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Life in the royal bubble has moments of levity, lots of running

MONTREAL - Ever wonder what it's like in that royal bubble when the heir to the throne and his wife come to call?

MONTREAL - Ever wonder what it's like in that royal bubble when the heir to the throne and his wife come to call?

For one thing, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, come with their own crowd. Not your typical well-wishers, though. Their shadows are a small army of security, their own staff, Canadian government officials, assistants and media.

"The analogy is the graceful swan swimming on the water and yet the little feet underneath are swimming up a storm," says Kevin MacLeod, the Canadian secretary to the Queen and the visit co-ordinator.

And if you're among those little feet, scurrying to keep up with the fast-moving entourage? First tip - bring food. And comfortable shoes.

That's because otherwise you won't eat and you'll run like a marathoner.

Not that the prince does any better. He's like some regal Jack Bauer, the hard-driving anti-terror agent on TV's "24," who is never seen eating or making a pit stop.

"They have a very good breakfast and a very good dinner," says MacLeod. They want to get from one event to the other and meet people.

And they did plenty of that during their 11-day visit, which wrapped Thursday.

Organizing a trip like the one just ended is no small thing. You don't just throw together a schedule and point the royals at it. They have things they want to do, issues they want to address.

Like Jack Bauer, Charles gets from one end of the city he's visiting to another in record time - thanks to motorcycle escorts and enough flashing lights to put any self-respecting pinball arcade to shame.

Forget pulling out of your parking space - or going anywhere - when you see a royal motorcade coming. Turn that steering wheel and you'll find a leather-jacketed motorcycle cop planting himself in front of you and raising his hand to signal it's OK for the cavalcade to pass.

It prompts lots of gawking from the sidewalks. Cellphone cameras are raised. People wave, even to the media and the Mounties.

The royal motorcades usually number around a dozen cars and vans, many of them hauling around burly RCMP officers, who talk into tiny microphones in their sleeves - sort of a new variation on the catchphrase "talk to the hand" - and rotate their heads like turrets when they form a protective box around the couple.

Media, both Canadian and British, are stuffed into the other vans. The Brits squint at the local landmarks as they whizz past the motorcade.

They recognized Montreal's Olympic Stadium - and wondered whether the famously over-budget building has finally been paid off yet.

The RCMP officers driving in the motorcade fire it along the road like a bullet. At top speed, they usually burst through a usually traffic-heavy downtown core at 100 km-h.

The speed continues when the vehicles stop. While the royals disembark with the grace expected from a future king, everyone else pretty much spills out like clowns out of those little cars at the circus.

Handlers spur everyone on with waves and shouts of, "Let's go, let's go, stay close."

When it's remarked that it's good to be in shape for a day like this, the reply is: "Yes, it is."

When the royals are on the road, two offices - one for the Canadian government and one for Buckingham Palace representatives - are up and running, as MacLeod says.

Documents are updated, faxes fly, concerns are ironed out - "all types of things that are really for all intents and purposes pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle that have to come together."

One of the week's biggest hurdles was the demonstration by sovereigntists in Montreal on Tuesday.

That delayed Charles and Camilla's arrival at a military ceremony by about a half-hour, and the royals had to enter through a back door because of the raucous demonstators.

"That was one small issue in a 10-day program which involved somewhere between 60 and 70 major events," MacLeod says. "By and large. . .the reaction, the reception they received was incredibly positive."

It was rather informal at times.

When it rained in Hamilton, Ont., the royal couple were handed their own umbrellas and hoisted them aloft. It was positively pedestrian comportment, compared with a recent visit to the same province by a TV star.

During her stop in Toronto a few weeks ago, Pamela Anderson had bodyguards hold her umbrella over her head during a downpour when she visited Queen's Park for a protest.

There are protocols, though.

You can't talk to the royals if you're in the media. There's none of that shouting of questions that brings that momentary grimace from politicians. Journalists covering the royals simply watch. They strain to hear what's being said, like when Charles surprised a New Brunswick tourist in Montreal.

"I'm sorry for interrupting your shopping trip," he told her with a grin and a handshake.

The woman said later she wasn't sure what he was talking about. She wasn't shopping, she said. Could have been that famously dry Brit wit.

Ah, the handshakes. That's another wrinkle, considering the fear gripping Canada with daily stories about the spread of H1N1.

MacLeod says that right from the first day, all the Canadians and British working on the event were reminded about the Health Canada guidelines to combat the flu. Hands were checked.

"If there were some people who were reticent about shaking hands, then certainly no offence would be taken by the Royal Family if a hand wasn't extended in terms of greeting because public safety, public health comes first."

There are occasional snafus.

Take Charles' visit to the Stella Burry Community Services Centre in St. John's, NL.

He was unveiling another one of the plaques that herald his visits around the world. But beside it was a object covered up with a white sheet, so Charles did the natural thing: he whipped off that cloak, too, with great fanfare. It was a parking meter.

Charles looked surprised for a moment before bursting into laughter. So did the crowd.

"I think maybe the city of St. John's should unveil a plaque saying this parking meter belongs to the Prince of Wales," MacLeod joked.

 
 
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