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Gary Younge
Soft focus and hard sell to flog the royal celebrity

At Juniors cheesecake emporium in Brooklyn the request to switch channels from the New York Yankees in the World Series playoffs to Good Morning America reporting live from Windsor Castle was greeted more with bemusement than belligerence.

The four plain-clothed police officers who had just finished their night shift relinquished the remote with a shrug but no struggle. "With everything going on in the world, it's the last thing on my mind," said one who did not wish to be named. So long as ABC anchor Charlie Gibson was reflecting on the artwork and antiques their ambivalence held firm. But when Prince Charles and Camilla came on screen, they looked up from their turkey sausage and home fries. "If I had that kind of money I could get a hotter girl," he said. Prince William's girlfriend, Kate Middleton, was "cute"; Prince Harry's companion Chelsy Davy, "not so cute".

Whether this was quite the reaction the palace had in mind when they decided to open the doors of Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Holyrood to the American network for two days is not clear. With the number of American tourists coming to England down 12% since 2000, the move was granted to boost tourism.

And so it was, that with shots of soldiers in redcoats and busbies, "a tale of two princes" and the cherubic singers of St George's choir, the "old country" was sold back to the new world. ABC bought it wholesale. As their cameras panned up the Long Walk which leads to Windsor, the presenter said: "The Long Walk up to Windsor Castle, travelled for centuries by kings, queens, heads of state and now you, in a one-of-a-kind broadcast. It's the Queen's favourite home and now it's our home for the next two hours on Good Morning America."

The mixture of soft focus and hard sell will gain momentum next month when Charles and Camilla arrive for their first foreign engagement as a couple. Clarence House said the trip was aimed at "highlighting some of the many links which bind the two countries together". The huge video screen in Manhattan's Times Square, showing young men in camouflage, was a pertinent reminder of our latest joint venture. But across the road outside the ABC studios, Dennis from Los Angeles was enjoying the show. "Americans have always been very interested in the royal family," he said. "It's like a fairy tale for us."

Curiously, the issue of when Britain might become a republic never comes up here. America may have expelled royalty by force, but two centuries later they are happy to allow it to return in the form of celebrity. This offers as many pitfalls as it does potential. With indiscretions within the royal household far more likely to make headlines here than a general election, Charles and Camilla's reputation has serious tabloid appeal. Conscious of the huge amount of affection that remains for "Lady Diana", royal officials have embarked on a public relations exercise ahead of the prince's visit, including an exclusive interview with CBS' 60 minutes.

"They're weird," said Carey Gee from New Hampshire. "I'm glad we don't have them here. I feel bad for Diana though. I think there's something strange about how she died. I think she was bumped off..."

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