England and America, George Bernard Shaw once wryly observed, are two lands divided by a common language. But if that dyspeptic Irishman had been around to witness the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Washington last week, he might have noted that the U.S. and Britain are two countries united by an uncommon love of royalty.
After weeks of feverish anticipation and frenzied publicity, the world's most glamorous and relentlessly observed twosome arrived in the capital of what was once their kingdom's richest possession. By the time they stepped off their plane on Saturday morning at Andrews Air Force Base, all the RSVPs had been sent out, thank you, and the A list firmly separated from the B. Washington had settled in to gawk and gossip about the royal heroic couplet.
The three-day trip to the nation's capital was the penultimate stop on a 19-day gallivant that has already taken them to Australia and, on a brief stopover, to Hawaii, where the Prince went bodysurfing and the Princess received a brilliantly colorful lei ("Oh, how sweet they smell," she said). After Washington, they were set to jet down to Palm Beach, Fla., for a brisk game of polo and a glittering charity ball for the United World College of the American West.
Charles and Diana, the First Couple of British public relations, are not in Washington on a state visit. They are patrons of the National Gallery of Art's sumptuous show, "The Treasure Houses of Britain" (to which Charles has lent the painting The Shooting Party, by John Wootton). They are also paying a call to a suburban JCPenney to give the royal seal of approval to the store's "Best of Britain" merchandising campaign.
Their Royal Highnesses are the souls of punctuality, and their Royal Australian Air Force jet touched down at Andrews right on time, at 8:40 a.m. When Diana and Charles stepped out of the plane into sparkling sunshine, the crowd of 4,000 royalty oglers let out a deferentially reserved hurrah. Diana, dressed in a radiant red suit with a white shawl collar and wearing an oversize red fez, was clearly the cynosure.
The royal couple spent nearly 20 minutes with the crowd, with Diana paying special attention to a group of handicapped children. One of them, 16-year-old Jonathan Lollar of Ocean Springs, Miss., got his dearest wish. Blind and suffering from an inoperable tumor, Lollar was enabled by the Make-a-Wish Foundation of America to come to Washington to meet the Princess. He was not disappointed. Diana was offered flowers and gifts, which she, like a practiced quarterback, deftly handed off to a lady-in-waiting behind her.
After a brief stop at the British embassy, where the couple is staying, Charles and Diana entered the ambassador's silver Rolls-Royce bearing Charles' standard and were whisked off to the White House for what was billed as "morning coffee" with the Reagans. The President and First Lady, she in a subdued beige dress and he in a natty blue-and-green plaid blazer, shook hands with the royal couple when they emerged from the car. Nancy dotes on Charles and Diana; they could be her dream children. Inside, over tea, coffee and cinnamon toast, the two couples, surely the most famous foursome in the world, made polite chitchat about Charles and Diana's recent travels.