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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 March 2006, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Camilla learns new skills on royal tour
By Nicholas Witchell
BBC Royal Correspondent

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall
The Duchess of Cornwall is growing in stature as a royal

It is strange but true - but the Duchess of Cornwall has never really had what you would call a proper job in her life.

Until now that is.

Assuming, of course, that being Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall, wife of the Prince of Wales, counts as a job - which I suspect many might question.

But the role has propelled her into a position where she has responsibilities and in which she has to do a certain amount of work.

And that, according to some at least who know her, is not something to which she is accustomed.

She married her first husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, while she was in her twenties - and retired to the country to bring up her two children and to pursue the sort of pastimes that are customary for relatively well-born ladies.

'Inordinately lazy'

She hunted a lot. And, privately, she was a close confidante of the Prince of Wales, for many years.

Now, of course, things are different. She is his wife, and she is very publicly on show - and never more so than on a tour such as this, which has taken Charles and Camilla to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India.

So how is the woman whom Charles' former deputy private secretary Mark Bolland once - rather unkindly - described as "inordinately lazy" actually doing?

Well, she is certainly trying very hard, in a situation which cannot be easy for her.

Her present husband has been doing this sort of thing all his adult life.

The more practice she gets the better, doubtless, she will become, and the more relaxed she will seem
Nicholas Witchell

He has mastered the art of small talk to strangers and of sardonic, deprecating asides whilst virtually all the time ignoring the persistent clamour of dozens of photographers clustered around him.

It is all second nature to him. But to Camilla it isn't.

She is the focus of very considerable media attention, much of which - as she very well knows - is predisposed towards making unflattering comparisons between her and Charles' first wife, Diana, who was always the photographers' favourite.

Little wonder then that Camilla frequently looks a little tense.

The Duchess of Cornwall and a boy
Mastering small talk is among the lessons needed for royals

She clearly wants to get it right, and in a way which complements rather than competes with her husband.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, she had to fulfil a programme of engagements largely on her own, in deference to Saudi sensitivities about women.

One of them was at a multi-national school.

Now, making small talk with eight-year-olds is always likely to be a little challenging, and Camilla clearly found it rather tricky.

The "hello" was boomed out in all directions, but there was not quite the ready empathy or steadiness of gaze which anyone meeting royalty - whether child or adult - is likely to find reassuring.

Learning curve

At an age when most people are contemplating retirement, the former Camilla Parker Bowles has finally found herself with some work to do, and she is having to learn what is required.

There have been moments when she has seemed almost as jumpy and anxious as the people she has been meeting.

As with everything it is a matter of experience.

The more practice she gets the better, doubtless, she will become, and the more relaxed she will seem.

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