02/26/2001 at 01:00 AM EST
For their-first public outing together, Prince Charles, Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince William
might have been expected to show up someplace risk-free—a restaurant, perhaps, or a movie premiere. Instead, on Feb. 7, the trio made their joint debut in the unlikeliest of venues: a room teeming with journalists.
The appearance, at a reception hosted by the Press Complaints Commission, a media watchdog group, was "part of the normalization of Charles and Camilla's relationship," says Peter Archer, royal correspondent for Britain's Press Association. In other words: Get used to it, folks.
Of course, normal is a relative term. In a tightly choreographed routine, Charles, 52, and William, 18, arrived together at London's Somerset House precisely 15 minutes earlier than Camilla, 53. Once inside, the threesome split up and staked out separate turf in the long gallery, which was crowded with some 550 guests.
The show of family unity was, says Archer, "a measure of William's maturity that he wants to relate to the woman in his father's life." Relaxedly sipping Chablis and chatting—off the record—about his plans for the rest of his gap year (he's currently working on a farm in southwest England), William "was surprisingly at ease," says Geordie Greig, editor of Britain's Tatler magazine. Still, both William and his father were careful not to be photographed with Camilla. That, says Archer, "will be the next step."