WASHINGTON -- As Prince Charles and his wife prepare to visit the White House and other sites this week during their first trip to the United States since they married in April, the former Camilla Parker Bowles was said to be "a bit nervous" about her reception in a nation that doted on Charles' first wife, Princess Diana.
At the White House, under siege from weeks of bad news and bracing for a donnybrook with Democrats over the nomination of conservative Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court, a few hours spent entertaining Britain's royal couple could provide a welcome break.
President Bush plans to host an elaborate dinner for them, and a White House lunch was on the schedule too.
"For a White House inundated with bad news, this visit will allow the president and Mrs. Bush to shift gears for a day," said Democratic consultant Donna Brazile. Former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clark, a Republican, agreed, saying, "Everyone will enjoy the visit, and there will probably be a brief respite from the fighting in this town when they are here."
For dedicated watchers of royalty on both sides of the Atlantic, the first question was how Prince Charles' wife would handle celebrity-crazed Americans. To some, the duchess of Cornwall sometimes has seemed a bit dowdy compared with Princess Diana.
The weeklong visit to the United States will spotlight the prince's wife, who these days is outfitted with designer gowns and hats, and is practicing yoga.
As president of Britain's National Osteoporosis Society, she will take the lead in a visit to the National Institutes of Health for a seminar.
In a 60 Minutes interview on CBS on Sunday, Prince Charles resisted efforts by correspondent Steve Kroft to discuss his personal life, and the palace turned down all requests for interviews with the duchess.
"The strategy is to present Camilla as an unobtrusive supporting player, rather than as a romantic lead," a royal family adviser told London's Daily Express.
The royals' visit is crammed with events designed largely to demonstrate that the prince, who turns 57 in two weeks, has the seriousness and grace to be king if his mother, Queen Elizabeth, relinquishes the throne.
In New York today, the couple will dedicate the British Memorial Garden at the World Trade Center site, meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and attend a reception at the Museum of Modern Art.
In Washington, they will lunch at the White House tomorrow and join first lady Laura Bush in planting a tree at a Washington-area boarding school before attending the White House dinner.
Johanna Neuman writes for the Los Angeles Times.