WINDSOR, England – When Prince Charles emerged from the Windsor town hall Saturday, newly wed to the woman who has bewitched him since 1972, he stood for a moment on the cobblestones and glanced at the street tableau. He looked characteristically pained. This is what he saw:
Hundreds of cameras whirring, blinking and flashing from the balconies of pubs and hotels.
Thousands of British monarchy fans and gawking foreign tourists, standing 10 deep at the barricades, many of whom had weathered the three-hour wait with coffee, water and Mars bars. A passel of spectators wearing oversized Prince Charles ears, cut from cardboard.
A bedsheet adorned with the words, “Let He Who Is Without Sin Cast The First Stone.”
Camilla Parker Bowles, now known as the Duchess of Cornwall, was already striding toward the Phantom VI Rolls Royce. Charles, surveying the scene with well-practiced dispassion, managed only a tentative wave, five fingers fluttering. The crowd didn’t roar, in the way that crowds normally greet celebrities. Amidst scattered cheers, most people simply eyed him curiously, reciprocating his tepid greeting.
The Brits who revere Princess Diana basically stayed away; the spectacle alone was enough to draw perhaps 20,000, including one guy who doffed his clothes and dashed naked toward Windsor Castle, before landing in the embrace of the police. Many were tourists off the train from London, talking in a dozen languages, with no stake in the royal saga. Nevertheless, many of the Brits on the scene seemed anxious to turn the page and indulge Charles for a day, at least for the sake of respecting the monarchy.
Consider, for example, Roberta Vicary and Virginia Hanscomb, elderly twin sisters.
“He’s done some stupid things and said some stupid things,” said Vicary, who runs a graphics program in London. “But it would be a shame and tragedy if the monarchy ever came to an end. It’s important to keep the tradition. Charles has hurt the tradition. Yet the danger to the monarchy goes beyond that. The young generation doesn’t pay any attention to it. They’re not taught about it. It’s slowly dying.”
And now the Brits are being asked to accept Camilla in the role once filled by Diana. The same Camilla, who, upon meeting Charles 33 years ago, said to him, “My great-grandmother and your great-great grandfather were lovers. So how about it?” The same Camilla, it is said, who several days before Charles’ wedding to Diana, sent the prince a gold chain bracelet with the letters G and F entwined – a reference to Girl Friday, the pet name he had given her.
“It’s all a bit touchy, really,” said Vicary. “But at least she is not taking Diana’s title (Princess of Wales), out of respect for Diana. Because a lot of people would not have liked that.”
“And Camilla for years has also been very discreet, she has given no interviews,” said Hanscomb, who works as a “dinner lady” in a grammar school. “Camilla is not a blabber.”
One big hope for the royals is that Diana’s mystique will fade, at least enough for Camilla to win acceptance. That’s important for the future of the monarchy, because, by tradition, she would be queen if and when Charles succeeds his mother, Queen Elizabeth.
Judging by the reaction Saturday, Operation CPB, the royal family’s nickname for the eight-year-old campaign to promote Camilla Parker Bowles, appears to be working – at least among monarchy loyalists like Roy Rice, a maintenance worker from Somerset.
“So many people put on the rose-colored glasses about Diana,” he said. “Charles and Camilla never got the rose-colored glasses. Charles is a sensible bloke, he doesn’t just go the way the wind blows in the world. And this girl Camilla, she’s the only serious love he’s ever had, no offense to Diana. People don’t look at the situation sensibly. In the shallow world we live in today, people don’t see the substance.”
Nevertheless, even Charles-Camilla sympathizers didn’t view Saturday’s ceremonies through rose-colored glasses. They were bloody annoyed at how the wedding plans were handled; as Charles’ former private secretary, Mark Boland, remarked the other day, the long string of mishaps “created (public) indifference and contempt, where there should be relief and celebration.”
The first idea, announced in February, was to have a civil ceremony in Windsor Castle. Then the BBC revealed that an 1836 law barred royals from marrying in civil ceremonies, and that a new law would have to be passed to allow the event. Debate on this raged for three weeks, until it was decided that a 2000 human rights law, interpreted loosely, superseded the old law.
In the midst of that controversy, however, the castle wedding had to be shelved when the prince’s staffers belatedly realized that the license permitting a civil ceremony would run for three years, thereby allowing commoners to marry there. The royals couldn’t abide that; hence the move to town hall. Meanwhile, Charles’ mother and father announced they wouldn’t attend the wedding anyway, regardless of venue.
“It’s all so embarrassing, isn’t it?” said Hanscomb. “This sort of thing gives the people who don’t like Charles and Camilla a bigger excuse now to kick them.”