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Camilla to See if the Royal Act Plays in the U.S.

Some say she'll have to overcome Americans' affection for Diana on an upcoming visit. Her mother-in-law is coming around, though.

October 27, 2005|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — Are Americans ready for a possible Queen Camilla?

That's the question Prince Charles and his new bride may be hoping to answer next week as they embark on an eight-day tour of the United States that will take them to New York, Washington and San Francisco.

The couple began testing the waters last week with some unusually solicitous attention to the media. Charles invited American journalists to his Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire, and taped an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes." Then Camilla turned up on the front pages of several British newspapers in an eye-grabbing, diamond-studded royal tiara.

On Wednesday, there was more hobnobbing with American reporters at a send-off party that included U.S. Ambassador Robert Tuttle and his wife, Maria, of Los Angeles. Tuttle promised the prince a warm reception for Camilla in the United States.

But royal-watchers say that could be a challenge, given how hugely popular Princess Diana remains in the United States eight years after her death. Charles' longtime relationship with the woman then known as Camilla Parker Bowles contributed to the breakup of his marriage to Diana in 1996, a year before she died in a Paris car crash.

"She has got to make the Americans love her," Judy Wade, author of several books on the British royals, told Reuters.

A successful U.S. tour showing that Camilla can handle the requisite royal duties abroad with her own down-to-earth grace and aplomb would help ease doubts about whether Britons will accept her as queen when Charles ascends the throne.

At least some British papers believe Camilla has begun to win over Charles' mother, Queen Elizabeth II. The monarch lent her daughter-in-law the sparkling tiara, handed down from Queen Mary, for a state dinner Tuesday, and newspapers here interpreted the gesture as symbolic recognition that Camilla, 58, has finally come into her own as a member of the royal inner circle.

Before the couple's wedding in April, the palace, sensitive to the public's continuing attachment to Diana, said Camilla would not use the title of princess and would be known publicly as the duchess of Cornwall even when Charles became king.

Constitutional experts here quickly pointed out that denying the title of queen to Camilla once she is the wife of a reigning king would contradict precedent. And in royal-watching circles, it is gospel that Charles would like her to have the title, if the public can be won over to the idea.

At Wednesday's send-off, the royal couple looked content, relaxed and affectionate toward each other during the 90-minute event.

It was made clear that the two looked forward to visiting the U.S., where Charles intends to talk about his extensive charitable activities and ask questions about issues in which he has particular interest.

For instance, in California the two will meet with organic farmers in Marin County, and Charles will speak on environmental issues in San Francisco. Also in San Francisco, the couple will meet with people who have been helped by a project to tackle homelessness.

The palace forbade journalists to quote Charles and Camilla at Wednesday's event, and Paddy Harverson, the prince's spokesman, denied the prince was consciously trying to burnish his image.

"I don't think that he is thinking in those terms," Harverson said, though he added that the prince was keen for people to "better understand" the work he does.

Aides note that Charles raised about $200 million last year for 16 charities he founded or that are under his care, in the fields of education, health, arts and the environment. Now Camilla is joining him in those efforts, and also devotes time to her work combating the bone-loss disease osteoporosis.

The prince's biographer, journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, said recently that public attitudes in Britain had shifted in Camilla's favor since she and Charles married.

She is no longer seen as the "other woman," Dimbleby told the BBC, but rather as "a very attractive spouse who makes the prince happy, who appears in public, who is gracious."

"It's quite conceivable that public opinion will say ... yeah, why shouldn't she be queen?" he added.

The prince's backers hope Americans will draw that conclusion as well.

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