COVER

Royal Fire Stom

A STEADY FLOW OF NEW EMBARRASSMENTS RAISES TROUBLING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CROWN

ANDREW PHILLIPS November 30 1992
COVER

Royal Fire Stom

A STEADY FLOW OF NEW EMBARRASSMENTS RAISES TROUBLING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CROWN

ANDREW PHILLIPS November 30 1992

Royal Fire Stom

COVER

A STEADY FLOW OF NEW EMBARRASSMENTS RAISES TROUBLING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CROWN

James: Oh Squidgy, I love you, I love you.

Diana: You are the nicest person in the whole, wide world.

Charles: I adore you. I am so proud of you.

Camilla: I love you, darling.

They sound like nothing more than the callow conversations of lovesick teenagers. But if Britain’s tabloid newspapers are to be believed, they represent nothing less than definitive proof that the relationship of the world’s most celebrated couple is finally, irrevocably dead. In taped conversations of private phone calls, Diana, the Princess of Wales, exchanges terms of endearment with a man universally referred to as her “close friend,” distillery heir James Gilbey. Her husband, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, is meanwhile whispering intimacies to his old flame from pre-Diana days, Camilla Parker-Bowles. Together, they paint a picture of a couple in love—but, unfortunately for the royal image-makers, not with each other.

Officials at Buckingham Palace might have thought they had weathered the worst last June, when author Andrew Morton revealed in his sensational book, Diana-. Her True Story, that the princess’s marriage was so unhappy that she had made several attempts at suicide. But ever since, there has been a steady flow of new revelations and public relations disasters. Diana’s intimate chat with Gilbey was reported by one tabloid, while a rival newspaper struck back by printing details of Charles’s relationship with Parker-Bowles. Morton, in a new chapter written for the paperback edition of his book, revealed new disruptions within the Royal Family, including an alleged spat between Diana and her father-in-law, Prince Philip. By the end of last week, when a major fire which swept through Windsor Castle, the royals’ weekend retreat—on the day of th Queen’s 45th wedding anniversary and in the year of 1 40th anniversary on the throne—it seemed to symbol the troubles ravaging the family from within (page 7: Hardship: Even when Charles and Diana attempte public reconciliation during a four-day visit to So Korea early this month, the tabloids were unimpress They reported that the royal couple could barely st; to be in the same room with each other. By last week, situation was so bad that some papers were claim that the prince and princess might be victims c conspiracy to undermine the monarchy—and t Charles might even renounce his claim to throne in favor of his 10-year-old son, Willi; That suggestion, at least, appeared to far-fetched. Whatever his marital wc Charles has been raised from birth in Royal Family’s stem tradition of dut] doing whatever must be done with regard for personal hardship. the point, notes Morton, there is

need for Charles to make such an announcement while the 66-year-old Queen remains healthy and on the throne. “It’s a hypothetical issue,” Morton told Maclean ’s last week. “And anyone who studies the workings of the Royal Family knows that they don’t deal in such matters. They deal in practical considerations.” More plausible were reports that Charles and Diana will stay married, but will lead their lives even more separately than before. That would mean fewer joint appearances, and separate staffs to handle their activities. Diana gave a taste of what that might imply in mid-November when she made a solo three-day visit to France, while Charles observed his 44th birthday at his country estate.

As usual, hardly any of the details of the alleged royal rifts could be confirmed. Buckingham Palace maintained its customary stony silence on all aspects of the royals’ private lives. The tabloids relied for their disclosures almost entirely on

the testimony of unidentified “friends” of Charles and Diana. And Britain’s so-called “quality” press and television reported almost nothing about the latest revelations. None of that, however, stopped the mass-circulation papers from issuing dire warnings that the royal image, and even the institution of the monarchy itself, is being further damaged. “The Royal Family is setting a terrible example for the nation,” thun-

dered the Sunday Mirror. The Daily Mirror declared that, “every day of speculation or tantrum, rumor or scandal, further tarnishes the throne.”

The latest round of speculation started in late August, when The Sun revealed the taped conversation between a woman identified as Diana and a man it said was Gilbey, an old friend of the princess who was one of the main sources for Morton’s book. The conversation was recorded on New Year’s Eve, 1989, by a retired bank manager named Cyril Reenan, who later sold it to the paper. Royal watchers who have heard the tape agree that it is genuine. Gilbey, talking on his car telephone to Diana, repeatedly calls the princess “darling” and the pet name “Squidgy.” The tape contains no conclusive proof that the two were having an affair at the time, although other papers reported that Diana has been seen leaving Gilbey’s London apartment late at night. At the very least, though, it showed that their friendship was of a sort that might unsettle any marriage, let alone one under the most intense scrutiny in the world.

In late October, palace officials attempted to persuade skeptical royal watchers that the worst was over, that the prince and princess had put the upsets of the summer behind them and were even finding new life in their 11-year-old marriage. After confidential briefings by royal aides, the Daily Mail asked in a headline: “Is the magic returning to Diana’s marriage?” It reported: “The Look is back—that gaze Princess Diana once directed with devastating effect at Prince Charles. She and Charles may have set their sights on a fresh start.” But that pretence lasted only days before being torpedoed by three events.

Misery: First, the couple’s trip to Korea in early November, their first major joint foray since Morton’s book appeared, turned into a fiasco. British papers focused almost entirely on their supposedly hostile body language and Diana’s refusal even to smile in Charles’s presence. The tabloids dubbed them “The Glums” and claimed that their sour looks were defeating their mission as goodwill ambassadors for Britain. But, as usual with the tabloids, not all was as it seemed. One photograph published on the front page of almost every paper showed the couple staring stonily ahead in apparent misery at each other’s company—or so the tabloids claimed. In fact, it was taken during a wreathlaying ceremony at a monument for soldiers killed in the Korean War, where sombre looks are entirely appropriate.

The Korea trip was also notable for the first acknowledgment by a palace official that the Wales’s marriage is indeed in deep trouble.

0 During the tour, Peter Westmacott, deputy prig vate secretary to Prince Charles, took the veter! an royal correspondent of the Daily Mirror, ! James Whitaker, aside and urged him to concen-

1 trate on the serious aims of the tour. Whitaker o later said that he asked Westmacott: “Are you

trying to tell me this is a happy marriage?” Westmacott replied: “No, I am not trying to say that, but I am saying it has been unfair and exaggerated.” Whitaker promptly reported the exchange, and set off a new round of critical headlines.

As soon as the couple returned to England, they were embroiled in new reports as the paperback edition of Morton’s book was published in the United States and Canada. It

contains a new chapter, which records the fallout from the original publication of his book. Morton claims that when the tape of Diana’s conversation with Gilbey became public, she “seriously considered packing her bags and leaving the Royal Family and public life forever.” But after speaking to the Queen, says Morton, the princess agreed to set aside any thoughts she might have had about a divorce and go ahead with the trip to Korea. Morton reports that Diana told one of her ubiquitous “friends” (also unidentified): “They are not going to break me. I ain’t going anywhere.”

At the same time, though, Morton claims that Prince Philip sent Diana what he described as a “vitriolic” letter, claiming that she was undermining the Royal Family. That report led Diana to do what the royals almost never do: issue a public statement criticizing press coverage. In her statement, the princess singled out reports that her relationship with the Queen and Prince Philip was bad. “The suggestion that they have been anything other than sympathetic and supportive is untrue and particularly hurtful,” she said. Her statement, however, attracted attention mostly for what it did not say:

Diana conspicuously did not contradict reports that her marriage is a shambles.

Mistress: The third blow to the palace’s public relations campaign landed as Morton’s new revelations were still unfolding. The Daily Mirror reported that it had heard a tape of a telephone conversation between Charles and his old friend, ParkerBowles, 43. The two met at a polo match in 1972, long before Charles met Diana. According to a story widely reported by the tabloids, their relationship began when Parker-Bowles allegedly told the prince: “My great-grandmother was your great-grandfather’s mistress. So how about it?” Charles never asked her to marry him, and when he left on a six-month tour of naval duty in early 1973, Camilla went back to a previous boyfriend, Andrew ParkerBowles, an army officer who also holds the unlikely title of Silver Stick in Waiting to the Queen. They married later that year and now have two teenaged children.

The Mirror reported only a few words of the tape, which it said was recorded in December, 1989, from a mobile phone while Charles was staying at a mansion in Cheshire. According to the paper, they talked until 2 a.m. about arranging a secret rendezvous. Parker-Bowles tells Charles: “I love you, darling.” Charles at one point tells her: “Your great achievement is to love me.” Much of the rest of the hour-long conversation, the Mirror said, was too “smutty” to be reported. In another story, the newspaper claimed that it had other evidence showing “a passionate intimacy between Charles and Camilla over a period of many years.”

But some royal watchers remain skeptical about whether the Camilla recording is genu-

ine. “There’s absolutely no love affair there,” said Harold Brooks-Baker, the London-based publisher of Burke’s Peerage, a guide to the British aristocracy. “It’s just a very close friendship. These people have to have close friends somewhere.” Andrew Parker-Bowles, Camilla’s husband, said that reports of a liaison between Charles and his wife were “rubbish.” But beyond that, the more serious issue involved how the tapes came to be made, and whether there was a conspiracy to destabilize the monarchy.

According to The Sun, Cyril Reenan, the retired banker who recorded the Diana tape, picked it up on the $2,000 radio scanner that he

operates as a hobby at his home near Oxford. Such scanners can tune in on and record calls made from mobile phones. But experts have said they are puzzled by the fact that both voices are recorded with equal clarity, which is unusual for such recordings. The Mirror has not said how it obtained the Charles and Camilla tape, nor how it was made. But some other analysts say that they doubt that private conversations between royals could have been picked up within less than two weeks of each other, and then made public more than two years later at the height of speculation about the Wales’s marriage. “It does seem sinister, to say the least,” says Morton.

A Conservative MP last week suggested his own theory, without offering any proof. Geoffrey Dickens claimed that the evidence suggests that Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI-5, might be involved. “The recording is of such a high quality that a satellite could have been used, along with the most sensitive and sophisticated electronic equipment in the world,” he said. “This, I have to say, tends to

point to MI-5.” The Daily Mirror added its own twist to that theory. It claimed that MI-5 kept a secret file on Prince Charles because of his friendship with Parker-Bowles, which it justified by fears for his security during clandestine overnight meetings with her at friends’ country houses. The paper quoted a former officer in the police squad, which protects top royals, saying: “Prince Charles will never know how closely his movements were monitored at the highest level. His meetings with Mrs. ParkerBowles received more attention than a Russian spy’s dead-letter drops.”

Those theories may be far-fetched. But there is little doubt that behind the conflicting

reports are groups of friends and courtiers vying to put forward evidence that will make Charles or Diana look good. Morton’s book relied heavily on testimony from some of her closest friends, including Gilbey, her former roommate Carolyn Bartholomew and her brother Earl Spencer. Other royal writers have reported testimony from Charles’s anonymous “friends,” giving his side of the story. In the process, both sides have blackened the other, leaving the public with the impression that the prince is a heartless adulterer unable to love his beautiful wife, while the princess is a wilful, self-indulgent schemer. The result has been a fall in public respect for the Royal Family, and a significant rise in the number of Britons who believe that the monarchy is destined to disappear.

In fact, according to one of Britain’s most respected commentators, those views of the prince and princess are unfounded. William Rees-Mogg, a former editor of the newspaper, The Times, who now sits in the House of Lords, wrote last week that much of the problem is a

.SHE/ÎNE ÛF 'SUCCESSION

KING GEORGE VI

1895-1952

m. Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) bom 1900

QUEEN ELIZABETH II

born 1926

m. Prince Philip of Greece

11. PRINCESS MARGARET bom 1930

Princess Margaret: Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister divorced her photographer husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones, in 1978

Andrew, Duke of York: He and Sarah Ferguson formally separated in March and are expected to divorce

Prince Edward:

A theatrical producer, he dropped out of the Royal Marines in 1987 and has not married

Anne, the Princess Royal: Queen Elizabeth’s only daughter is divorced from her husband, Mark Phillips

The Queen Mother: At 92, she remains one of the most popular members of the royal family

1. PRINCE CHARLES,

Prince of Wales bom 1948 m. Lady Diana Spencer

2. PRINCE WILLIAM OF WALES

bom 1982

3. PRINCE HENRY OF WALES

bom 1984

4. ANDREW, DUKE OF YORK

bom 1960 m. Sarah Ferguson

5. PRINCESS BEATRICE OF YORK

bom 1988

6. PRINCESS EUGENIE OF YORK

bom 1990

7. PRINCE EDWARD

bom 1964

8. ANNE, THE PRINCESS ROYAL bom 1950

m. Capt. Mark Phillips (divorced 1992)

9. PETER PHILLIPS

bom 1977

10. ZARA PHILLIPS

bom 1981

result of the nature of Charles’s upbringing—cut off from his parents' affection and from ordinary people as heir to the throne in the isolated splendor of Buckingham Palace. Diana, he noted, also comes from a troubled background: her mother left her father when she was just six.

Further complicating the picture is the fact that the princess is far tougher and more ambitious than her fashion-model image would suggest. “So we see a high-minded, serious man, wounded by an unhappy childhood, needing some emotional reassurance that his young bride lacked the maturity to give,” ReesMogg observed. “And we see a young bride, attractive and strong-willed, feeling herself distanced by her husband who perhaps went back to a woman who did give him the emotional reassurance he craved.”

The result has been a virtual breakdown in their marriage, although almost all observers agree that neither partner wants a divorce. Instead, they are likely to put their de facto separation on a more formal basis, with Diana living at their Kensington Palace apartment in London and at Highgrove, their country residence in Gloucestershire. Charles, according to some reports, will find another residence as his base. The couple will probably cut down the number of joint appearances even further, and Diana will have her own staff and spend less time at the Royal Family’s traditional private get-togethers, such as their customary Christmas stay at Sandringham, the Queen’s estate in Norfolk.

Some tabloids predict that the couple might soon issue a statement outlining the new arrangement, but Andrew Morton disagrees. “Why make an announcement about an informal accommodation?” he asked. In the meantime, a friend of the prince, Lady Tryon, publicly begged the news media to: “Please leave them alone. Please, please, please.” Still, as Charles and Diana’s marriage appeared to lurch from one crisis to another, that plea seemed almost certain to fall on deaf ears.

ANDREW PHILLIPS in London