For the world’s most celebrated and glamorous royal couple, last week’s routine saw them shuttling between public duties and family responsibilities: the husband visited poor neighborhoods in the industrial city of Manchester, and his wife took their children to see the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But in the pages of Fleet Street’s tabloids and serious newspapers, millions of British readers were avidly consuming far more sensational
accounts of the lives of Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales. Indeed, gossip columnists and political analysts alike retailed rumors that the royal superstars—the future King and Queen of the United Kingdom and Canada—have not, it appears, been living happily ever after. Under the banner headline DIANA BLOWS HER TOP, the Sunday People claimed that the princess was “furious” about Charles’s long and frequent absences from home.
As is often the case with stories about the British monarchy, facts about the state of the royal marriage were in exceptionally short supply. Although the Buckingham Palace press office maintained its customary stony silence on the private lives of the Royal Family, several prominent royal-watchers insisted that Prince Charles, 38, and Diana, 26, had been living separate lives for most of the year.
For one thing, they duly noted Diana’s presence at a gala fashion show in London last weekwhile Charles remained at the couple’s country home in Gloucestershire, 140 km west of the city. Indeed, reporters assigned to cover the prince and princess said that in the past six weeks the couple had spent a total of only 26 hours together. Apart from two brief spells in London—and a brief reunion while they visited flood victims in Wales —Prince Charles spent most of that time on vacation at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, his favorite rural retreat. Meanwhile, Diana, who makes no secret of her preference for the comforts and excitement of urban life, stayed at London’s Kensington Palace with sons William, 5, and Henry, 3.
Now, the couple’s divergent activities have prompted the country’s
so-called quality press and historians and constitutional experts in Britain and abroad to engage in speculation about a supposedly soured royal marriage. The Sunday Times, for one, reported that royal aides were concerned that the two young princes might begin to regard their bodyguards as substitute father figures in Charles’s absence. For his part, Harold BrooksBaker, the publishing director of Burke ’s Peerage and a leading authority on the British aristocracy, said that the intense coverage had tarnished the Royal Family’s image—and had under-
mined the stability of the monarchy. Still, he dismissed suggestions that the supposed rift might prompt the couple to seek a divorce. Predicted BrooksBaker: “That will never happen.”
Doubts: At the University of Western Ontario, Neville Thompson, a specialist in modern British history, expressed similar doubts about the likelihood of a royal divorce—but he noted that there were ample precedents of British royal couples living separate lives (page 36). Among them, the union of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, a marriage that, according to Thompson, largely existed in name only during a reign that lasted from 1901 to 1910. Declared Thompson: “Charles and Diana might be able to patch things up so that they work fairly well in public.”
Certainly, the latest rumors of a royal split contrasted sharply with the worldwide adulation that was showered on Prince Charles and Diana at the time of their July, 1981, wedding. An estimated 750 million people around the globe witnessed the fairytale nuptials on television. In the glow
of that ceremony and its aftermath, the royal couple’s grip on the heartstrings of the British public—and millions of other admirers worldwide— seemed unshakable. Said Brooks-Baker: “The tabloids made this marriage into the romance of the century, which it wasn’t.” Instead, he described it as an arranged marriage—the conscious advancement by Diana, a woman who was a member of the English aristocracy, into the fishbowl world of the Royal Family.
There, she quickly became the mostphotographed symbol of British royal-
ty. But even as she overshadowed the other members of the family, the press coverage that she generated has gyrated wildly between adoration and criticism. For one thing, rumor-starters have accused her of being a sulky domestic tyrant who, during the early stages of her six-year marriage, banished her husband’s closest friends from the family hearth. But the 1982 birth of William—the heir to the throne if his father ascends the throne—followed by the 1984 arrival of his brother, Henry—swung the British media from attack to adulation.
Harsh: But more recent coverage of Diana—and her husband—has been increasingly harsh. Last July several tabloids alleged that Diana was embroiled in a romantic liaison with bachelor investment banker Philip Dunne, with whom she had been seen dancing at the June wedding ball of the Marquis of Worcester. And one of Britain’s top gossip columnists, the Daily Mail’s Nigel Dempster, reported that the princess had spent a February weekend with Dunne and other guests at his family’s country estate while
Prince Charles and Dunne’s parents were out of the country. The controversy died down after Dunne issued a statement through his lawyers flatly denying any impropriety. Soon afterward, Charles and Diana were seen together in public—playfully snuggling and kissing at a polo match.
‘Flame’: But last month the gossip mills were churning out a new tale of alleged marital infidelity—this time involving Prince Charles. The stories focused on the reported arrival at Balmoral Castle of Lady Dale Tryon, an Australian-born socialite whom a recent issue of the Sunday News of the World described as an “old flame” from the prince’s bachelor days. But one day after that story appeared, Lord Anthony Tryon protested that the rumors of an affair between his wife and Prince Charles were “ridiculous.” He added that he had accompanied his wife on their visit to the castle. And for once, several other tabloids refused to follow the News of the World’s lead. Last week The Star, for one, devoted almost the entire front page of one edition to a less than flattering close-up of Lady Tryon with the headline, “Can you really believe she is Diana’s love rival?”
In fact, most royal-watchers say that they do not believe there is any truth to the recent reports of royal dalliances. Declared Charles Kidd, director of the publishing firm Debrett’s Peerage Ltd.: “I do not think there is anything in this of any consequence at all.
To talk any more about it is to give it unnecessary importance or credence.”
Brooks-Baker, too, said that there was “absolutely no evidence whatsoever” that Charles and Diana were not getting along well. “When a husband and wife are feuding, you can feel it,” Brooks-Baker said. “These people are not feuding.”
Then, referring to a
statement from the Nazi era, he added, “ If you tell a big enough lie long enough, people will begin to believe it.” In any event, some observers say that Prince Charles and Diana are not the first royal couple in recent memory to have spent time apart. Indeed, they note that in 1956 Prince Philip embarked on a world tour that kept him away from Queen Elizabeth for four months. That lengthy absence provoked worldwide speculation that,
as one German newspaper expressed it, the Queen’s marriage was “on the rocks.” Eventually, the clamor for confirmation or denial grew so strong that Sir Michael Adeane, her private secretary at the time, issued a statement declaring that it was “quite untrue that there is any rift.”
Swirled: Ever since that announcement, however, palace spokesmen have refused to comment on the state of a royal marriage. And they adhered to that policy during the early 1980s when rumors swirled through Fleet Street that Princess Anne and her husband, Capt. Mark Phillips, were on the verge of separation. The couple is still together, and many newspapers have praised Anne for her work with such international charities as the Save the Children Fund. According to one palace official, that policy could best be described by the maxim: “Never complain, never explain.” Added the spokesman: “We don’t comment on speculation about their private lives because, if we did, it would never stop.” Still, many observers say that Prince Charles and Diana have widely differing tastes—a contrast that is hardly surprising, given the gap between their ages. Among Charles’s interests: classical music, farming and studying modern architecture. And when he is not devoting his energies to such charitable causes as the Prince’s Trust, a program designed to help young people start their own businesses, he prefers to spend as much of his time as possible outdoors.
By contrast, royal-watchers say that Diana enjoys the company of rock stars and fashion designers. Like most members of the Royal Family, she has a busy schedule of official duties, most of which she performs alone. But when she is not working, she likes to relax with friends at parties, discotheques, pop concerts and restaurants. Declared James Whitaker, veteran royal correspondent for the London Daily Mirror. “They do not have anything in common any more. She irritates him a bit, and he doesn’t excite her.”
Stressed: Indeed, Whitaker speculated that the recent behavior of the royal couple might indicate that they are preparing for a discreet parting of the ways. But like the University of Western Ontario’s Thompson, Whitaker stressed that Charles and Diana would likely remain husband and wife for the sake of appearances. Declared Whitaker: “The truth of the matter is that for 37 days they were in the same country and didn’t spend one night together within that period. For 12 of those days they had other commitments. But there were still 25 days when there were no good reasons at all
not to be together—they simply chose to be apart. So there has got to be a problem.”
Other royal-watchers blamed the rude, irreverent tone of much of Fleet Street’s reporting for any supposed strains in the royal marriage. “It could be a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said zoologist Desmond Morris, the author of such best-sellers on animal and human behavior as The Naked Ape. “If people keep saying there is something wrong with the marriage, sooner or later it is going to cause trouble.” Added British advice columnist Anna Raeburn: “They
should ignore the press and get on with their lives.”
For their part, the journalists who cover the House of Windsor staunchly defend their right to speculate about the state of the royal marriage. Indeed, they argue that Prince Charles and Diana have helped to create the public’s voracious appetite for royal-reporting
by making themselves more accessible to the media, especially television. Last week a relaxed and informal Charles welcomed TV crews into his country home as part of a fund-raising drive for London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. As a result, there is a ready market for stories about royal indiscretions—regardless of whether they are fact or fiction. Said Andrew Morton, royal correspondent for The Star and the author of the newly published book Inside Kensington Pala'ce: “The Royal Family are performers. Our job is to get behind the stage door and see what they are like with the greasepaint off.”
Insult: Still, the love-hate relationship between the press and some members of the Royal Family occasionally degenerates to the level of insult. During a visit to a children’s nursery school in London two weeks ago, a 25-year-old supervisor asked Diana if she ever became annoyed by the constant press attention. According to newspaper accounts, the princess replied: “I don’t see why I should do anything for them. They never do anything for me.” A day later The Sun fired back with a sneering editorial: “Princess Diana asks: ‘What have the newspapers ever done for me?’ The Sun can answer Her Loveliness in one word—everything! The newspapers have made her one of the most famous women in the world. They have given her an aura of glamor and romance. Without them, the entire Windsor family would soon become as dull as the rulers of Denmark and Sweden.”
Still, some British press organs say that the craft’s tendency to treat the Royal Family members as if they were characters in a soap opera—Dallas at the Palace—will ultimately erode popular support for the monarchy. As a Sunday Telegraph editorial declared last week: “If the public really share the tabloids’ current contempt for Prince Charles, how can he regain their respect when he becomes king?” In similar fashion, Brooks-Baker said that the Queen’s advisers should summon media representatives to Buckingham Palace and urge them to treat the monarchy with more respect. He added, “I have no doubt that the prince and the princess will survive this episode, but if they do not pull up the root of the problem, it will happen again.” At the heart of the drama are a husband and wife who must work out any differences with each other between themselves. But despite Brooks-Baker’s plea for more understanding, they face the prospect of doing so in the full glare of publicity.
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