April 25, 2005 12:00 PM

So what if the groom never publicly kissed the bride? Behind the scenes. Camilla Parker Bowles featured in some smooches that were more significant. As she and Prince Charles left their Windsor Castle reception on April 9, a beaming Prince Harry pecked his new stepmum goodbye on both cheeks, followed by an equally affectionate Prince William. The royal welcome to the family from the Windsor boys—who had never even been photographed alongside Camilla before—didn’t end there. As the couple stepped into a Bentley the princes had decorated with graffiti reading “C+C” and “Just Married,” the brothers showered Charles and Camilla with confetti and chased the car, yelling the same phrase Charles and Camilla had shyly proffered to their invited guests all day: “Thanks for coming!”

In fact, William and Harry were the ones who deserved thanks. After weeks of nasty headlines and a day in which a seemingly sour Queen barely cracked a public smile, the pure joy Charles’s sons displayed from beginning to end made the day. “The two boys were in fantastic form,” says Gerald Ward, Harry’s godfather. “They were both very happy.” High spirits were contagious among the approximately 750 guests—an odd assortment that included Prime Minister Tony Blair, Phil Collins and Joan Rivers—who attended the blessing and reception that followed a small civil service at Windsor’s town hall. Says Rivers: “It was like one giant family wedding.”

As opposed, say, to the typical royal nuptial extravaganza. From the bus that dropped off William and Harry, royal relations and Camilla’s children Tom and Laura Parker Bowles at the civil ceremony, to the mini Cornish pasties and scones at the reception, the wedding was low-key. At 12:26 p.m. the prince, 56, in morning dress, and Camilla, 57, in a prim ivory suit, arrived in a vintage Rolls-Royce to the cheers of a 20,000-strong crowd—hardly the millions who mobbed the streets of London during Charles’s first wedding. A half hour later they emerged as husband and wife—or Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall—and drove off half a mile to the castle. Attendants William, Harry and Tom Parker Bowles looked on—along with a lip-reader deployed by the British newspaper the News of the World (see box), who claimed Will turned to Tom and said, “Well, I’m happy with that.” Replied Tom: “Yup, me too.” Ninety minutes later, Camilla, now wearing a shimmering blue gown, and Charles entered St. George’s Chapel, where they received the Archbishop of Canterbury’s blessing and recited a 17th-century general confession that, to the delight of the tabloids, read, “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.”

At a tea-and-finger-food reception in Windsor Castle’s state apartments, the Queen, who skipped the civil ceremony, likened the couple’s romance to obstacles in a horse race. “My son is home and dry with the woman he loves,” she said. “Welcome to the winner’s enclosure.” Charles thanked “my darling Camilla” for “taking on the task of being married to me.” Rivers, who knows the couple through her work with Charles’s foundation, collared Camilla and offered to give her a lingerie shower. “She said, ‘Don’t you dare. We don’t do that in Britain,’ ” Rivers says. “They both have a great sense of humor.” A good-natured Charles simply laughed when a guest spilled orange juice on his morning suit. As for William and Harry, says Camilla’s friend William Shawcross, “[they] were milling around the crowd, extremely cheerful, looking naughty and having fun decorating that car.”

After honeymooning at Birkhall in Scotland, the prince and the Duchess of Cornwall will begin official duties together—including a likely U.S. trip next year. No longer persona non grata at the palace, Camilla is now the most senior female royal after the Queen. Still, a Sunday Times poll shows 73 percent of Brits don’t want her to be queen and 58 percent want William as the next king instead of Charles. But none of that mattered as the newlyweds left Windsor’s gates and headed into the future together. Says wedding guest and pal Jilly Cooper: “You could have warmed your hands on their happiness. It was lovely.”

Anne-Marie O’Neill. Simon Perry, Sara Hammel, Jill Martin and Pete Norman in Windsor

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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