Stepping out of Old Government House in Brisbane on Wednesday, Prince Charles and Camilla – armed with a practical umbrella she refused to surrender to minions – were greeted with leaden skies. And not much else.
Whatever Charles and Camilla might be good at, drawing huge crowds is not one of them.
“Sadly I think people don’t get them,” said Melbourne mother-of-two Rebecca Buettner, a lifelong monarchist who flew to London in 2011 to stand outside Buckingham Palace on Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding day.
“Both are very funny and engaging but the public won’t give them a go.”
When Queen Elizabeth visited Brisbane in 2011, 45,000 fans pressed into streets to see her.
Seven years later when the future king and his wife arrived, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was among those who had more pressing matters to attend to, sending Peter Dutton as his proxy.
Apart from dignitaries and perfectly-pressed ranks of sailors, those eager to see the British heir and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall were modest at best, thin on the ground at worst.
Taking a public walkabout in the Botanic Gardens, Charles, 69, and Camilla, 70 – in a Philip Treacy hat and Fiona Clare dress – were greeted by several thousand well-wishers.
Three hours before the royals’ appearance, TV cameras showed less than a dozen people appeared to have turned out despite official advice to arrive early to land a spot.
Courier Mail journalist Belinda Seeney filmed the sparsely-populated scene about 45 minutes before the royal arrival.
— Belinda Seeney (@BelindaSeeney) April 4, 2018
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk put out the call on Tuesday for supporters.
“I would ask people in Brisbane to come out and show their warmth and hospitality and greet them in a lovely warm Queensland welcome,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
That welcome was more a slow burn, with Sky News eventually and cautiously declaring that after the initial poor turnout, numbers “exceeded expectations”.
In their own personal lexicon, it may have actually been a rock star welcome for Charles and Camilla, who have become accustomed to low-key turnouts during royal tours since their 2005 wedding.
As they visited a university and did an ice wine tasting in Canada in November 2009, only about 300 people turned out.
“Still, the crowd at the college was impressive compared with other stopovers like Cupids, Newfoundland, where the head count was 57,” The Niagara Gazette reported.
It noted the local baseball team “draws more on a rainy, free door prize night”.
To put Prince Charles’ pulling power into some perspective, when he visited Brisbane in 1983 with his young wife Princess Diana, a surging crowd of 80,000 mobbed the couple, leading to a security nightmare.
People “are still too caught up with Diana and feel Camilla is ‘the other woman’ and that Charles treated Di badly, instead of accepting the marriage just didn’t work for lots of reasons”, Mrs Buettner said.
“Charles is misunderstood and it harks back to stupid ‘talks to the trees’ labels and his stuffy voice and big ears.
“He’s a forward thinker and very pro people, a progressive. I can’t wait for King Charles III.”
Visiting Sydney last June to promote his Invictus Games, Prince Harry, 33, proved much more a people magnet than his father.
Crowds braved rain and conditions described as “virtually cyclonic” while waiting hours for the popular Harry.
The weather held off in Brisbane for Charles, making his 16th visit to Australia, and the duchess, on her third trip.
The couple landed at 12.20pm on a RAAF plane from the tiny airport at Wagga Wagga.
They had slipped into the country before their official visit began, reportedly to spend time with friends at the Deltroit Estate near Gundagai, NSW.
The property was bought in 2016 for a price believed to be between $16 and $19 million by British-Australian businessman Sir Michael Hintze, a longstanding friend of Charles.
The 2573ha property has suitably aristocratic accommodations: a renovated 1903 Federation-style homestead with five bedrooms, heated pool, tennis court, original coach house and dressage arena.