LONDON — Everything seemed to sparkle Wednesday as Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall, checked out the renovated Canada House on Trafalgar Square in the ceremonial centre of London.
It was the warmest, sunniest day of the spring thus far, bathing the renovated diplomatic quarters in natural light, and the building itself practically gleamed, with windows scrubbed in advance of the royal visit and the white walls festooned with Canadian works of art, including a bronzed bison sculpture.
It was a chance for High Commissioner Gordon Campbell to show off the new premises, which had been formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II last year, and to highlight how the building had been modernized without sacrificing its architectural heritage, a theme dear to Charles’ heart.
“I think it went well,” Campbell said after the royal couple departed and the red carpet had been partially rolled up for removal. “It was a special day for us.”
Charles and Camilla greeted more than 100 people on their lengthy tour, including visits to many rooms named after Canadian provinces and territories, each with a few residents from that region present to meet the heir to the throne.
“It’s not every day you meet your future king,” said one man in the Manitoba Room after showing Charles a number of artifacts including a Winnie the Pooh teddy bear modelled after the real life Winnie, a cub reared by a Manitoba man who named it after his home city, Winnipeg, or Winnie for short.
Charles seemed uninterested in keeping to his fairly tight schedule, preferring to talk with every staff member and visiting Canadian he could, prompting Camilla at least once to pull him by the shoulder so he would disengage and go to the next room.
“I’m just trying to practice my French,” Charles said softly as they moved on.
He wore a double-breasted striped suit and his customary silk pocket square; Camilla wore a blue dress with pearls and sported high-heeled shoes despite having to climb 111 steps at the start of the tour.
That ascent took them to the rooftop beehives, where keepers in protective gear showed them the bees at work. Charles and Camilla were not flustered by the bees buzzing about, but they did not get too close.
“They are very enterprising,” was Charles’ comment. The likely future king has for decades promoted organic farming and has taken a keen interest in bees.
Charles and Camilla also greeted members of the restoration and architectural team that had been in charge of the complex operation — which involved, for example, removing three layers of dingy linoleum to expose marble floors in a black and white checkerboard pattern — and beribboned officers from the Canadian National Defence liaison staff.
The visit ended with a ground floor reception, where Charles showed an uncanny skill at balancing a cup of steaming coffee in his left hand while shaking hands with more than 100 people with his right hand.
They signed the guest book on their way out, taking up an entire page to write “Charles” and “Camilla” in large script.
Melissa Grelo, host of The Social, said she had been nervous before meeting Charles but found him easy to talk to.
“He was lovely, warm, exactly as I thought he would be,” she said. “Very passionate about what he does and that extends to his charitable works in Canada. He’s very disarming, very welcoming, just puts you straight at ease.”