When Prince Charles, on a tour of India last November, returned to base from an expedition in the solitude of the Himalayas, a perceptive reporter with the royal entourage noted a change in his demeanor. The worried and strained look had disappeared, and for the first time in months he seemed completely at peace. That transformation, the reporter later opined to friends in England, signified that Charles had made up his mind on a prospective bride.
Whether or not that was the moment when 32-year-old Charles, heir to the oldest surviving throne in Europe and for years the world’s most eligible bachelor, decided on his Queento-be, the clincher was an intimate dinner for two in his private quarters at Buckingham Palace in early February which culminated in a proposal. Last week, the increasingly leaky secret was out after months of mounting rumor: the future King of England had indeed chosen his bride, and 19-yearold Lady Diana Spencer, blonde, pretty and in his own words “full of life,” was sporting a huge sapphire and diamond engagement ring for the world’s cameras.
Charles’s first reaction seemed one of relief. No longer, he joked with photographers, would he have to worry about headlines speculating on a royal wedding; this time, it would be true, “thank heaven.” Facing the TV cameras for their first interview together, the couple talked of things they had in common—a sense of humor, love of sports and the outdoor life, of how they met “in a plowed field” at a shooting party and of the relentless exposure to public eyes that anyone marrying the future King must endure. Said Charles, smiling fondly at his blueeyed bride-to-be: “Frankly, I’m amazed that she’s been brave enough to take me on.” Replied Diana, “With Prince Charles beside me I can’t go wrong. It’s what I wanted, what I want.” Were they in love, the TV interviewers ponderously
inquired? “Of course,” pouted Lady Di, eyes cast down demurely. “Whatever ‘in love’ means,” shot back Charles in a typically teasing riposte.
It had been a courtship of secrecy and subterfuge with meetings planned, Charles admitted last week, “like a military operation.” One of Diana’s most
Months of rumors were conftrmed last week. Lady Diana Spencer is the Prince's choice.
relentless pursuers, reporter James Whitaker of the Daily Star, said she “treated it all like a game”—even the occasion when, he recalled, she was smuggled dramatically off the royal estate lying facedown in the back of a Land Rover.
The couple first met in 1977, when Diana was a giggling 16-year-old and Charles, 28, was at the Spencer family’s 463-year-old Northamptonshire mansion as a guest of Diana’s elder sister Sarah. It seemed likely then that Sarah,
who later spent a 10-day skiing holiday with Charles, might win his affections, but she dropped out of the running after a tabloid reported a remark that she wouldn’t marry Charles if he asked her. Sarah now recalls that she unwittingly “played Cupid” to her kid sister, introducing her to the prince in the middle of
a field on the Spencer estate. Charles remembers Diana then as “very jolly and amusing, an attractive 16-year-old, great fun, bouncy and full of life.” Diana, asked what she first thought of Charles, said laughingly, “pretty amazing.”
The first sign Diana might be the girl Charles once said would have to be “pretty special” came when she was invited to Balmoral Castle during the Royal Family’s annual Scottish holiday last August. By November, the mass-circulation Sun claimed the Queen had given her blessings to the romance and had allegedly told close friends: “She is a delightful girl. Charles could not find a more perfect partner.”
The hunt by the press now became frenzied. Questions were asked in Parliament and letters written to The Times about the “hounding” of Lady Diana. Meanwhile, it was learned that the prince managed to conduct his courtship in a house he bought last year in London’s expensive Kensington district, conveniently close to Kensington Palace where Diana’s other sister, Jane, has an apartment. Diana, then sharing an apartment with three other girls in the southern part of Kensington, told friends she was going out with “Charles Renfrew”—Baron Renfrew is one of Charles’s many titles. Her apartment mates never met the prince, but at the beginning of February, said Virginia Pitman, 21: “Di just sat on the bed beside me one night and said she was going to marry Prince Charles. There was a big smile on her face. We started to squeal with excitement and then we started to cry.” Charles told interviewers last week he made his proposal just before Diana left for Australia on Feb. 6 for a threeweek holiday. “I wanted to give her a chance to think about it—to think if it was all going to be too awful.” In fact, she accepted right away.
It was an admitted strain keeping the secret, and a few leaks did seep out. Gossip writer Nigel Dempster reported that Crown jewellers were working on an engagement ring, and last Tuesday The Times scooped Fleet Street with a statement that this would be the day. The guessing game finally ended at 11 a.m. as the announcement by the Queen and Prince Philip was flashed around the world. It could not have come at a better time to cheer a Britain deep in economic gloom and political wrangling. Diana is a genuinely popular choice as the first Princess of Wales in 70 years: for one thing, she is the first English girl to marry an heir to the throne since James II’s wife, Anne Hyde, 321 years ago (the Queen Mother comes from the Scottish peerage). She will also be the first Queen consort to have worked for her living; as a children’s nanny, part-time cook and, most recently, kindergarten teacher. “It’s good news—the country needs it,” said a TV repairman as the screen came to life showing the smiling couple. In Parliament, amid news of the worst unemployment since the 1930s, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher broke the announcement to cheers from both sides of the Commons. The only dissenting voice came from Labor’s Willie Hamilton, a veteran Scottish anti-monarchist, who growled at the prospect of “six months of mush.”
On a day that saw more millions of the taxpayers’ money vanish into bankrupt British Steel Corporation, even the stock market perked up at the news of a royal wedding, especially the shares of companies connected with the souvenir business such as Wedgwood, the china firm, and of hotel chains anticipating an influx of foreign tourists. Drawn by the news spreading on car radios and taxis, hundreds flocked to
Buckingham Palace. First confirmation for the watchers came when the band of the Coldstream Guards, their scarlet uniforms muffled in greatcoats against the bitter cold, struck up the 1960s pop song Congratulations in the palace forecourt.
Champagne corks popped in palace offices and on the royal estates. A newspaper seller in London’s Piccadilly Circus told a customer: “Yes it’s true at last—and about time.” And the great
machinery of state ceremonial, always ready to roll into action at a moment’s notice, began its majestic progress toward the day—probably in late July— when Charles and Diana will be married by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, in Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Perhaps not everyone had cause to rejoice last week. Prince Charles’s betrothal puts an end to the great marriage game among society mothers with ambitions for their daughters and finally kills the chances of old flames like Lady Jane Wellesley, daughter of the Duke of Wellington and for many years a favorite of the prince. Charles’s love life was always front-page news. It began at Cambridge (where he took a degree in anthropology and archeology) with Lucia Santa Cruz, dark-eyed daughter of the Chilean ambassador. Among girls he squired—usually blonde—were Laura Jo Watkins, daughter of an admiral; jet-setter Sabrina Guinness; heiress Davina Sheffield, whose former boy-friend indiscreetly revealed details of their life together, and Princess Marie-Astrid of Luxembourg, whom the Daily Express once trumpeted as the “official” choice, but whose Roman Catholic religion caused an uproar.
So how did Diana gain the coveted prize? Mainly, it is suggested, because, apart from her winning personality, she won palace approval for being a girl with a history but no past. No serious boy-friends entered her life before Charles; she tended to go around in a foursome whose idea of entertainment was a glass of wine or gin-and-tonic in a Chelsea pub. Although Charles once said a girl of royal blood would have an advantage as his bride because she would “know the ropes,” Diana Spencer’s family history is as impressive as any in Europe. Her father, the eighth Earl Spencer and an equerry to King George VI and the present Queen, has a family tree going back to medieval times. Diana even brings royal Stuart blood back into the monarchy by being descended from King Charles II. As well, Prince Charles and Diana are distantly related—seventh cousins once removed—and the family tree includes links with the Duke of Marlborough (and hence Winston Churchill).
Diana’s parents divorced in 1969 and both have remarried: up to a few years ago that fact might well have barred their daughter from consideration as a royal bride. Her mother, Frances Shand-Kydd, is married to a wallpaper heir and her stepmother, the former Lady Dartmouth, is a well-known public figure and the daughter of Britain’s best-known romantic novelist, Barbara Cartland.
Diana Frances Spencer, the youngest of four children, was born July 1, 1961, in a house rented from the Queen Sandringham in Norfolk, literally the girl next door—the house was separated from the Royal Gardens only by a wall, and Diana grew up romping with the younger princes, Andrew and Edward. She is remembered as academically average at school, proficient at tennis and swimming. Like all the Royals, she is a country person at heart. Columnist Lynda Lee-Potter of the Daily Mail says that Diana’s “idea of heaven is to spend an afternoon flyfishing, waist-high in freezing water.” Lord Spencer, who last week mingled with the crowds outside Buckingham Palace, “photographing the photogra-
phers,” said of his daughter: “She’s very good-natured, publicity doesn’t worry her.” She was also, he said, “very practical” and “a good housekeeper.” He added, chuckling, that as a baby she was “a superb physical specimen.” Today, the long-legged Diana is five-feet, 10inches tall, just an inch below Prince Charles. It has also been reported that she had a medical checkup to ensure she could bear children.
Diana studied at a private girls’ school in Kent and at finishing school in Switzerland, where she became fluent in French and developed an outstanding skill at skiing—a passion of Prince Charles. She does not, however, care for
riding since she once fell off a horse. She is said to be a born mimic and will enjoy the charades and party games that the Royals love. Diana has always been fond of young children and was popular with her charges at the Young England kindergarten in London’s Pimlico. Throughout the hectic courtship, she was only once embarrassed by the publicity—when photographers manoeuvred her against the sun in a seethrough skirt.
Charles has taken longer to get mar-
ried than any Prince of Wales since Charles II, except for his unfortunate predecessor, later King Edward VIII, who had a propensity for married ladies (see box, above). In a rare moment of unguarded frankness on his Indian tour last year, Charles told reporters of his difficult love life. Sun reporter Harry Arnold remembers the prince saying: “It’s all right for you chaps. You can live with a girl before you marry her, but I can’t. I’ve got to get it right from the word go.”
After their July wedding—the first wedding of a Prince of Wales since 1863—Charles and Diana will live mainly at Highgrove House, a Georgian mansion Charles bought last year for $2.7 million from the son of former prime minister Harold Macmillan. But after their honeymoon—at a spot as yet undecided—the couple may not have long to enjoy the quiet country life. It is strongly rumored that Charles will be named governor-general of Australia. Next month, Charles is scheduled to visit that country for four weeks, leaving Diana to get used to her new life: she is already in residence at Clarence House, the Queen Mother’s London home.
Whatever his future job, one thing will change from now on for Charles: wherever he goes, the kissing will have to stop. The international sport of embracing the bachelor prince began in
Australian surf in March, 1979, with a buss from a bikini-clad swimmer. And when can Diana expect to become Queen? Reports that Queen Elizabeth II is planning to abdicate in favor of Charles have always been repudiated in royal circles. However, the Queen, now 54, was reportedly impressed by the smooth abdication of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands last April in favor of Princess Beatrix, and is known to feel Charles should not endure the tedious apprenticeship of Edward VII, who was 59 when he succeeded Queen Victoria in 1901.
When Diana does become Queen, she would be entitled, the palace says, to adopt a completely different name if she so wished. In the meantime, one enterprising British pop singer rose to the occasion last week by rushing out a new version of a 1950’s hit^Canadian Paul Anka’s composition Diana.
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