Charles & Camilla at MOMA

November 1, 2005

The Museum of Modern Art is normally closed on Tuesdays, but today metal barriers and law enforcement personnel surrounded the entrance. Inquiring passersby were told simply that “dignitaries” were coming. As night fell, reporters and camera crews assembled in the press areas flanking the front door. Observers started to gather behind the barriers across the street, whispering about what they suspected was about to happen — Prince Charles and his new wife, Camilla, were going to attend a dinner inside the museum

As 7:00 p.m. approached, a series of limousines began drawing up to the door — the invited guests were arriving. They emerged to a flurry of photographic flashes from the press corps and comments from the New Yorkers assembled on the sidewalk.

The observers included some dedicated celebrity-spotters who speculated about which stars might appear, discussing them with a familiarity that implied that the speakers and the subjects of their conversation were good friends.

“I hope Sarah Jessica is coming.”

“Do you think Matthew will be with her?”

“No, he has to work tonight.”

“Oh, that’s right.”

A few of the assembled called out the names of each new arrival, no matter how obscure or minor the celebrity.

“Who’s that?”

“That’s Matthew Modine! Matthew Modine!”


Two reporters from the BBC desperately called out for “Any Britons? Anyone British here?” Unable to find a Brit to interview, they turned to the assembled crowd and asked for reactions. “Why are you here? What do you think of the Prince’s visit?”

A short, stocky woman in a heavy coat confidently announced the arrival of “Joan Collins! Barbara Walters! Elaine Stritch! Steve Kroft — from 60 Minutes!” When asked how she recognized so many faces, she happily declared that she reads People magazine and “goes to things all the time.”

Some tried to make a celebrity connection. A 30-something with dirty blonde hair screamed, “Hey, Deb! We’ll see you in Dalton! See you in Dalton! See you in Dalton, Deb! We’ll see you in Dalton! Hey, Deb, see you in Dalton! See you in Dalton! Hey, Deb!” When she was finally rewarded with a smile and wave from television personality Deborah Norville, the apparent target of her cries, the woman proudly turned to those around her and announced that she, like Ms. Norville, hailed from Dalton, Georgia.

A series of celebrity couples arrived, some scurrying inside without pause, others graciously swanning for the photographers. Donald Trump and his new wife, model Melania Knauss were greeted with cries of “Donald! Donald! I want to be on the Apprentice!” Sting and his wife Trudi Styler heard “Sting! Sting! Look over here, Sting!” Similar shouts greeted the arrivals of Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols, Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenburg. When Yoko Ono exited her car, escorted by publisher Jann Wenner, the spectators cried, “Yoko! Yoko! Turn around, Yoko!”

An enraged New York City detective whirled around, placed his hands on his hips and shouted to the crowd, “How can you people cheer her? That’s the woman who broke up the Beatles!”

Finally, groups of armored men assembled. Walkie-talkies squawked. Police cruisers blocked both ends of the block. Sirens filled the air. A long, black limousine with the Union Jack flying from the hood slid into place in front of the door, and the royal couple emerged. They waved to the assembled reporters but didn’t turn for the New Yorkers who waited with cell phone cameras in hand, calling, “Hey, Prince! Prince! Here, Prince!”

The couple of the evening were quickly escorted inside. The consensus of the crowd: they looked different than expected, he older and grayer, she much nicer. The reporters packed up their gear, the crowd dispersed, and the celebrity spotters, turning towards Broadway, regaled each other with tales of the stars they’d seen on other occasions. “At a book signing, it was Jane Powell and Dickie Moore. They live here, you know…”

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