Prince William drops in and meets Camilla at the palace

 

Prince Charles's discreet strategy of news management took a step forward yesterday when royal aides confirmed that Prince William had met the Prince of Wales's companion, Ms Camilla Parker Bowles, for the first time.

A spokeswoman for Prince Charles said details of the meeting as reported in yesterday's Sun were accurate. The Sun held off publication for 24 hours following a request from Prince Charles, who wanted to inform Prince William that the report was to appear.

The 30-minute meeting took place at St James's Palace last month with Prince Charles present. The encounter on Friday, June 12th, came about when 16year-old William dropped in unexpectedly at St James's Palace, where Ms Parker Bowles has become a regular visitor.

Since then, Prince William and Ms Parker Bowles, who will be 51 next week, have met twice more, taking tea together and sharing a lunch organised by Prince Charles. Royal insiders now expect Ms Parker Bowles to meet Prince Harry (13) for the first time.

The meeting between Prince William and Ms Parker Bowles is expected to fuel speculation that Prince Charles plans a greater public role for his long-time companion, in the run-up to his 50th birthday in November. They have yet to appear in public together - and remarriage has not been conclusively ruled out.

After the 30-minute session with Prince William, Ms Parker Bowles allegedly declared: "I really need a gin and tonic".

A transparent campaign to "introduce" Ms Parker Bowles to public life began after the divorce of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. But it was abruptly abandoned following the death of Diana on August 31st last year.

A spokeswoman for Prince Charles said yesterday: "Yes, Prince William and Mrs Parker Bowles have met.

"Meetings between the children and Mrs Parker Bowles are a private family matter which we are not prepared to discuss and we wish, for their sakes, the media will now leave this very personal matter alone."

It was in the interests of Prince William and Prince Harry that a line was now drawn so that the Camilla-William meeting did not "spill into acres of intrusive, speculative gossip," she added.

St James's Palace took the unusual step of writing to Lord Wakeham, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, informing him of the announcement. Lord Wakeham yesterday issued a statement reminding newspapers and broadcasters that "this is at heart a family matter" which is "private under the terms of the industry's code."

Reuters and AFP add: Royal watchers see the meeting as the beginning of yet another attempt by Prince Charles and his aides to make Ms Parker Bowles more acceptable to the British public.

He has said he will never remarry, but clearly wants to be able to appear in public with Ms Parker Bowles, if not at his side, at least only a few paces behind. A recent MORI poll showed that four out of five Britons would not accept her as queen should she marry Prince Charles.

A spokeswoman for Prince Charles said that any meetings between Princes William and Harry and Ms Parker Bowles were "a private family matter." Palace insiders had speculated that introductions would come before Prince Charles's 50th birthday in November.

Ms Parker Bowles is already a frequent visitor to Highgrove, the prince's country residence in central England, and his London home at St James's Palace.

Prince Charles's relationship with her has long been the worst kept secret in royal circles. But she is considered to have been a tower of strength for him following Diana's death in a Paris car crash last August.

The report reopened the debate about press coverage of the royal family and the code of conduct agreed after Diana's death. The palace was quick to notify the press complaints commission, although it did not object to publication.

The Sun, after spreading its report over five pages, said in an editorial that publication was in the public interest. But it added: "having published this story, the Prince of Wales and his children now need the privacy any family needs to grow and develop."

Bookmakers yesterday slashed the odds on a Charles-Camilla wedding. William Hill was quoting 5-1 on a wedding before December 31st, 1999 and 3-1 on marriage in the year 2000 -