Image: Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.
Stephen Hird  /  Pool via AP file
Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and his wife-to-be, Camilla Parker Bowles, are seen in the garden of Clarence House, London, on Monday, Feb. 21. 
By Jennifer Carlile Reporter
updated 4/5/2005 5:05:13 PM ET 2005-04-05T21:05:13

In truth, it's turned into a bit of a royal fiasco. This weekend wedding of Britain’s Prince Charles and his longtime companion Camilla Parker Bowles has necessitated a delay, a change of venue (and perhaps British law), a call for the future king to apologize for adultery and a sniffy non-appearance by the queen at the downscale nuptials of her eldest son.

But, after a decades-long relationship that has weathered their separate marriages, divorces, Princess Diana’s death, and a barrage of bad press, perhaps the simple “I do” is all the couple really care about.

While Britain’s tabloids have denounced the aging pair with headlines like “Boring old gits to wed” and “Insult to Diana’s memory,” the British public is a little more forgiving of the royal couple.

“In some ways you have admire him that he’s stuck with her for all these years and in the end he does want to do the right thing and marry her,” said Geraldine Duckworth, a native of Cornwall who was visiting some royal landmarks on a recent visit to London.

No royal blood
The couple dated in the early 1970s but reportedly split because the House of Windsor disapproved of Charles proposing to a woman who was neither a virgin nor of royal blood.

“When me and my husband got married they had a romance going, and I thought they should have gotten married then," said Pauline Godley, of Gosport, Hampshire. "Now it’s obvious is was meant to be.

“He seemed like a very nice chap and good luck to him,” she said, as she recalled shaking the prince’s hand when he visited her town in south England.

Not everybody feels as warmly toward the couple. “I think (Camilla’s) a home-wrecker,” said Felicia Wilson, an Oakland, Calif., native who was visiting Kensington Palace, Princess Diana’s former home. “I love Lady Di and don’t feel good about (this wedding) at all,” she said.

Camilla is widely blamed for the breakdown of Charles and Diana’s marriage, with the Princess of Wales’ comment about “three of them” in the relationship as a salutary reminder of the bitter household drama.

“I feel that what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow,” Wilson said.

Not a fairy-tale wedding
The wedding has been moved to Saturday to avoid conflict with Pope John Paul II's funeral, which Charles and Camilla will attend, Clarence House announced on Monday, after previously stating that the date would not be altered by the pontiff's death.

After all the hassles their plans have produced, it appears that they wanted to get the marriage over and done with before anything else could go wrong.

Since Clarence House announced the engagement on Feb. 10, their nuptials have come under global scrutiny.

But, the April 9 civil ceremony will be a far cry from Charles’ first marriage to Diana — the fairy-tale royal wedding of the 20th century, watched by an estimated 800 million TV viewers.

This time around, the opulence of Windsor Castle has given way to a nearby, undecorated town hall, due to a mix-up over marriage licenses.

The groom’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, has said she won’t attend the ceremony out of respect for their desire to keep it a small affair. But, the British press has interpreted her absence as a sign of disapproval of both Camilla and the lowly venue.

Many here frown upon the future head of the Church of England marrying a divorcee, in addition to being one himself.

“He is heir to the throne and should not be allowed to marry the woman who broke up his marriage and her own,” said Alan C. Berry, a founding member of the Diana Circle, a group of around 1,000 Lady Di fans who meet regularly to commemorate the late princess.

“Also the strong feelings for Diana mean there is a lot of public resentment to this wedding and the monarchy will be badly damaged,” Berry said in an e-mail interview.

Adding fuel to the controversy were remarks last month by Bishop David Stancliffe, who told the Sunday Times that church rules dictated Charles must apologize for committing adultery and he should apologize to Andrew Parker Bowles for breaking up his marriage to Camilla.

Stancliffe, an authority on rules of worship, said the apology should come before the April 8 wedding and should include “making good of any hurts, the restoration of relationships and serious attention being paid to the relationships fractured or damaged by misconduct.”

He did not say whether he thought the apology should be in person, by letter or by other means. A spokesman for Charles’ office would not comment on the issue.

Formal objections
Yet such opposition resulted in the filing of 11 formal objections, or caveats, to the wedding, even prior to the bishop's comments.

But, to Clarence House’s relief, the registrar general of England and Wales turned them all down, giving the couple the green light to legal matrimony.

Sensitive to the country’s misgivings over his fiancée — just seven percent of Britons thought she should become queen, according to a recent YouGov survey for Daily Telegraph — Charles has ruled out the possibility of the mother-of-two assuming the title when he ascends the throne.

Upon their engagement, he said Camilla would be known as the Princess Consort. But, legal experts have said that she would automatically receive the title of queen when Charles eventually succeeds the monarch, unless the law is changed.

Complicating matters further, Commonwealth nations with monarchical constitutions like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand would also have to change their laws.

That could then fuel republican resistance to the House of Windsor’s figurehead role in those countries.

“The average Australian doesn’t care less (about the wedding), but I think it’s probably heightened the push toward a republic,” said Rosemary Sargeant, a tourist from Queensland visiting Hyde Park.

“I don’t have anything against the monarchy, but it’s not terribly relevant to Australia today,” the 59-year-old said.

Clarence House had hoped that the annual photocall of Charles with his sons at a Swiss ski resort last week could shine up his tarnished image. But, to his handlers dismay, microphones captured the prince calling the media "bloody people," and muttering "I hate doing this."

In addition to his hushed insults, the bemused future king was heard asking his eldest son, "what are we supposed to do?"

Alas, the "grumpy prince" made it back into the headlines with another royal gaffe under his belt.

Even some Britons who support the wedding say it shows Charles' flaws, and threatens to mar the royal image.

“I think (Charles’) getting married now shows what a weak leader he would be; he should have married the woman he loved 30 years ago, and not been dissuaded,” said Cornwall native Neil Duckworth.

“It’s ridiculous — I mean, good luck to the guy!” he said.

‘Coming down to earth’
And after all, that may be the most important lesson from the entire brouhaha.

Charles was once quoted saying, “My great problem is that I really don’t know what my role in life is.”

After 56 years of being waited on and told what to do, but never attaining the role of king, marrying Camilla will most likely be the gutsiest thing the prince has ever done.

The couple has survived separation, scandal, and ridicule, and yet appear almost sickeningly close; remember the leaked tape-recorded private conversation in which he said he hoped to be reincarnated as her tampon?

Their looks and words may not always be pretty, but they seem to be genuine.

Camilla glowingly said she was “just coming down to earth” the evening after he got down on one knee and proposed.

In 1981, adolescent girls around the world dreamed of a white princess wedding like Diana’s.

On April 8, when the simple, post-marriage blessing is shown on TV, Camilla’s face and dress won’t radiate like Diana’s did, but you can bet there’ll be a twinkle in her eye, and in Charles’.

“I like all the pretty dresses and all the celebrity and stuff but if people are really happy and don’t want the big fuss and everything, then I’m happy for them,” said 13-year-old Elizabeth MacLeod.

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