Meet the Parker Bowles Windsors

Creating stepfamilies is notoriously difficult--think Cinderella and her stepsisters. So how much harder is it when your stepfamily actually is royalty? When England's future king Prince Charles marries Camilla Parker Bowles on Saturday, it won't just be a union of two, they will also be bringing together their four children (two each) from previous marriages. "It's not like a normal family," says Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty Magazine. "The royals have very much their own schedules. They don't integrate very well. They probably won't even spend Christmas together."

In many ways Camilla's and Charles's new family will be representative of the modern nuclear British family. Eighteen percent of new marriages are between partners that have both been previously married. And as in America, many of these mixed families involve children from previous marriages with different backgrounds and lives--an understatement when it comes to the Windsors and the Parker Bowles.

The Parker Bowles clan is undeniably trendier. Camilla's son, Tom, 30, an Oxford-educated food journalist, this year made it into trendy Tatler Magazine's 100 "Most Invited" list--a British popularity contest led by the likes of Jude Law and Sienna Miller. "He is very much a London boy, he is not a hunting, shooting and fishing man," says writer Susan Hill, Tom's friend and publisher. "He is lovely, completely unspoiled and is very fun to be with. He has stayed with us a lot, and I just love him to bits. He always reminds me of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, he bounds around with enthusiasm."

Tom's younger sister, Laura Parker Bowles, flies a bit lower on the party circuit but cuts a chic blond presence at society charity events with her mother and her boyfriend, former Calvin Klein model Harry Lopes. Laura has backpacked around South America with friends, works in an art gallery in London's Belgravia area and is said to be very close to both her mother and father Andrew Parker Bowles.

Camilla's nephew, Ben Elliot, also 30, is Jade Jagger's ex-boyfriend and the founder of Quintessentially, the hip concierge service. He's famous for his presence at the hottest events from London to South Africa, New York to Dubai. At parties, Ben and his cousin Tom are often the center of attention. Elliot told NEWSWEEK at a posh party in 2003 that he's tried to leverage the popularity into a successful business. "Before I started Quintessentially, all these people were always phoning me up wanting to get on to guest lists. I thought there might be something in it." The company now has $3 million in annual revenues.

Then there are Prince Charles's boys, seen by many as out of touch with the rest of Britain. In January, Prince Harry was the subject of tabloid fodder when he showed up at a "colonials and natives" costume party--the week of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz--wearing a Nazi uniform complete with swastika armband. And last week, The Daily Mirror, a British tabloid, reported that at the swanky Swiss ski resort of Klosters, William made a politically incorrect joke about homosexuality.

While Tom and Laura may be cooler than their future stepbrothers, there's no doubt that the princes play a more important role on the world stage--and are a whole lot richer. Prince William is in line to be king and inherit the wealth of one of the world's most minted families, while Tom and Laura Parker Bowles will remain outside the list of succession, even if (or when, according to most constitutional experts) their mother becomes queen. They won't, however, lack for money: Charles recently set up trust funds worth $1.8 million each for Tom and Laura.

The differences between the kids mirror the "opposites attract" personalities of their parents. Although Camilla and Charles have many loves in common--gardening, riding and hunting--Camilla is said to be social and down to earth. Her fiance is considered uptight and detached. Royal biographer Penny Junor describes the prince's annual Christmas parties for friends and neighbors: "Camilla and Charles work the room together. They set off separately and do the room between them. She is simply brilliant at it. She seems to have a complete knack for moving in on a group, charming them utterly, having just the right sort of things to say and then leaving them on a laugh." Says a friend of Camilla's, "If Camilla sees you at a party, and you haven't seen her in a while, she'll wave at you across the crowded room. She doesn't stand on ceremony. She's very outgoing and feisty. "Prince Charles, on the other hand, is notoriously staid, often grimacing instead of smiling at official photo shoots. The prince's elegant London home, Clarence House, is filled with pristine antiques, on the other hand, Camilla's countryside manor, says her friend, was always the kind of "shabby chic" place where one could sink into the couch with a glass of wine and a cigarette.

Blending two families is often difficult says Paula Hall, a relationship psychotherapist with Relate, the U.K.'s largest counseling provider. "I think in some ways being adult stepchildren makes some things harder. Loyalties can get stretched and challenged. In stepfamilies, the problem happens because the couple is in love and want to get married and they forget or perhaps choose not to consider the impact it may have on other family members. There is this assumption that, 'Because we are OK, it will all be OK'.'' For the Parker Bowles Windsors, family harmony is hardly the only challenge--but it's a good place to start.

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