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Charles throws lavish 50th birthday bash for Camilla

July 18, 1997 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ Prince Charles threw a lavish champagne supper Friday to celebrate the 50th birthday of Camilla Parker Bowles _ leaving the nation wondering if he might soon be celebrating marriage to the love of his life.

Eighty guests _ including Mrs. Parker Bowles’ ex-husband Andrew and his second wife _ gathered at Highgrove, Charles’ country estate in southwest England, for canapes followed by a five-course meal and birthday cake, then dancing.

No other royals were invited, news reports said. Not surprisingly, Charles’ ex-wife Diana, who has blamed Mrs. Parker Bowles for destroying the royal marriage, was also left off the guest list.

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``For one evening, at least, Camilla will be queen of her own court,″ gushed the royalist Express tabloid.

Buckingham Palace said Charles’ bash was private, but some media royal watchers described it as Charles’ most public statement yet about the woman he has doted on for more than two decades.

They believe the widely publicized event _ newspapers have run aerial photos of the party tent in Charles’ garden _ is the prince’s way of gently easing Camilla into the spotlight.

``It is now plain as day that (Mrs. Parker Bowles) and the Prince of Wales want to get married and are running a massive public relations operation to try to influence opinion in her favor,″ said an editorial in The Independent.

Others, however, believe the 48-year-old heir to the throne is now a confirmed bachelor after the disaster of his marriage to Diana.

Whatever they decide, Charles and Mrs. Parker Bowles are very much a couple.

The birthday woman was first to arrive for Friday’s bash, chauffeur-driven from her home 15 miles away. Wearing a sleeveless dress of dark blue silk and a glittering necklace, her blonde hair newly cut, she smiled for the journalists who staked out the entrance to Highgrove.

On Thursday, Camilla’s birthday, the Mirror tabloid published a survey showing 67 percent of Britons think the couple should marry. A fifth of the 500 people questioned said they had changed their minds about Mrs. Parker Bowles in the past year, it said.

But 44 percent thought that if they did marry, she should not be crowned queen and should be given some other title. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

A MORI poll of 806 people for The Mail on Sunday showed 59 percent thought the couple should continue their relationship and 43 percent wanted them to marry. But 71 percent opposed Mrs. Parker Bowles becoming queen. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 points.