Britain’s royal-watchers call it simply an arrangement—a working partnership that gets the job done in an effective, if decidedly unromantic, way. As they mark their 10th wedding anniversary this week, Prince Charles and Diana, the Princess of Wales, will do their jobs on behalf of dozens of charities and worthy causes. But to the fascination and increasing alarm of Britain’s royalty-obsessed news media, Charles and Diana now operate as distinct and, indeed, frequently rival figures. The royal couple, who may visit Canada in October, sleep, work, vacation and socialize almost entirely apart from each other.
Theirs is an awkward and unusual relationship that led one of the London tabloids, the Daily Express, to headline a recent appraisal of the royal marriage: “Separate beds, separate homes, separate lives.”
That was not what was expected when Charles and Diana, then just a few weeks past her 20th birthday and a full 12 years younger than the heir to the British throne, married on July 29,1981.
As an estimated 700 million people around the world watched the lavish ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, newspapers inevitably referred to it as a “fairytale wedding,” raising expectations that almost any couple would find impossible to meet. And in the relentless glare of publicity, the marriage quickly ran into difficulties. Diana, unaccustomed to the strictures of royal life, alternately pouted and rebelled against the often numbing routine of receptions and opening ceremonies that dominated her new life. The serious, moody Charles appeared to become disenchanted with his young wife, with whom he shared almost no common interests. By the fall of 1987, their marriage was in crisis, with rumors of affairs on both sides—and speculation that the marriage might even end in divorce.
Since that low point, Charles and Diana have managed to work out a relationship that allows each of them to pursue separate interests while
maintaining at least the outward appearance of normal married life. The prince lives mainly at Highgrove, his home in rural Gloucestershire, with frequent and lengthy visits to Balmoral, the royal estate in Scotland. During the week, the princess lives with their sons, William, 9, and Harry, 6, at the royal apartment in west London’s Kensington Palace. She goes to Highgrove most weekends, but the tabloid newspaper writers who track royal comings and go-
ings full time agree that the visits are intended mainly for Charles to see the boys. The couple rarely vacation together, and even when they go on official visits they will occupy separate bedrooms, as they did on a controversial visit to Czechoslovakia in May when they stayed on different floors of Prague Castle. Buckingham Palace officials said Charles and Diana are tentatively scheduled to visit several cities in Ontario, and possibly other provinces, in late October.
Commentators sympathetic to the couple maintain that such distance is normal in aristocratic marriages. Despite all the romantic trappings of a decade ago, they say, the union was essentially an arranged marriage that has merely settled into the formal patterns of the English upper classes. Penny Junor, author of Charles and Diana: Portrait of a Marriage, one of a recent shower of books on the royal
relationship, wrote: “They have a marriage which is all the stronger for having had its problems.” Still, a new round of reports charged that all was not well between the prince and princess on the eve of their anniversary.
It began in early June, when Prince William suffered a skull fracture after being hit in the head by a golf club wielded by a schoolmate. His mother spent two nights with him in hospital. But Charles visited only once—for 42 minutes—on his way to the opera. In a frontpage editorial, the tabloid Sun asked pointedly: “Could he not spare more than a measly 42 minutes to visit his son and provide some comfort for his wife?”
Speculation about a new royal rift increased on July 1, Diana’s 30th birthday, when the couple spent the day apart attending separate charity events. Most reports cast blame on Charles, picturing him as refusing to leave his Highgrove retreat to help his wife celebrate in London. The next day, Britain’s top gossip columnist, Nigel Dempster, reported on the front page of the arch-royalist Daily Mail that unidentified “friends of Prince Charles” were furious that the prince had been portrayed as the guilty party in the fiasco. Charles, the friends reportedly said, had offered to arrange a party at either residence, but Diana had refused. In effect, Dempster reported, Charles was hitting back at his critics—and his wife—by publicly airing his side of the story, g Along with the personal g estrangement, according to other royal-watchers, is a professional rivalry. Charles and Diana in effect compete for public attention, although the princess’s beauty, increasing confidence and role as a devoted mother make her almost impossible to beat. Their personal staffs work separately, sometimes scheduling them to make major appearances at the same time so that one (almost always the princess) upstages the other. She made a major speech on AIDS recently, on the same day that Charles spoke out against Britain’s declining educational standards. Some London newspapers reported that the prince was furious that attention had shifted away from him. But although the obvious gulf between them sometimes appears to hurt them both, neither the prince nor the princess appears willing to do much to close it. They did not schedule any event to mark their 10th anniversary this week—setting the stage for a new round of speculation on the state of their union.
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