BOOKS

Crown of throns

The sniping pair together make a walking, talking petition for abolition

BRUCE WALLACE December 5 1994
BOOKS

Crown of throns

The sniping pair together make a walking, talking petition for abolition

BRUCE WALLACE December 5 1994

Crown of throns

The sniping pair together make a walking, talking petition for abolition

He loved her; he loved her not. Like so many petals from a flower, facts have been plucked and opinions scattered to the wind in the debate

over whether Prince Charles really loved Diana Spencer when they wed in 1981. And

did he love her truly? Deeply? (That there was a touch of madness to their relationship now seems beyond question.)

Jonathan Dimbleby unleashed a speculative frenzy when the first excerpts from The Prince of Wales (Doubleday, $32.95), his biography of Charles, hit newsstands this fall. According to Dimbleby, the bridegroom in the fairy-tale love match of the century never actually uttered the L-word to his bride. The marriage was a calculated, clinical merger—the prince was simply reconciled to doing the right thing for country by ending his procrastination in choosing a consort. His friends were dismayed at the union.

Diana giggled when he proposed.

But, to explain what Charles saw when he gazed into the blue eyes of his future Queen, Dimbleby writes that “she was young enough to be moulded to the role of wife and mother according to the special needs of the institution.”

Everyone knows what came next: the most photographed marital breakdown in history. Given the tenor of the times and the fascination with the secrets of celebrities, it was hardly surprising that reaction to the biography focused on its suggestion that Charles

may never even have loved her in the first place. But the biographer was not amused. He had set out to write a serious book on the future monarch, and now the British tabloids were (as usual) putting a spin on the story.

They were transposing the biographer’s interpretation into the mouth of his subject. “Charles: I’ve never loved Diana,” blasted a typical tabloid headline.

So, one month after its release, and with the book safely ensconced atop British best-

seller lists, Dimbleby is fighting back. “I was, in retrospect, naïve to believe that the tabloids would not massacre the truth,” he said last week in an interview with Maclean ’s. “But I felt I had gotten inside an institution that plays a fundamental

I part in the jigsaw of Britain. That is

§ where the journalistic buzz comes 0 from, and that is what I wanted people to notice.” Dimbleby was ap§ palled that the focus on sensation 1 was lumping his work in with the u rest of the trashy royal confessional als. “People who know me say that I

am serious to the point of setting everyone to sleep,” he protests.

He should not have worried. The

biography is, like its subject, sober, serious, pensive, exhaustive and, at times, exhausting. It has footnotes.

At 566 pages of text, it portrays the coming of age of a thoughtful, though by no stretch brilliant, prince, ever eager to please, always determined to do the right thing. The problem for Charles has always been: do what? And Dimbleby, a journalist of great repute who himself hungers for action and to taste history in the making, is sympathetic to similar yearnings in the prince.

The biography is the product of two years of following the prince on official duties, interviewing Charles and his entourage, and meticulously sifting through his letters and diaries. No tweedy academic would be ashamed to own a copy. In tracing the prince’s life,

Dimbleby has crafted a study of the social revolution taking place within the British monarchy as it struggles to survive the millennium. More of a historical document than an easy read,

The Prince of Wales pays extraordinary attention to detail.

And that will be the problem

for some readers. Not everyone will care for so much detail about a man who—outside of his highly combustible marriage—has not led an earthshaking 46 years. Popular fascination with Charles will always

rest on whatever insight can be

gleaned about life inside The Marriage. Dimbleby seems almost embarrassed by the subject. “Had there not been a separation, the marriage would have taken up just this much of the book,” he says, thumb and forefinger apart just a crack. But the biographer could not ignore the fact that the couple had split, and that the last two years have seen an acrimonious battle between them. Fuelled by leaks from their assorted courtiers and hangers-on, the Charles and Diana show evolved into a grotesque public spitting match.

For voyeurs, there is plenty of detail on this subject, too. Diana’s descent into unhappiness and bulimia, her obsession with whether Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were having an affair, and her search for salvation through astrology and other fringe practices are well chronicled. Dimbleby notes that “the marriage was fundamentally flawed by incompatibility at many levels,” but, like Charles, he is careful not to overtly criticize Diana, who did not co-operate with the biography.

For the world from the princess’s point of view, readers can turn to Diana: Her New Life (Distican, $29.50), by Andrew Morton. Widely regarded as a conduit for Diana’s opinions, Morton first exposed the extent of the Waleses’ marital problems in his 1992 book, Diana: Her True Story. The book was regarded as the best royal insider account of its time. It was also immensely profitable for its author, so the arrival of Part 2 was as predictable as another Rocky movie. This sequel has questionable value. For one thing, Diana was supposedly “retired” for half of the period covered by the book. Just 161 pages in easy-to-read big type, it updates the changes in Diana’s life since the separation. It has nice color pictures.

‘The marriage was fundamentally flawed by incompatibility at many levels’

Had this royal schism occurred a few centuries ago, the various parties would have retired to their country castles, raised armies, and returned to settle scores on a battlefield. Now, they employ biographers and leak dirty little secrets to the media. Like Charles and Diana, the British media have divided into rival camps. Morton accuses Conrad Black’s establishment-minded Daily Telegraph of being pro-prince. “If Charles committed mass murder, the public school boys at the Telegraph would say: ‘Well, done, sir,’ ” argues Morton. He also claims that Dimbleby was acting as an emissary for the prince when he lunched with Diana earlier this year, and that the prince’s biographer pressed her to grant Charles a divorce. Dimbleby says the suggestion is “ludicrous, a lie.”

Coming from a younger generation than her husband, Diana is much better suited than Charles for marital guerrilla warfare. She delivers her message in media-friendly bites: her book is short: his is long. The television documentary on the prince that accompanied the Dimbleby book lasted three hours—a languid pace suited to Charles, who takes forever to make a point. But the snappy

one-hour television promotion for Morton’s latest Diana book was geared for shorter attention spans in its breathless, Harlequin-meets-MTV style.

Morton’s book is an attempt at a sympathetic portrait, but he cannot hide the cranky woman within. Diana emerges as alternately brittle and vindictive—and more than a bit flighty. This is a woman who cried when Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson were reunited at the end of the silly Hollywood movie Indecent Proposal, and who believes that in a previous incarnation she was a nun. Her life is governed by a battery of tarot-card readers,

clairvoyants, psychics, astrologers, osteopaths and masseurs. She undergoes regular colonic irrigations—a water treatment to flush toxins

from her bowels—in order to, as she puts it, “get the aggro out.” And the princess shows signs of paranoia, believing the Royal Family is conspiring against her (although her de-

to sweep her Kensington Palace home for bugs now seems wise given the press leaks about her obsessive telephone habits). Only recently did she drop her conviction that MI-5, Britain’s security service, was responsible for the motorcycle death of her former bodyguard, Inspector Barry Mannakee. He had grown too close to her, she believed, something that Charles supposedly resented.

Most annoyingly, Diana has a great capacity to feel sorry for herself—just like the soppy Charles. “They are both self-pitying,” says Morton. “Like all members of the Royal Family, they are prepared to blame a courtier, a servant or a friend for their troubles.” The motive may be money. As Morton points out, “she was conscious that for every point she goes down in the opinion polls, thousands of pounds [sterling] could be shaved off the eventual [divorce] settlement.” Her behavior vibrates with manipulation: there is not a hospice visited, not a condolence letter sent, without an eye for how it affects her public standing vis-à-vis the prince.

All of this leaves a bad taste. Charles’s actions may be driven by duty, but both he and Diana remain far too self-obsessed. The books—Dimbleby’s for the serious crowd, Morton’s for People magazine readers—are ultimately just an extension of their cold war. This privileged pair, with their incessant sniping and their competition for glory, are trampling the monarchy underfoot. And their selfish myopia has made them walking, talking petitions for abolition. Oh, for Oliver Cromwell.

BRUCE WALLACE in London