Camilla is a trouper - but to America she's no Diana

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The Independent US

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall spent yesterday morning at an organic farmers' market in Point Reyes Station, and then had lunch in the coastal hamlet of Bolinas with local farmers and producers. Today they will attend a church service. Later in this four-day San Francisco section of the tour, there will be meetings with power-brokers and the likes of Steve Jobs, but for now, Charles is at last in his element.

Yet the early portents for the royal visit were not auspicious. CBS showed an interview last Sunday with a rather curmudgeonly Prince (jammed in between an overrunning football game and the film Vampire Bats), and the next day an opinion poll surfaced claiming 81 per cent of Americans were indifferent to their visitors. And then, just to rub in the widespread comparisons between Camilla and the wife accompanying Charles on his previous trip here, their landing on Tuesday coincided with the arrival on newsstands of the December issue of Vanity Fair, carrying previously unpublished photos of Princess Diana. For the benefit of anyone still missing this very American point, television stations delved into the archives for shots of Diana dancing with John Travolta at the 1985 White House dinner.

The Washington Post, in particular, contrasted the glitzy affair 20 years ago with last week's dull, dreary White House dinner where the biggest celebrity was Kelsey Grammer, and where "Camilla committed the selfless act of wearing such a dull ensemble that she made First Lady Laura Bush look as though she had stepped from the cover of a glamourpuss magazine".

The royal couple are in San Francisco on the last leg of an eight-day tour whose official purpose was to bolster transatlantic ties and promote British tourism. Unofficially it was a chance for Charles to introduce his new bride to America. Sources close to the Prince have noted privately, however, that Charles has found it difficult to feel at ease in a country obsessed with pop culture and particularly with the memory of Princess Diana. He is also, say aides, uncomfortable with President Bush's apparent lack of interest in the environment and the dangers of global warming, both causes close to Charles's heart.

Although Camilla has proved herself to be a game and willing trouper and Charles has done his best to appear friendly and approachable, the American media have not exactly gushed. The Miami Herald called it "the un-Diana tour, in which a couple of middle-aged, earnest eccentrics from the English countryside take an educational holiday abroad". The Los Angeles Times said yesterday that the royal couple had "failed to set Americans aflutter" and had left "little but indifference and disinterest in their wake". Even the expected protests from Diana supporters did not materialise, with only an occasional "Camilla is not Diana" banner to be seen.

Comparisons to Princess Diana have been inescapable. Only here, perhaps, would someone think it sane to compare the glamour of a 58-year-old woman with an undeniably beautiful princess less than half her age. But, from the moment the couple touched down in New York with an entourage of 16 - including make-up artist, fashion coordinator, two assistant dressers, a hairstylist, personal physician, private secretaries, press officers, bodyguards, a butler and a valet - and a wardrobe of 40 dresses, her attire and fashion sense have been closely analysed.

The New York Post cruelly dubbed her "Frump Tower" and she came under fire for wearing a pink outfit at Ground Zero, where she and Charles unveiled a plaque to commemorate the British victims of 9/11. The New York Times even commented on her black stilettos, noting sniffily that such shoes were a sign of a "middle-aged woman who is really, really trying".

In Washington, where the royal couple had lunch and dinner at the White House, visited a public school, were fêted at the British Embassy and laid a wreath at the Second World War memorial, one fashion writer noted: "She has worn little that is distinctive and nothing that has been surprising." Another said her choice of a Robinson Valentino blazer and skirt for the black-tie dinner "made her look like a large rectangle". Such coverage made the British press bridle, and by the week's end, papers that had been writing "royal tour bore" stories were markedly more pro-Camilla.

Not without good reason. On a personal level, she has impressed those she has met as being warm, intelligent and substantial. In New Orleans their motorcade drove from the airport to the impoverished lower Ninth Ward, which was all but obliterated when water breached one of the levees following Hurricane Katrina. There they met and chatted to rescue workers and survivors and, in this Diana-ish situation, Camilla came across as compassionate and sympathetic.

New Orleans was added to the itinerary at the last moment and was considered by some to be controversial because of the criticism levelled at President Bush for his lack of action after the hurricane. But to Peggy LeBlanc, vice-principal of a school that was destroyed by flood waters, their visit was significant. "For people who have lost everything, something like this means a lot," she said.

Although there has been a decidedly ho-hum public reaction to the visit, at least one group has taken a keen interest. At every stop the royal couple has been met by someone in a bear costume, sent by Peta, the animal rights group, to protest at the use of Canadian bear fur to make the bearskin hats for the Queen's Household Guards. "It takes the entire skin of one, sometimes two, bears to make just one guard's headpiece," according to Peta. Whatever the couple did, it seems, they just could not escape criticism of royal clothes.

CHARLES AND CAMILLA: THE US TOUR

GROUNDED ON HALLOWE'EN, MONDAY, LONDON:

Tour avoids 31 October start for fear of 'Camilla flies in on Hallowe'en' headlines. But Charles's interview on US TV falls flat. 'It's easy to dismiss anything I say. I hope when I'm dead they might appreciate it more'

CLAWS OUT FOR CAMILLA, TUESDAY, NEW YORK:

Ground Zero, the United Nations and a celebrity-filled reception. But a hostile welcome for Camilla from the US media, with the 'New York Post' criticising her wardrobe: 'Queen Camilla is New York's Frump Tower'

CHARLES DROPS A HINT TO BUSH, WEDNESDAY, WASHINGTON:

Lunch with the President, tree-planting with Laura Bush, dinner at the White House. In a speech Charles speaks about the 'enormous challenges and responsibilities' facing the world over climate change

STUDENTS CHEER CHARLES, THURSDAY, WASHINGTON:

Camilla visits the National Institute of Health, meets doctors treating osteoporosis (for which she has a special concern), makes a rare speech. Students cheer Charles at Georgetown University

UNITED IN THOUGHT FRIDAY, WASHINGTON:

Side by side and in sombre mood, Camilla and Prince Charles leave the Second World War memorial in the capital after laying a wreath to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the conflict

A SNIFF OF NATURE, SATURDAY, CALIFORNIA:

Camilla keeps her distance while looking at the range of produce on sale at West Marin farmers' market on day five of their tour and allows Prince Charles to get up close to smell an organic garlic clove

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