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Prince Charles, duchess to begin U.S. tour

Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall will visit New York, Washington, New Orleans and San Francisco during a one-week tour of the United States, a nation still smitten with the late Princess Diana.
(FILES)Britain's Prince Charles and Cami
Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall attend a dedication ceremony at a sports pavillion in Regent's Park in London, in this April 2005 file photo. The couple will their first joint official royal tour this week.Carl De Souza / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Prince Charles, his wife and a wardrobe full of dresses jet off to the United States Tuesday on a tour designed to celebrate trans-Atlantic ties, promote Charles’ environmentalist causes — and test reaction to his new bride in a nation still smitten with the late Princess Diana.

“This is Diana country,” said Lisa Stewart, a member of a band of devotees called the Diana Circle U.S. “We love Diana still.”

The 56-year-old heir to the throne and Camilla, duchess of Cornwall, will visit New York, Washington, New Orleans and San Francisco during the one-week tour, their first official overseas jaunt since marrying in April.

The royal couple will unveil a memorial to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks in Manhattan, dine at the White House with President Bush and his wife, Laura, and meet aid workers and residents on a flying visit to hurricane-hit New Orleans.

Visits to farms, markets, schools and museums will give Charles a chance to highlight issues close to his heart — organic food production, the environment, education and classical architecture.

Memories of ‘Diana territory’
Aides hope the prince’s first official tour of the United States since 1994 won’t be eclipsed by memories of a visit in 1985 — when a radiant Diana danced with John Travolta at a White House dinner.

“For a long time the (British) media has regarded the States as Diana territory,” said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine. “But there’s nothing to suggest Camilla won’t get a warm welcome.”

The prince’s office says the trip is intended to recognize “the importance of the relationship between the two countries and their common bonds and shared traditions.”

It is also part of a careful palace plan to win acceptance for the duchess, long reviled in the British press — and among Diana-philes — as the woman who broke up the royal romance. “There were three of us in that marriage,” Diana told a television reporter in 1995.

Charles and Diana divorced in 1996; Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris the following year.

Attitudes changing
Since then, a careful series of joint milestones has helped soften public attitudes toward the prince and Camilla, whose relationship began more than 30 years ago, before either was married.

The couple’s first public appearance together was in 1999; the first public kiss in 2001. In April they married in a civil ceremony. A poll at the time suggested almost two-thirds of Britons supported the marriage.

In deference to Diana, Camilla did not take the title princess of Wales, and she has made it clear she wishes to be known as princess consort, not queen, when Charles takes the throne — although experts say she will, officially, be queen.

The 58-year-old duchess has discarded a sometimes frumpy country style for designer dresses and extravagant hats since stepping into the limelight.

Questions on wardrobe, entourage
British newspaper reports said that she was taking 50 dresses on the tour and that 40 staff members would accompany the couple. But Charles’ office said the true size of the entourage was 16, and stressed the duchess’ clothes were paid for from his private income. Officials would not say how many dresses Camilla was taking.

The tour begins Tuesday with a visit to the World Trade Center site in New York, where the couple will dedicate a memorial garden to British victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. There is also a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and a reception.

In Washington, the couple will have lunch and dinner with the Bushes at the White House.

Charles’ office would not say whether the prince planned to raise the issue of climate change, which he recently called “the greatest challenge to face man.” Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto accord on greenhouse gas emissions has angered many environmentalists.