shtick for special performances through the years.)
Actor Ryan Rigazzi, who played a character dressed in a giant hat topped with a bottle that said "Oil of Ole" met Charles backstage. Rigazzi said of the encounter: "He said, 'That was a lovely Spanish accent.' I said, 'Oh, thanks!' What do you say to a prince?"
By late Monday, Camilla, wearing a coat and matching dress a color the Brits call "Air Force blue," had begun to make jokes about how she was always willing to nibble when some well-meaning cook or merchant thrust food upon her. "I'm eating again," she said when a staffer at the Ferry Building chocolatier, Recchiuti, offered her a bit of brownie.
Never too far from Camilla was her assistant, Amanda McManus, carrying the odd scarf or bouquet for her. Unlike the queen of England (or Diana when she was married to Charles), Camilla has no ladies-in-waiting. "She doesn't want them. She doesn't need them," Harverson said.