It may not be a fairy-tale romance, but most people seem to agree that the prince is charming.
As Prince Charles and his new wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall wrapped up their first U.S. tour together, the weeklong diplomatic mission and charm offensive seemed to have paid off. Among many Americans, the eco-friendly prince and the down-to-earth duchess were a hit.
“It’s so nice to see a public figure speaking out for something good,” said Ann Leonard, 41, waiting for the couple Monday outside a school in Berkeley, Calif., where they were inspecting an organic vegetable garden.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” said Leonard, who had brought her 6-year-old daughter Dewi and a handmade sign declaring “Make gardens, not war.”
Charles and Camilla were to fly back to Britain on Tuesday after a trip intended to underscore trans-Atlantic ties, promote Charles’ environmentalist causes and burnish the profile of the middle-aged royals, who married in April after an on-off relationship lasting more than 30 years.
Charles’ Clarence House office said the prince and duchess were “delighted” with the reception they received on the trip, which included stops in New York, Washington, New Orleans and the Bay area.
Hanging with Sting, dinner with the Bushes
The couple hobnobbed with stars including Sting and Yoko Ono in New York and had lunch and dinner with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush at the White House.
The once-frumpy Camilla swapped her tweeds for an array of designer dresses and glittering accessories — including a sequined Union Jack handbag.
But it was away from the centers of power — among schoolchildren, farmers and hurricane victims in New Orleans — that the tour took off.
A visit to see Hurricane Katrina’s devastating aftermath lasted less than three hours but still attracted a large crowd of enthusiastic and grateful residents.
“I thanked him very much for remembering us, because we very much feel forgotten down here,” said Dee de Montluzin, who greeted the couple in the city’s French Quarter.
Camilla hailed as ‘down to earth’
The prince’s strong environmentalist message got a warm reception in California, where the couple lunched at an organic farm, visited two farmers’ markets and had a private dinner with leading foodie figures, including Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation.”
At a farmers’ market in Marin County, north of San Francisco, stall-holders and shoppers looked on approvingly as Camilla heartily sampled much of the produce.
“She’s really down-to-earth,” said Wendy Earl, 58.
At some stops, placards praised the prince’s organic credentials and entreated him to speak out against the war in Iraq.
In a speech Monday to about 300 business, government and academic delegates, Charles appealed for action in the face of the “almost complete global scientific consensus” on climate change.
Environmentalists say the U.S. government has been slow to recognize the threat of global warming, and the prince urged the United States to “use its power and influence to help create a sense of unity in common cause” on the issue.
A walk in the garden
Also on Monday, the last full day of the trip, the couple visited the “edible garden” at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, a kitchen garden converted from waste ground where students grow and prepare their own food.
Charles and Camilla were met by Maria Shriver, wife of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Berkeley chef Alice Waters as they met pupils preparing food in the school kitchen.
The couple joined pupils in offering thanks before sampling a harvest soup made of vegetables from the school garden.
“I’m thankful for all nature’s gifts,” Charles said.
“I’m going to be very thankful when I’ve eaten this soup,” Camilla added.
The British media have long held that many Americans remain in thrall of the glamor of Princess Diana and the fairy-tale romance of her marriage to the prince. Camilla is the villain of that story — the woman Diana meant when she said “there were three of us in that marriage.”
Diana fans sparse
But only a handful of Diana die-hards dogged the tour, vastly outnumbered by Camilla well-wishers.
Many Americans — especially women — seemed won over by the middle-aged royals’ long-burning love.
“I think it’s a fairy tale that they got together, finally,” said P’Nina Campbell, a cashier waiting to catch a glimpse of the couple outside the National Institutes of Health near Washington.
In Point Reyes Station, Calif., Cari Lee, 45, waited outside a farmers’ market holding a sign reading, “We love Their Royal Highnesses Charles and Camilla.”
“I’m a newlywed as well, so I understand their bliss,” she said.