The Associated Press
LONDON - Prince Charles, in his tuxedo, looks anxiously ahead as a protester's fist pounds on his car. His wife Camilla's mouth gapes in shock above her emerald dress.
These are the dramatic images captured by an Associated Press photographer as student protesters vented their anger on the most elite, and supposedly well-protected, of targets - a car containing the heir to the British throne and his consort, the Duchess of Cornwall.
The couple were heading to a theater for a charity variety performance yesterday when their Rolls- Royce crossed paths with a volatile gang of demonstrators who attacked the vehicle with fists, boots and bottles, chanting "Tory scum" and "Off with their heads!"
Young, excited and angry, the protesters had broken off from a large student rally and were running through the West End, bent on spreading mayhem among the throngs of pre-Christmas shoppers.
They broke a Starbucks window, overturned a couple of postcard stands - but seemed as surprised as the royals were when they came face to face.
The protesters fought riot police and smashed store windows after the House of Commons approved a plan to triple university fees to 9,000 pounds ($14,000) a year. Thousands protested peacefully but a minority turned violent. A giant Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square was set on fire.
Adnan Nazir, 23, a podiatrist who was following the protesters, was among the first to recognize the royal couple in their customized Rolls with its extra-large windows.
"I said, 'It's Camilla!' I wasn't trying to alert them. I was just surprised to see her," he said. "A few people turned around and started hitting the windows. People started kicking the car."
Up to 20 attackers surrounded the limousine and pounded it, smashing a window, and splashed the gleaming car with paint. The car behind, an official royal Jaguar, also came under attack,
In the confusion, Nazir said, a window opened. Charles kept his calm, gently pushing his wife toward the floor to get her out of the line of fire.
The 62-year-old prince remained calm, "waving and giving the thumbs' up." "It was just a surreal thing," Nazir said. "It was completely manic."
After several chaotic minutes, the car managed to force its way through the crowd and drive off.
Charles' office, Clarence House, said the couple was unharmed. But Camilla, 63, looked shaken and Charles was somber as they arrived at the London Palladium a few minutes later. Ever the professionals, they managed smiles as they met performers including Kylie Minogue and the boy band Take That.