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Queen & princess pip prince to popularity post

Canberra, March 1 (Reuters): It is a royal showdown that Prince Charles, the greying, middle-aged heir to the British throne, lost before he even touched down in Australia late last night.

Charles's first trip to Australia in a decade is being overshadowed by an overlapping visit from the country's home-grown Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and newly crowned queen of the silver screen, Oscar-winning actor Cate Blanchett.

The newly engaged prince ' already battling popularity woes over his upcoming wedding to divorcee Camilla Parker Bowles ' has proven no match for the glamour of Mary and Blanchett, who won the Academy Award for best supporting actress.

Blanchett's photograph was splashed across the front page of every major newspaper in Australia today with one tabloid dubbing her 'Queen Cate', while Mary and husband Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark also featured heavily on the inside pages.

It is the first visit home by 'our Mary', as the media has dubbed her, since her marriage to Frederik last May after a fairy-tale romance, which began with a chance meeting in a Sydney bar at the 2000 Olympics. Stylish Mary, who regularly graces the covers of Australian women's magazines, is in line to be the first Australian-born woman to become a queen.

'The ever-smiling Princess Mary of Denmark has clearly romped past grumpy Prince Charles in the royal celebrity stakes,' columnist D.D. McNicoll wrote on the front page of The Australian newspaper yesterday.

But it is not the first time Charles has had the limelight stolen from him during a trip to Australia, a former British colony that narrowly voted against becoming a republic in 1999 and breaking its ties with Queen Elizabeth II.

His first trip overseas with his glamourous and extremely popular late wife Diana, Princess of Wales ' who was killed in a 1997 Paris car crash a year after her divorce from Charles ' was to Australia in 1983.

But while Mary appears to have stolen the limelight from Charles, she has not escaped criticism with reports that the Danish media was disappointed their crown princess was not interacting more with the Australian public.

Her visit consists mostly of formal luncheons and dinners, while Charles has a jam-packed schedule for his brief visit, which involves meeting medical staff, teachers, sporting coaches, farmers and Aborigines.

Thousands of well-wishers turned out on Sunday to watch Mary, 33, take on Frederik in a yacht race on Sydney Harbour, while only a large media contingent met Charles when he arrived in the Western Australian state capital Perth yesterday.

Charles had arrived from Sri Lanka, where he met Tamil fishermen and volunteers rebuilding the country's tsunami-shattered coastal regions.

'Bringing up the discreetly nocturnal arrival of the soon-to-be-wed heir to the throne at a time while another heir, Crown Prince Frederik and his wife ... are lighting up the eastern seaboard with their youth, beauty and freshness, is rather like interrupting a rave party with 'God Save the Queen',' said The Age newspaper today.

The Australian's McNicoll said Mary had 'hijacked whatever affection the public once held for (the British royal) family' and that Charles was unlikely to find sympathy in Australia over the increasingly farcical preparations for his April 8 wedding.

Royal-watchers are aghast after the venue for the civil ceremony had to be switched from the exclusive Windsor Castle to the local town hall after a marriage licence mix-up and Queen Elizabeth saying that she would not attend the wedding.

Charles's low-key second wedding will be in stark contrast to the storybook marriage of Mary and Frederik in Copenhagen, which was preceded by a week of festivities and attended by royalty from around the world.

Charles will spend five days in Australia, visiting Perth, Alice Springs, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, while Mary and Frederik are combining official engagements in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Hobart over several weeks with a private holiday.

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