A ROYAL IDOL
Joan Collins, star of the primetime TV soap opera Dynasty, was so desperate for an invitation to a Nov. 9 dinner-dance at the White House that she sent a newspaper clipping to Nancy Reagan noting in vain, as it turned out, that the evening’s guests of honor watched her show (the strategy failed). J. Carter Brown, the director of Washington’s National Gallery of Art, found that he had received large numbers of cards commemorating his birthday last month from prominent socialites seeking an entrée to the gallery’s intimate black-tie soiree for 64 on Nov. 11. And Betty Lou Ourisman, the partygoing wife of a Washington auto millionaire, summed up the city’s mood when she told a reporter from Women's Wear Daily, “If I don’t get invited, I’ll kill.” The cause of that social hysteria: the U.S. visit this week by Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales. The royal couple will take part in a five-day social whirl with stops in Palm Beach and Washington. On the eve of the visit, the U.S. capital was clearly suffering from an unprecedented attack of royal mania.
Mania: More precisely, the phenomenon could be called Di mania. The official excuse for the trip is the National Gallery’s $l-billion exhibit entitled The Treasure Houses of Britain. It is a sampling of 700 priceless paintings, sculptures, tapestries and jewelry, collected over four centuries in 200 of the British aristocracy’s stateliest homes. Among them: Castle Howard in Norfolk, featured on the widely acclaimed television adaption of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited-, Broadlands, the 16th-century Hampshire mansion where Charles and Diana spent the first night of their honeymoon; and Highgrove, their own country retreat in Gloucestershire.
Charles is the official patron of the show, and he will be making his first visit to the United States since 1980. Then, as the the world’s most eligible bachelor, he drew vast crowds. But
now, as the wife of one British Embassy official put it: “If Charles were coming alone, there wouldn’t be this fuss. They all want to see her.”
It has been 4 */2 years since the marriage ceremonies The New York Times described as “the wedding of the century.” Since then Lady Diana Frances Spencer, the 20-year-old kindergarten teacher who married a prince, has blossomed into a genuine superstar, eclipsing the other members of the royal family—to become one of the most celebrated and photographed symbols of the British monarchy. Indeed, by changing her hairstyle one day in 1984, Diana easily upstaged the Queen’s throne speech. But with the
arrival of the royal couple’s Australian Air Force jet from Melbourne, the concentrated resources of the U.S. media will be searching for cracks in the storybook facade of their marriage and trying to determine if there is truth to rumors swirling around them.
Rumors: The rumors include those that Shy Di, at age 24, had become instead a domineering, sulky egomaniac. The rumor starters accuse her of bullying the prince’s staff into quitting, banishing his closest friends and fleeing from royal holidays at Balmoral Castle in Scotland—trips which deprive her of her weekly fashion shopping sprees in London. There are also rumors that Prince Charles has be-
come a meek and moody 36-year-old eccentric, who shirks his royal duties, has become obsessed by a vegetarian diet, organic farming and with bizarre attempts to communicate with his late great-uncle Lord Mountbatten on a Ouija board.
Counterattack: When those reports were presented in British tabloids and appeared on the slick pages of New York’s Vanity Fair six weeks before the U.S. visit, Buckingham Palace was concerned enough to mount a counterattack. It took the form of a carefully packaged, 45-minute televised chat from the royal couple’s Kensington Palace drawing room. In a program that 20 million viewers watched on
Britain’s Independent Television Network last month Charles and Diana sat together on a sofa and discussed the allegations. Both of them spoke candidly, an engaging characteristic encouraged during some coaching before the program by British film director Richard Attenborough.
The responses were predictable, but still fascinating. Diana denied that she was obsessed by fashion. Then she added: “My clothes are not my priority. I enjoy bright colors and my husband likes to see me smart and presentable but fashion is not my thing at all.” For his part, Charles denied that he dabbled in the occult. Said Charles: “I do not play with a Ouija board. I do
not even know what a Ouija board is. I am fed up with people writing to me and saying, ‘Don’t touch the Ouija board: it is bad for your health.’ ”
Then, together, the royal couple dealt with the issue of marital quarrels—and achieved as little success as ordinary couples might expect under those circumstances:
Charles: “I suspect most husbands and wives find they often have arguments.”
Diana: “But we don’t.”
Charles: “Well, we occasionally do.” Diana: “No, we don’t.”
Canadian viewers could weigh the state of the royal marriage on a Nov. 5 CBC TV broadcast of the interview on
The Journal And U.S. television watchers can make up their own minds four days later when ABC TV will rebroadcast the show while Charles and Diana are dining at the White House.
Laughter: Meanwhile, the royal twosome continued to make news last week as they neared the end of their two-week tour of Australia. For one thing, while visiting a giant aluminum smelter in Portland, Victoria, 350 km southwest of Melbourne, factory officials routinely issued them safety goggles and hard hats. But when Diana saw her husband wearing an undersized helmet she burst into uncontrollable laughter. The prince asked one refinery worker, “Does your wife laugh
at you when you put your hat on?” That question appeared on the front page of the London Times, but Buckingham Palace expects more tact and respect from the American press than from Britain’s professional royalwatchers (page 60). Indeed, The Washington Post had noted on Oct. 28 a potential scandal—buried deep within the newspaper’s second section—that might have caused the royal couple embarrassment. But the London Daily Mail had no such reticence. Days earlier it front-paged the same story, whfch combined the sensational elements of sex and high society. It disclosed that Patricia Kluge, the elegant 38-year-old hostess who had been scheduled to greet Charles and Diana at a Palm Beach, Fla., charity ball, had posed
nude during the 1970s in Knave, a lurid English sex magazine Within days of the Mail's front-page exposure, charity organizers announced that Kluge would be unable to attend because of travel commitments.
Curtsy: The varying treatment that the story received in the British and U.S. press underlines the fact that the royal couple are guests in the United States—and most Americans do not want to offend the royal visitors. Indeed, the British Embassy has been inundated with telephone calls from anxious Americans requesting pointers on how to behave when meeting royalty. To help them, the embassy has issued cards which remind them that “Americans don’t curtsy or bow, but an incline of the head would be very polite ”
Some observers say that they are surprised by the U.S. mania for the monarchy 209 years after the country broke away from Britain. Marcus Cun-
liffe, a British historian teaching at George Washington University, says that it grows, in part, from America’s relative youth. Said Cunliffe: “It is a sort of deprivation, a sense of not having had enough history.” But the U.S. infatuation with the royals is rooted in matters of style, not substance. For one thing, the U.S. media ignored an issue that occupied Fleet Street last month—one that mixed royalty with politics. It began when Rodney Hackney, 43, an architect and a friend of Prince Charles, told reporters that the prince had described recent riots in black areas of London and Birmingham as expressions of alienation and frustration—a “cry from the heart” over inner-city blight.
Pawn: After Hackney relayed that paraphrase of the prince’s remarks, opposition politicians charged that
they showed royal displeasure with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s policies. Charles himself complained about having become a political pawn during an off-the-record reception in Melbourne last week—then found himself embarrassed anew when five tabloids broke the ban and published his remarks. He got a small measure of revenge when he soaked the unruly press corps at a windswept ceremony in Mildura, Victoria, inaugurating a new, ornamental fountain. Said Charles: “I have the
greatest possible pleasure in switching on this fountain and seeing where the water goes.”
That dampening shower reflected the an-
tagonism that is often present between the palace and a press hungry for details of royal family life. And the quest for news has increased dramatically since the arrival of a stunning fashionplate princess whose life is the stuff dreams—and newsstand sales—are made of. From the moment in 1980 when she was first photographed as a coltish kindergarten teacher wearing a diaphanous skirt (and Fleet Street photographers manoeuvred her into standing where the sun would shine through the light cotton material) she has become one of the most widely recognized women in the world. The hairstyle that launched a thousand copies, her bitten nails, even her relationship to romance novel writer Barbara Cartland (her step-grandmother) have become grist for the tabloids.
The media’s insatiable romance with
Diana has had rough patches. In some cases, the press was a victim of its own mythmaking. For one thing, “Shy Di” was never timid and the phrase was a misinterpretation that grew from her habit of tilting her head disarmingly to one side. But she affected that pose, according to John Haslam, a palace official, because “Like so many tall girls she is aware of her height, not because she’s shy.” Indeed, The Royal Family Album quotes a former nanny as saying that Diana was always strong-willed.
Glamor: Still, the media’s disenchantment was surprisingly swift. Within 18 months of her marriage Daily Mail g columnist Nigel Demp-
ster criticized Diana for her allegedly bossy ways with Charles and their servants and he described her as “a little monster.” It was not that Diana had failed to fulfil her royal duties: before her 21st birthday she had produced an heir to the throne, Prince William, and at the same time infused the dowdy, tradition-bound House of Windsor with some glamor. But the high-spirited princess refused to supply constantly the insatiable appetite of Fleet Street photographers for just one more picture.
That attitude was clearly evident in
1983 when Diana stormed off the ski slopes in Liechtenstein after being harassed by a press helicopter. Then, in retaliation, she hid her photogenic face in her gloves for five minutes while Charles pleaded, “Please darling, don’t do that.” Afterward, columnist Suzanne Lowry tackled the central issue in The Sunday Times. Asked Lowry: “What is a princess for?” Her conclusion: “The best answer seems be that a
princess is for looking at. Without press coverage, the royal family would be little more than rich, overdressed people in big houses.”
Shock: For his part, Charles has always understood the constant demands of “The Job”—his term for such public events as the statue unveilings, troop reviews and ship launchings that fill up the royal calendars. Indeed, Washington socialites who expressed shock that Charles and Diana will stop at a J.C. Penney department store to promote the sale of Britishmade goods failed to grasp that be-
sides their constitutional role, the royals make money for Britain. That fact did not escape the attention of the British Tourist Authority, which attributed an 11-per-cent increase in tourists last year in part due to the princess.
Marriage and the attention focused on his wife have given Charles the opportunity to indulge in such low-key pursuits as playing with his children
and developing organic farming techniques on his estates in Cornwall. And although he denies any involvment in the occult, he acknowledges taking an interest in unusual phenomena to the extent that he wants the University of Wales—where he is chancellor—to establish a professorship in parapsychology. As well, before her death at the age of 99 two years ago, he sent several hand-written letters to Winifred Rushford, a medium whose book on spiritualism inspired him to keep a dream diary. As Charles himself acknowledged on TV, “I think I’m becoming more eccentric as I get older.”
But with his healthy, 59-year-old mother displaying little interest in stepping down from the throne, Charles could be a grandfather before he becomes king. As he waits to fill a role that may not be his for two decades, it is clear that the future king is a different person than the Prince of Wales who always seemed to be piloting helicopters and parachuting out of planes during the 1960s and 1970s. During that period, according to his friends, Charles felt compelled to prove that he could execute such manly feats to himself—and also to his dour, disciplinarian father, Prince Philip. Even earlier, schoolmates at Gordonstoun in Northern Scotland described him as a “tortured,” insecure figure, slow in class and on the playing field, who learned to conceal his princely isolation with a dry wit.
Yuppie: In fact, Charles’s current pursuits are fairly innocuous and typical of a man who came of age during the 1970s. At the same time, Diana’s preoccupations with dancing and dressing qualify her as a British upper-class version of a Yuppie. The question currently preoccupying royalwatchers is whether two individuals waiting in the anteroom to the British throne can handle unremitting publicity, the pressures of parenthood—and also find enough common interests to bridge the 12-year gap in their ages.
Their televised interview was in part a royal attempt to say that—like any other newlyweds—they are still working out the partnership of their marriage. But unlike other couples, they have to do that while juggling the ordinary concerns of family needs and the august symbolism of the British monarchy. But as they take the wildly popular Charles and Di show to the United States, the prince and princess are well embarked on the difficult task that has followed their fairy-tale marriage ceremony: trying to live happily ever after.
— MARCI MCDONALD in Washington with