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Americans Welcome Britain’s Royals

On Tuesday, Prince Charles of England and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, began a weeklong visit to the United States. It is the royal couple's first official trip abroad since being married last April, and crowds of gawkers, well-wishers and detractors have been greeting them throughout their visit.

If there has been an official highlight to the royal visit of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, to America, it was Wednesday's White House dinner, where His Royal Highness proposed a toast in which he quoted Britain's late Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“The friendliness of the Americans to the traveler from Britain, their unfailing kindness, their generous hospitality, are something to marvel at,” said the Prince.” Now I propose a toast to you, Mr. President, to Mrs. Bush, and to the People of the United States of America.”

Large crowds have come to see Prince Charles and Camilla at every stop on their tour. When a reporter asks royalty observer David Phillips why Americans, who have no monarchy, are so interested, he says our democratic ideology makes following the royals a guilty pleasure.

“Our country was founded in reaction against the British royalty,” says Mr. Phillips, ‘so when George the Sixth came here in the nineteen thirties as a guest of Franklin Roosevelt, the mayor of Chicago said he was going to punch him in the nose! The mayor became immensely popular for saying that. But still, everybody lined the streets to see the King, and he was on all the newsreels,” continues David Phillips. “And by the time he left, everybody loved him. Mrs. Roosevelt served him hot dogs at Hyde Park… which the King loved!”

The enthusiasm that has greeted Prince Charles and Camilla has surprised British-born writer Christopher Mason, who has been covering their visit for the New York Times. “It's a remarkable leap from the very sordid days, about eight years ago, when it seemed the Prince of Wales' image was at an absolute nadir -- and Camilla's too,” he says, adding. “There has been a remarkable turnaround. I'm amazed. Althogh some of the press has been rather vicious.”

Perhaps a lot of the viciousness is due to the disappointment over the end of the so-called fairy tale marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Prince Charles' first wife. The couple had been estranged for years before her death in a car crash in 1997, and the Prince had publicly admitted committing adultery with Camilla during their marriage. This outraged millions of Diana's admirers. Mr. Mason says that, during the 1980s, before the scandals and the tragedy, Princess Diana had won the hearts of even the most jaded New Yorkers during her visit here.

‘I remember the whole city was just riveted by the idea of this extremely beautiful young gorgeous creature,” Mr. Mason says. “There was the combination of her extreme beauty and elegance, and the amazing way she photographed, and this amazing sense of vulnerability which was an irresistible combination.”

By most measures, Camilla cuts a somewhat less glamorous figure than Diana did. In fact, the tabloids have called the Duchess of Cornwall frumpy, dumpy and worse. But according to David Phillips, it is not just the late Diana's beauty that's fueled criticism of the Duchess, but also the late Princess' immense charisma which, he says, “she manipulated with expert skill to the point where everybody in the world was a partisan of hers against her beastly husband, who naturally, when she dies, she becomes a saint, and when he remarries, everybody says 'Oh what a frump.'” Mr. Phillips adds that, if Prince Charles had married a young beautiful woman, they would have criticized him for that.” It isn't that she is beautiful or not," he says," it's that she succeeded Diana which nobody can stand, because they care so much!”

When asked just why people seem to care so much about royal marriages, infidelities and other dramas, Mr. Phillips likes to quote Walter Bagehot, the 19th century commentator on the English Constitution who wrote that “a princely marriage is a brilliant edition of a universal fact, and, as such, rivets mankind.”

“I think what he meant by that was that everybody gets married,“ says Mr. Phillips, “but when the prince gets married, it's sort of up there in diamonds so we can look up there and project our own life into this sort of super-life that is being presented to us in the media.” He adds, “I think that kind of projection is a lot of the reason why ordinary people - and all Americans are 'ordinary' people by definition! - still follow the sagas of the royals.”

\It seems that most Americans have begun to warm once again to Prince Charles, and to accommodate themselves to Camilla, who may become Queen when Charles assumes the throne. The couple returns home November 8th after their visits to New York, Washington, New Orleans and San Francisco.