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(The Hamilton Spectator – May 21, 2005)

“I am a pauper in paradise, Better this than a king in chains.” –Lyric from Pauper in Paradise, by Frozen Ghost

LONDON, ENGLAND – It’s been said that if you find a good friend in life, you’re fortunate. Find two, and you’re exceptionally blessed. And if you have three, then you’re
surely mistaken.

The thought comes to mind while Jean and I are “across the pond” in London, promoting Jean’s brainchild, Save the Mothers International.

It’s a fitting place to be, because five years ago today we met in Ontario’s London. A planned group event at Victoria Day fireworks became our first date when nobody else showed up.

Jean’s been unable to get rid of me ever since.

Here in the original London, the big yawn these days is the Camilla Effect. Think of the Diana Effect, tornado that it was, and turn it inside out. Yes, the Camilla Effect has been England’s biggest non-story for months. “Old Gits to Wed” was one headline of Charles’ and Camilla’s scruffy walk to the altar.

It’s precious little for British media that normally feed off royal fare such as illicit trysts, bulimia and Nazi armbands.

The attention paid to the Charles and Camilla nuptials was a far cry from the 750 million people who tuned in to watch Charles’ and Diana’s fairy-tale wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the summer of 1981. It’s lightyears from Di’s funeral.

Jean, who was in London during both of those events, says about the first: “All I remember is that dress, and its train that went on for three miles.” And the second, “The flowers seemed to never end.”

That’s the Diana Effect. Which begs the question: Rather than doing the mistress thing, and all but destroy a princess, not to mention their own spirits, why didn’t Charles and Camilla simply marry decades ago, before Di even came along?

Apparently because Camilla, who we know is no oil painting, didn’t have enough majestic appeal for the palace. And the prince, who reportedly gets his toothpaste squeezed for him by a valet, wasn’t man enough to either leave her altogether, or put his overbearing family in its royal place.

That really would have saved an ocean of grief. But we live in strange times, where pollsters say 98 per cent of Brits disapprove of drunk driving, but half believe adultery is fine “under certain circumstances.”

With that said, it seems to me that this new, rather dull face of England’s monarchy is not a bad thing. Because unlike the dreamy Diana Effect, Camilla and Charles are now displaying a marriage that’s closer to, for lack of better words, normal.

That’s not to dismiss the value of a good fairy tale. In fact, on the day I proposed to Jean in Canada’s London, I published a special Royal Wedding edition of the St. Thomas Times Journal, my employer at the time, complete with full-front-page story and our childhood photos.

I took Jean to London’s Grand Theatre where, on our entrance, dozens of folks were reading copies of said newspaper. And I had London radio announce the engagement of the “prince and princess.” With all that set-up, it’s a good thing she had said “yes.”

Later, incredibly, in one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction scenarios, I discovered our wedding day of July 29, 2001 — attended by 300 of our closest friends — was 20 years to the day after Charles’ and Di’s.

Clearly the marriage gods were telling me something. And not that our union was destined to explode like the Hindenburg. Rather, the message was simply, “Your marriage is something very noble. Don’t blow it. Because, yes, it also has the potential to burst into flames.”

It’s a reminder, I suspect, every thinking couple since Eden has received in one way or another. But even in our era of lonely hearts and broken homes, there are ways to beat the rotten odds.

One is to do what Charles should have done long ago. Show courage while choosing your relationships.

Walk away from what you believe isn’t best. Use both your heart and your head. Know yourself. Pray hard.

In the end, don’t settle for anyone who can’t be both your lover and your best friend. I didn’t. And you know, now I really do feel like a prince.