Fred & Gladys on tour

That's what the tabs have dubbed Charles & Camilla's latest trip. It's all very homely and, well, un-Dianalike. And all the better for it...
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The Independent Online

When Diana, Princess of Wales, visited Cairo in 1992, she cheered a group of blind schoolboys playing football, spoke in sign language to a group of deaf and dumb children, and was photographed at the Al Noor hospital walking hand-in-hand with a young polio patient.

The Duchess of Cornwall, 14 years later, equally eager to show concern, visited another hospice in the city last week. This time, however, the patients had four legs. Camilla fed them carrots.

The visit to the Brooke Hospital, which treats horses and donkeys rescued from mistreatment and malnutrition on the dusty Cairo streets, was requested by Camilla and was one of the few public appearances on the first leg of a 12-day royal tour of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India. Like much of the tour, it clearly reflected the personal interests of the Prince of Wales and his wife. As Camilla fed the animals, the Prince muttered: "I hope those are organic."

The encounter set the tone for a low-key royal tour - the first major outing this year for an older, happier, less energetic, and decidedly less glamorous royal couple. The tabloids dub it the "Fred and Gladys" tour.

One veteran royal correspondent said that Charles and Camilla are eager to project a more mature, regal image - and to avoid the comparisons with Princess Diana that dogged their visit to the US last year.

"Diana is still a hard act to follow, so they don't want to make Camilla do the touchy-feely stuff," he said.

The royal couple stayed one night in a luxury eco-hotel lit by beeswax candles and paid an emotional visit to the Commonwealth graveyard at the battlefield of El Alamein, where Camilla's father was wounded and captured in 1942. Yesterday Prince Charles became the first Westerner to address Saudi Arabia's most prominent centre of Islamic scholarship when he spoke at Imam Muhammad bin Saud University. Echoing comments made in Egypt, he called for greater tolerance and improved understanding of the world's religions.

"We should do all we can to overcome the distrust that poisons so many people's lives," he said. But while Diana was often mobbed by fans on her tours, Charles and Camilla have had little contact with ordinary people beyond a small welcome ceremony in the desert oasis of Siwa.

In the aftermath of Charles and Diana's bitter divorce, Clarence House developed a well-oiled publicity machine, but tours do not attract the widespread press interest they did 10 years ago. Meanwhile, comparisons with Diana are inevitable. When the Duchess visited the Al-Azhar Mosque on Tuesday, reporters were quick to note that she was retracing a route taken by Diana 14 years ago.

"Diana was always big news. There was so much crowd adulation, and she created a volcanic eruption of emotion wherever she went," said Jennie Bond, the BBC's former royal correspondent. "With the Queen it was much harder, and with Charles it is increasingly hard to make a story."

Royal tours were once the stuff of history. Soon after her coronation in 1953, Queen Elizabeth embarked on a six-month journey in which she became the first British monarch to circumnavigate the globe. Tens of thousands of well-wishers turned out to see the young Queen and her dashing consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, in Australia, Uganda and Ceylon, the press breathlessly reportingher every move.

"The very fact that the Royal Family was going abroad was thought sufficiently interesting to push a story," Ms Bond said.

Now, even in celebrity-obsessed America, the Royal Family are finding it harder to generate interest. Before Charles and Camilla's visit last year, one poll showed that 81 per cent of Americans were not interested in the couple. The Miami Herald described "the Un-Diana tour" as "an educational holiday abroad" for "a couple of middle-aged earnest eccentrics from the English countryside".

Charles has done his best, even giving an interview to the BBC's Nicholas Witchell, whom he once described during a photo-shoot as "that awful man". But for all their charm offensive, Fred and Gladys have proved only one thing with this tour: the royal cachet died out with Diana, Princess of Wales, in a Parisian underpass nine years ago.

Royal Mail: Having a regal time. Wish you were here

Tuesday

First day in Egypt! Visit the 1,000 year-old Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. Camilla covers her head and keeps her socks on - those 1,000- year-old floors can be awfully chilly. Charles wears pointy black prayer slippers.

Wednesday

At Camilla's insistence, a visit to the Brooke Hospital for Animals where we feed snacks to the underfed Egyptian patients - horses, that is. Camilla proffers her first royal carrot, although we're not sure if it's organic.

Thursday

Charles has booked us into Egypt's only luxury hotel with no electricity . It's made of mud bricks and lit with beeswax candles. Terribly green, but there's nowhere to plug in one's curling tongs.

Saturday

If it's Saturday, it must be Saudi Arabia. Charles is the first Westerner to address the Imam Muhammad bin Saud University in Riyadh. Next stop, India.

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