Secret strategy for Camilla to go public

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The Independent Online
A secret campaign to soften up public opinion over the relationship between Princess Charles and his mistress Camilla Parker Bowles is gaining momentum and could lead to a semi-public appearance by the couple in September.

Inspired by an inner coterie of his close friends, the subtle propaganda counter-offensive is paving the way for what many see as their inevitable marriage.

It is thought that the couple may be planning to "go public" at a fund- raising event organised by Mrs Parker Bowles and her sister, Annabel Elliot, for the National Osteoporosis Society, in an antiques warehouse in Dorset.

An example of the campaign was seen yesterday with a story in the Daily Mail - more noted for its pro-Princess Diana stance - in which it was claimed the Prime Minister's Private Office is preparing contingency plans on how to deal with a decision by the couple to marry.

"I understand there is a group of well-meaning people close to the Prince ... who may be testing the water," said Harold Brooks-Baker, publisher of Burke's Peerage. "... while the Prince knew nothing of this, he did nothing to reprimand those involved."

The enthusiam of the unofficial lobbying group, known in some circles as the Camilla Group, is fuelled by what they see as an unfair and at times vicious campaign aimed at Mrs Parker Bowles's role in the break- up of the Prince of Wales's marriage, and unfair comparisons between her appearance and that of Diana.

However, senior courtiers and civil servants are thought to be counselling caution about raising the couple's public profile too quickly. For both groups the nightmare scenario is for the Prince and Mrs Parker Bowles to appear in public and be booed or ridiculed.

The charity function at Gillingham, Dorset, on 13 September, is thought to offer a suitable half-way house event, where the guests are coming by invitation only into a controlled environment. The Osteoporosis Society said it could make no comment on who was, or who was not attending.

Nicholas Soames, the former Tory minister, is understood to be a member of the Camilla group, and a source said that other leading lights include financier Bill Legge-Bourke, father of Tiggy, the Wales's former nanny, and Charles Palmer-Tomkinson, whose wife, Patti, was seriously injured in the avalanche that nearly took the Prince's life in a ski-ing accident at Klosters in 1988. "These are close friends - some going back three generations - who always felt that Charles's marriage to Diana was a mis- match," said the source. "Several months ago, they decided enough was enough and he deserved some happiness, so they decided to get together to see what they could do."

Former Tory ministers said last night that they were confident that the Prince of Wales would seek a marriage with Camilla. "It will have to be after a decent interval, but it is looking pretty certain," said one former minister.

Prince Charles has held a series of meetings with ministers this week, including Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, to show support through the Prince's Trust for the Government's welfare to work plans. He will meet Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, next Monday.