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May 05, 2023

Sixteen years ago, King Charles and Queen Camilla spent a weekend touring Philly

The royal couple, set to be coronated Saturday, saw the Liberty Bell, caught a concert with then-Gov. Ed Rendell and attended a Center City church service in 2007

When Princes Charles and his wife Camilla Parker Bowles stepped onto the streets of Philadelphia on Jan. 26, 2007, it was the first time a prince of Wales had visited the city in well over a century.

Charles' great-great-grandfather, the future King Edward VII, had toured Philly in 1860, before the city had widespread electricity or indoor plumbing. Conditions were considerably better for Charles, who spent his weekend visit touring landmarks like the Liberty Bell, attending a glitzy concert at the Academy of Music and dining privately at his $2,500-a-night suite at the Four Seasons — all in the service of an ongoing rebrand of his public image.

When Prince Charles, who will be crowned king of England in a coronation ceremony in London on Saturday, made his pilgrimage to Philadelphia, he was still attempting to reintroduce himself to the world. He had married Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall, just two years prior, after a years-long and much-publicized affair with her during his marriage to Princess Diana, which had done considerable damage to his reputation. Charles and Diana divorced in 1996, and the beloved princess died in a car crash the following year. 

Charles and Camilla did not make any public appearances as a couple until 1999, slowly building up to their April 5, 2005 wedding, which Queen Elizabeth II, who died last September, did not attend. The couple's first trip to the U.S. was a tour of Washington, New York and San Francisco that same year. The 2007 Philadelphia tour, then, had a lot riding on it, especially given the lengthy gap since the last visit from the prince of Wales and the fact that, as the UK Press Association put it, "the U.S. has traditionally been considered 'Diana-territory.'" The late princess was especially famous for dancing with John Travolta at the White House in 1985.

The royal couple flew commercial into Philadelphia, spurning a more traditional chartered plane due to environmental concerns — after his Philly visit, Princes Charles was scheduled to stop in New York to accept an award for his conservation efforts. After resting, they hit the town for their first full day of activities on Saturday, Jan. 27. One of the first items on the schedule was a tour of some Mural Arts Philadelphia projects. According to the Inquirer, the royals even helped paint a new work at Heavenly Hall Full Gospel Church in West Philly.

Charles and Camilla also took a tour of Liberty Hall that day, guided by National Park Service ranger Larry McClenneyIn addition to shaking hands with well wishers outside Independence Hall, the prince delivered a speech at the National Constitution Center, thanking the city for its "wonderful example of Philadelphia hospitality."

While there, Camilla also got familiar with the statues of the Founding Fathers.

But the big event of the evening was the 150th anniversary concert at the Academy of Music, an institution that was just a few years old when Charles' great-great-grandfather visited the city. The royal couple arrived in formal evening wear, with Camilla reportedly sporting a $25 million necklace. They shared a box with then-Gov. Ed Rendell and his ex-wife Midge, listening to Verdi opera selections and classical music.

Also on the program? A performance by Rod Stewart, who joked that the extreme formality of the evening made him anxious. 

"For the first time in my life, I was a little nervous," he told the Associated Press. "You know, it's just different. It's not the screaming hordes that I get every night."

The next morning, Charles and Camilla attended an hour-long service at Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Logan Square, a ticketed affair featuring Welsh readings and many kilts. But then it was time to board the train to New York, marking the end of their whirlwind tour of Philly.

Judging by the reactions of the gushing fans captured by local media at the time, the trip was a success. No one danced with Travolta, but everything went off without a hitch — no gaffes or embarrassing photos, and plenty of good PR. Still, someone must have messed up because one thing was noticeably absent from Charles and Camilla's jam-packed weekend itinerary: a stop for an authentic Philly cheesesteak.

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