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Wife's affair with Charles didn't faze him

Charles and Camilla. Rumors circulated for years. But now that everyone knows about the prince and his mistress, it's a bit more awkward.

Army Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles now has to dodge the jokes as well as the reporters and photographers around the family's mansion in the southwest English village of Pickwick. Still, the 54-year-old army brigadier stands gallantly at his wife's side.

If Parker Bowles feels ruffled, it isn't showing.

The flap began in a television interview in June, when Charles acknowledged being unfaithful to Princess Diana. Over the weekend, the second installment of Jonathan Dimbleby's The Prince of Wales revealed Charles was involved three separate times with Mrs. Parker Bowles since he met the then-Camilla Shand as a 23-year-old naval officer. Two of their affairs occurred after she was married.

To millions of Britons, Parker Bowles looks quite simply like the nation's most long-suffering husband.

Not so, say the gossip columnists.

"The Parker Bowleses, like Scott Fitzgerald's rich, are different from you and me," Daily Express columnist Jonathan Cooper wrote Monday.

"For more than 20 years, Camilla Parker Bowles has been the on-off mistress of Prince Charles and, for more than 20 years, Andrew Parker Bowles has tolerated and even joked about it."

Charles did not marry Camilla, according to the biography, because he "was still too young and too uncertain of feelings to contemplate such a huge step, while both were far too reserved with each other even to mention the subject."

So Charles went away to sea for eight months, and Camilla married Parker Bowles, a previous suitor and a well-connected officer in the elite Blues and Royals regiment. They have two children, Tom, 19, and Laura, 16.

"I suppose the feeling of emptiness will pass eventually," Charles lamented in a letter to a friend after the 1973 marriage of the Parker Bowleses.

Big and bluff and from the same upper-class background as his 47-year-old wife, Parker Bowles was a recognizable figure in the British tabloids, even before the heir to the throne publicly spilled the beans. He was pictured from time to time, walking with his wife in the royal enclosure at the Ascot racetrack, driving in the country, occasionally at high society functions.

Queen Elizabeth II _ whose continuing friendship with the Parker Bowleses was resented by Diana, according to friends _ gave him a ceremonial post several years ago: Silver Stick in Waiting to the Queen.

But while Camilla had Charles, Andrew also had affairs, according to published reports. Some say the Parker Bowleses never divorced partly because he is a Roman Catholic. Others say the "open marriage" suited everyone fine, at least until Charles went public.

Yet, always loyal to the royal family, the Parker Bowleses are the one couple no one has persuaded to talk.