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From Laughing Stock To Love Story

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer filed this report from London.

Most Britons simply need a passport to tour America. But when Prince Charles decided on an autumn trip to the United States, it turned out he needed a wife.

"Seriously, one of the reasons that Charles and Camilla got married this year is because of this trip," says Gyles Brandreth, author of "Charles and Camilla; Portrait of an Affair."

"About a year ago it was time for Charles to make another visit to the United States. But the issue was that he could either go on his own, or he could go as a married man. He couldn't go with his mistress-slash-girlfriend in tow. That was made clear to him."

So Charles did the honourable thing and married his lover of 35 years in a civil ceremony in June.

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It was the last step in the rehabilitation of a couple who, while apparently deeply in love for at least two decades, had become the laughing stock of a nation.

Remember the cringe-making telephone conversation secretly recorded in 1993 between Charles, then married to Princess Diana, and Camilla, wife of military man Andrew Parker Bowles?

    Camilla: "… I need you all the week. All the time."
    Charles: "Oh, God. I'll just live inside your trousers or something. It would be much easier!"
    Camilla: (Laughing) "What are you going to turn into, a pair of knickers?" (Both laugh)
    Camilla: "Oh, you're going to come back as a pair of knickers!"
    Charles: "Or, God forbid, a Tampax! Just my luck!" (Laughs)

Back then, Brandreth says, Camilla was so reviled for breaking up Charles' marriage to Diana "that she was literally cowering in a car parked outside a supermarket near her home town while strangers threw bread rolls at her."

It seems extraordinary, after such public indignity, that Buckingham Palace didn't bar Camilla from the grounds forever. Instead, 15 years later, it insisted the two marry before setting off on a grand tour of the United States.

This is a measure of the Queen's determination to restore a sense of tweedy order and seemliness to the royal institution — an institution she, as a head of the Church of England and a Christian, believes deserves respect.

The British Royal family has been very much battered during the past decade, mainly by messy divorces and the acrimonious fallout from Diana's death. The rehabilitation of Charles and Camilla has become the priority for the palace PR team.

Lately, Camilla's friends have made themselves available to the media to explain how charming, stylish and good-humored she really is.

Even crusty upper-class colonels have been gushing in public.

"She's a very glamorous woman," confessed Col. Richardson-Aitken, who has worked with Camilla at the Osteoporosis Society. "It would be quite inappropriate for me to say she's sexy, because of course I shouldn't say that, but she is very glamorous."

Having Camilla safely coiffed, tiara'd and folded into the family is all part of the royal repair job. Prince Charles, too, has been working on his profile — presenting himself as a champion of the environment and better education for underprivileged children.

So far, it seems to be working, which is somewhat surprising in a country where irreverence is a sport and no one is safe from the raucous tabloids.

Critics and the public, however, are holding their fire because it appears to be more than just a marketing exercise. In fact, it looks like a real love story with a happy ending.

"I think a lot of women in their late 40s and 50s really feel for Camilla," says Hilary Brown, the fashion editor for the Daily Telegraph. "They're fond of her because she's found Mr. Right, or at least she's marrying the man she's loved for three decades."

And the man she loves appears less a graceless, media-hating curmudgeon.

"Charles is now a happy person. He is smiling more" Brandreth says. "In a way, he was a man born with a headache. He's been unhappy for nearly 60 years, on and off. He's someone who feels he didn't have a totally happy childhood. But he has now married the women he loves and he is contented."

Anyone who got past the embarrassing middle of that terrible 1993 phone call, and read all to the end might have seen it coming.

    Camilla: Love you forever
    Charles: Love you. Night.
    Camilla: G'Night my darling. Love you.
    (Charles finally hangs up the phone.)

By Elizabeth Palmer

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