Prince Charles received the warmest public welcome so far of his U.S. tour Thursday, mingling with more than 1,000 cheering students at Georgetown University — and even signing a softball.
Arriving for a seminar on faith and social responsibility, Charles spent 15 minutes talking to students and staff who craned over barricades to catch a glimpse of him — offering handshakes to many and a rare autograph on a proffered softball to one young man.
Many in the crowd yelled “Prince Charles!” as he approached — one woman adding, “Where’s William?”
The 56-year-old heir to the throne may lack the college appeal of his 23-year-old son William, but the enthusiastic reception was a welcome boost for a royal tour that has met a muted response in a Washington preoccupied with legal fights involving top White House and congressional figures, battles over a Supreme Court vacancy and the rising death toll in Iraq.
After the pomp and ceremony of Wednesday’s black-tie dinner hosted by President Bush at the White House, Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall were on comfortable ground Thursday — visiting worthy projects in which they have a personal interest.
Charles, who has called in the past for a greater understanding of Islam from the West, met representatives of Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups at Georgetown’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Headed to the hurricane zone
Earlier, the prince accepted an award for his contribution to architecture at the National Building Museum, donating the $30,000 prize money to hurricane recovery in Mississippi.
Charles and Camilla were due to see hurricane damage firsthand on Friday, flying to New Orleans to meet residents and recovery workers.
Later the couple were due to attend a reception at the home of British Ambassador Sir David Manning.
The weeklong tour, designed to bolster trans-Atlantic ties and promote Charles’ environmentalist causes, also represents a coming-out for Camilla. The 58-year-old married the prince in April after a relationship that stretched back three decades — and was interrupted by their marriages to others. For many fans of the late Princess Diana, she remains the woman who broke up the fairy-tale royal romance, although both Charles and Diana acknowledged having affairs during a marriage that ended in divorce in 1996.
Diana died in a car crash in Paris the following year.
The spotlight-shy Camilla broke her customary public silence Thursday during a visit to the National Institutes of Health. Wearing a navy blue suit and pearls, the duchess made a rare public speech after meeting doctors working to treat osteoporosis and patients of the bone disease.
Camilla calls for osteoporosis awareness
It is an issue close to her heart. “I first became involved with osteoporosis after both my mother and my grandmother died as a result of this devastating disease,” said the duchess, who is patron of Britain’s National Osteoporosis Society.
Addressing about 40 researchers with her husband by her side, Camilla pointed out the “horrifying” statistics about the disease, which affects half of all women over 50 in Britain.
She called for greater efforts to “prevent future generations worldwide from suffering the pain and ignominy of osteoporosis.”
The duchess looked nervous before the speech, tapping her notes on a table and sipping from a glass of water. Afterwards, Charles gave her a reassuring look.
The royal couple was greeted at the institute by U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona — who almost succeeded in leading the duchess into a full-length glass window. A startled Camilla touched her nose after narrowly avoiding a collision, prompting a laugh from her husband.
The U.S. tour, which began Tuesday in New York, also includes a visit to San Francisco.