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WEDDING OF CHARLES AND CAMILLA CONTINUES A STAR-STRUCK JOURNEY

Poor Camilla. Poor Charles. Almost 500 years after Henry VIII broke England away from the Catholic Church, the Vatican has had its accidental revenge: The wedding of the year has had to be postponed because of the funeral of the decade.

The course of true love never did run smooth, but lately this one, between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, has been as potholed as the Pasadena Freeway after the winter storms. Postponing even a Vegas wedding makes for logistical messes -- what if the Elvis minister is double-booked? -- but rescheduling a royal wedding is like trying to take an ocean liner into a quick U-turn.

After sticking it out through three decades and two marriages (and two divorces), Charles and Camilla were less than a week from the nuptial finish line when Pope John Paul II died. And now the pope's funeral -- a center-ring, global news event -- has bumped the wedding of Charles and his first, truest love back into the weekend news cycle. Charles, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, will zip off to Friday's papal funeral to represent Britain, and both will barely have time to get home and unpack before the religious blessing of Charles and Camilla's civil wedding, now set for Saturday morning. That's jet-setting.

Not that Charles would mind if there wasn't a single news camera in evidence when he and his bride take his late grandmother's 1962 Rolls-Royce out for the short spin to the wedding at Windsor's Guildhall. The "bloody people" -- the choice phrase Charles was overheard uttering about reporters as he posed with his sons at a ski resort last week -- may be scattered far and wide, reporting on Britain's just-announced general election on May 5, as well as the pope's funeral.

The story line that has brought Charles and Camilla from that polo field where they met 30 years ago, when both were young and single, to the wedding reception at Windsor Castle with guests royal and humble, seems to have been scripted more by a soap-opera screenwriter than the engineers of the royal family's famously well-oiled pageant machinery. This is no exaggeration: The C and C wedding got lower billing on the cover of Britain's TV Mag than the TV marriage of two longtime lovers on the venerable soap opera "Coronation Street."

The couple already had to grit their considerable teeth and move their civil marriage ceremony from Windsor Castle to the Ascot Room of the Guildhall down the road; its virtue is that it was partly designed by Christopher Wren, which is about the only thing it shares with the site of Charles' first wedding, St. Paul's Cathedral. Hours after the royal wedding, less exalted couples will get married sitting in the same chairs recently warmed by Charles and Camilla's august bottoms.

The legal scholars have raged back and forth in print about whether the heir to the throne can legally get married anywhere but a church and whether Camilla will ultimately become the de facto queen consort when her husband becomes king, no matter what she calls herself.

Tea towel and souvenir cup makers are scrambling to reissue keepsakes with the new wedding date, and the front page of Tuesday's Daily Telegraph announcing the postponement in a banner headline was accompanied by a cartoon about the "What next?" serial nuptial setbacks: An astronomer looking through his telescope and saying to his colleague, "A meteorite -- and it's heading straight for the Windsor registry office!"

Since this marriage -- a second for each -- was announced, there have been more opinion polls than opinions: yes, people don't mind them marrying, especially when the alternative is living in sin, but no, most don't want Camilla to be elevated to the status of queen.

"I think it's terrific that they're finally getting married, but the fact is that the disorganization and the publicity surrounding it has made people rather against it." That's Ingrid Seward, the editor of Majesty magazine, talking. Some of her readers have threatened to yank their subscriptions if Camilla ever appears on the cover of a magazine so often graced with the posthumously sainted Diana, but "on the whole," says Seward, "I think everyone's waiting to see what happens."

The shadow of Diana's glamorous legacy means Camilla gets flak from both sides: from the Camilla-as-frump critics who find her to be wanting in youth, chic and fashion sense (Diana spent tens of thousands on clothes and beauty treatment and, let us not forget, she'd be only 44 this year) . . . and from the faultfinders who whinge when Camilla tries to spruce up or look stylish. The Daily Mail ran a picture of her in jeans and asked readers whether a woman that age should wear denim. The outpouring was probably the most supportive that Camilla has enjoyed to date from her future husband's future subjects.

Diana, the late Princess of Wales, is dead, but her feud with Camilla goes on in the trade-wars of souvenirs. Diana is still a best seller in the tourist shops, and Diana lovers, some of whom refer to Charles' fiancee as "Cowmilla," have made their feelings clear at Windsor's Glorious Britain shop across the street, hiding the Charles and Camilla postcards behind Diana postcards. Diana items still fly off the racks at Inderjit Dhillon's shop not far away -- "she's the best," he says -- but the Charles and Camilla magnets are all gone, and he's had to re-order tea-towels, so "at the moment this is selling."

Camilla's wit and aplomb have seen her through three difficult decades of an off-again, on-again royal relationship, starting with that fateful day on the Windsor polo grounds where she was introduced to Charles. Her great-grandmother was Alice Keppel, "La Favorita," the last and best-loved of the mistresses of Charles' great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII. When their progeny met 60 years later, Camilla famously said to Charles, "My great-grandmother was your great-great-grandfather's mistress -- how about it?"

Now nearly 100 years on, Alice Keppel's great-granddaughter is wearing La Favorita's jewels, tracked down and purchased for her by Charles, and come Saturday -- barring yet another disaster -- she will be wearing something Keppel never did: a wedding ring put on her finger by a Prince of Wales.

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