REPORTING FROM LONDON -- They are the woman who would be queen, the woman who will be queen and the woman who is the queen.
Central London on Thursday was the scene of the first joint public appearance by Elizabeth Windsor, Camilla Parker Bowles and Kate Middleton -- or, as they're more formally known, Queen Elizabeth II, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge, respectively. The three women stopped in for tea and a tour of the posh Piccadilly store Fortnum & Mason, purveyor of fine foods to the rich and famous, and to tourists.
The visit was an official event on the royal calendar, not just an unannounced drop-in for a quick break from the rigors of life at Buckingham Palace down the street.
The queen is celebrating her diamond jubilee this year, marking 60 years on the throne. The last British monarch to reach that milestone was her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, in 1897.
Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall, is married to Prince Charles, the first in line to the throne. But many royal watchers here say that, despite her private aspirations, it's unlikely she will ever be designated "Queen" Camilla once her husband is crowned king, since both of them are remarried divorcés.
Middleton, on the other hand, will almost certainly become Queen Catherine one day, when Prince William, whom she married last year, ascends the throne (he is second in line). The last few months have been a coming-out of sorts for the 30-year-old Duchess of Cambridge, who has begun to make more official public appearances, including some without her husband. Also, she got a puppy.
At Fortnum & Mason, the three generations of royals were greeted by well-wishers and a few protesters against foie gras. They met members of the British military and were presented with Fortnum & Mason's famous picnic hampers, which, as a BBC news presenter assured an anxious nation, "I'm delighted to report did contain dog biscuits along with delicacies for humans."
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-- Henry Chu
Photo: Kate Middleton, the duchess of Cambridge, left, and Camilla Parker Bowles, the duchess of Cornwall, flank Queen Elizabeth II on the three women's first joint public appearance in central London on Thursday. Credit: Ian Gavan / Getty Images