By Michelle Tauber
June 17, 2002 12:00 PM

Crowd-pleasing Princes William “and Harry were there. So was self-proclaimed Prince of Darkness Ozzy Osbourne, along with a host of pop royalty like Ricky Martin, Eric Clapton, Tony Bennett and Sir Paul McCartney. But on June 3 the most talked-about guest at Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee blowout at Buckingham Palace was the one who took her seat three rows behind the monarch: Camilla Parker Bowles, Prince Charles’s longtime love. Although Charles and Camilla have appeared together before, the concert marked the first time Camilla had been invited to join the entire Windsor family at a public event. “It shows an acceptance of the relationship by the Queen,” says royals author Robert Lacey.

It also showed a side of the typically staid Camilla that few had ever seen. When Phil Collins crooned the opening lines of “You Can’t Hurry Love,” the 54-year-old divorced mother of two—no stranger to romance deferred, having first fallen for Charles more than 25 years ago—sang along. And when Welsh crooner Tom Jones took the mike, she even joined in with the lyrics to “Sex Bomb.”

God save the Queen indeed. But Palace insiders say the public showing, along with Camilla’s appearance two nights earlier at another Jubilee concert, provides the strongest evidence yet that Charles, 53, is gaining ground in his campaign to officially bring Camilla into the family fold. The Queen “has seen the logic of it, that in her Jubilee year she doesn’t want to be falling out with her son,” says Christopher Wilson, author of the Camilla biography The Windsor Knot. “This has all been done for the sake of family unity, and I think Charles has won the day.”

The Prince of Wales certainly seemed to be celebrating. Taking the stage at the Jubilee rock concert, he lavished praise on his 76-year-old mother. “Your Majesty…Mummy!” he said to thunderous applause from the 1 million-plus revelers. “We are here tonight because above all, we feel proud of you.” The Queen returned the compliment the following day at a luncheon at the Guildhall in London, where she expressed her “admiration for the Prince of Wales and for all he has achieved for this country.”

Following the strain between the Queen and her oldest son over his messy ’96 divorce from Princess Diana and his at-times scandalous romance with Camilla, Elizabeth’s declaration “shows that there has been a patching up and a mending of relationships,” says Wilson. Others note that the death of the Queen Mum in March has mellowed Elizabeth. “It is almost as if she is able to be an older woman now,” says a Palace source. “She can say, ‘I want to slow down.'”

Maybe so, but that didn’t stop the Jubilee celebrations from going at full throttle. After a temporary setback—a small fire at Buckingham Palace on June 2 that caused some water damage but no injuries—the celebration blasted into full swing with Queen guitarist Brian May’s rockin’ rendition of “God Save the Queen” from the palace rooftop. And although Prince William, 19, was seen sticking his fingers in his ears to turn down the volume, his father seemed to enjoy the din. “He has a lovely little silver engraved box that Phil Collins gave him with some earplugs in it,” says May. “Apparently he carries them around with him in his suit pocket. And he said, ‘I was delighted not to have to use them today.'”

Still, a classical-music concert on June 1 seemed more Charles’s speed, even if Camilla appeared unnerved by all the attention. Touching her hair and licking her lips when a camera projected her image onto a giant screen, she took her seat one row behind Charles. Two nights later her positioning at the rock concert reflected Camilla’s status as “a VIP rather than a VVIP,” quips a Palace source.

When it comes to her place in Charles’s heart, however, she is clearly the latter, and royal insiders predict the couple could become engaged to marry as early as the fall. “Charles is ready to commit in the hope that the public will go along with him,” says Wilson. “He will say, ‘This is the woman I need and want.’ I think he is preparing himself for a bold statement of that kind.”

Michelle Tauber

Simon Perry, Nina Biddle, Caris Davis and Bryan Alexander in London