PRINCE CHARLES turned 50 last week and exhausting it was, too. For him, because three parties in three nights is a lot for anyone, even if you are a member of the long-term unemployed. For his mother, who displayed the family's ability to dysfunction on command by praising her eldest son to the hilt on Friday and boycotting the party given by his girlfriend on Saturday. And also for said girlfriend, Camilla Parker Bowles, who had to undergo a complete personality and image change in a mere twinkling. Even Cinderella had more time.
But mostly it was exhausting for the readers of newspapers, who by now should be thoroughly confused about all things royal. Only a few years ago, the papers declared that a man who had admitted that he wants to be a tampon could never be taken seriously. He was the cad who broke Diana's heart, the fool who counted shrubs among his closest friends. Only a few days ago, he was accused of plotting a palace coup, and his relationship with Camilla was seen as so dodgy that they couldn't be seen arriving together at a wedding.
What a difference a day makes! On Thursday, the Prince celebrated with showbiz types in their hundreds and no one had a bad word to say, or so the news "reports" would have us believe. On Friday, he referred to his mother as "Mummy", at a do given by her for 850 non-friends, and there wasn't a dry pen in the house. The Queen's speech had "unprecedented warmth", said the News of the World, and had made the Prince burst into tears. Evidently this was not because he was tired and emotional, but truly touched: "It is only the THIRD time the prince has cried in his adult life."
Every newspaper - except The Independent, which did not cover the parties - seemed to have decided that the man previously known as Big Ears is actually a King-in-Waiting to be taken seriously. No one even seemed to notice that his official birthday portrait, which shows him standing in a field of flowers, looked dangerously close to being a shampoo advert.
Perhaps everyone was simply too busy preparing for the big event of the week: Saturday night's bash at Highgrove. This was hosted by the "new look" Camilla. No longer is she the long-time mistress who wrecked his marriage to Diana, and possibly the entire institution of monarchy. Now, it seems, she is his lifelong love, who is fit to be Queen. "The Look of Love," cooed the NoW headline next to a "dazzling" picture. "I'm the Queen of the Ball", said The Observer. "Camilla: Queen for the Night", said the Sunday Mirror.
Everyone was writing a fairy tale. Her dress was dazzling, her neckline plunging, her jewels stunning, her hair was new and vastly improved. She did quite a lot of sweeping though not, sadly, as in Cinderella's case, but as in "swept into the drive at Highgrove". She was "smiling broadly" (The Sunday Telegraph), "radiant" (NoW), and looked "every inch the royal hostess" (The Mail on Sunday).
The pounds 100,000 bash was, The Mail on Sunday intoned, nothing more than Camilla's very own coming out party. "THE JEWEL IN HIS CROWN" proclaimed the splash headline. It's hard to write a story while curtsying but somehow its reporter managed: "No one could fail to notice the starting transformation from dowdy matron to glamorous consort. Inside Highgrove, she was totally at ease... this was clearly a woman ready to emerge from the purdah of the last year into the public arena."
Details of the actual bash were of the pre-fab variety. So, instead of finding out who threw up on whom, we got the official version about food (seven courses, Mosimann), the cake (a felled tree) and the music (Abba and Roxy Music). "As if to cement the depth of their relationship, Charles and Camilla were expected to dance "cheek-to-cheek" to the music of their favourite band Abba," said The Express on Sunday. No surprises then when The Mail reported that the "Prince and the first lady of Highgrove" had been "dancing cheek to cheek". It was obviously one of those deeply Abba moments - but perhaps you had to be there.
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