Tuesday, November 1, 2005

They arrive in Washington today loaded down with a wardrobe of 50 dresses (for her) and double-breasted tweeds, ties and tux (for him); 20 servants; makeup artists; and an entourage of 50 members of the British press at an estimated cost of close to a half-million dollars.

Prince Charles and his bride, Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall, will be feted with royal hospitality during their three-day visit to Washington.

Part charm offensive, part public-relations campaign to introduce the newly married couple, the British Foreign Office is sending its middle-aged envoys abroad to help repair the royal family’s dysfunctional image.

“I think it will be seen as a sort of ‘coming of age’ of Charles and Camilla’s relationship,” said Alec Russell, Washington bureau chief for the London Daily Telegraph. “I think she’ll probably get a very good reception. She’s quite a grand and likable figure.”

But not everyone is ready to embrace the 58-year-old woman who famously broke up the Prince of Wales’ marriage to Princess Diana, who died in a 1997 car crash a year after the divorce. In love for about three decades, Charles and Camilla — whose illicit late-night phone calls were recorded during his marriage to Diana — finally tied the knot six months ago in England, and some suspect the wedding was hastened by the prince’s previously scheduled U.S. trip.

A group of protesters plans to demonstrate against Charles’ new bride.

“This is Diana country,” said Lisa Stewart, a member of Diana Circle, a group of die-hard fans who are staunchly anti-Camilla.

Charles last made a trip to Washington in 2004 to attend former President Ronald Reagan’s funeral. The prince’s previous visit before that was in 1994.

Security will be tight, and more than 200 members of the press have credentials to cover the visit, including today’s luncheon at the White House hosted by President Bush and first lady Laura Bush. There also will be a black-tie dinner tonight at the White House, where rumored guests include director Steven Spielberg.

The British Embassy is hosting a reception tomorrow night for the royal couple, who will fly to California on Friday for the weekend.

Other events include a visit to Georgetown University and a seminar at the National Institutes of Health on the subject of osteoporosis, a favorite cause of Camilla’s. Charles also will be awarded the prestigious Vincent Scully Prize at the National Building Museum in honor of his interest in agriculture and urban planning.

Details of the events and parties, including guest lists, have been kept under wraps. Washington social types have played the guessing game, wondering who would be invited to sip champagne with strawberries with the prince and Camilla, a woman once described as “the Rottweiler” by Diana.

Yesterday, the royal couple began their U.S. tour in New York City, where they paid tribute to victims of the September 11 attacks, including 67 Britons who died when Muslim hijackers slammed jetliners into the World Trade Center towers.

Charles said he and his wife had been “profoundly moved” by the visit. At a reception for relatives of the British victims, the prince said he was struck by “not just the scale of the outrage but the deeply distressing individual stories of heroism and of loss.”

Charles’ last official visit to Washington was in 1985 and was a star-studded whirl of social events and parties, topped with Diana’s spirited White House dance with actor John Travolta.

While Diana was beloved by the glamour set, Camilla has been portrayed in the British press as matronly and fashion-challenged.

The goodwill trip is being paid for by British taxpayers, and Charles hopes to promote his concerns about global warming and organic foods. He helped raise more than $180 million last year for charitable causes.

“I sometimes wonder if two-thirds of the globe is covered in red carpet,” Charles once observed. No doubt, there will be a few more rolls unfurled this week.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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