Go to Main Story


Go to International Section

Go to Today's Top News

Go to Home Page


State of the Union, Ten Years After

By Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 28, 1991; Page F01

It was called the Wedding of the Century. She was Shy Di, the virgin bride. He was Prince Charming, the future king of England. Ten years ago tomorrow, a worldwide audience of 750 million watched them march down the aisle to Happily Ever After. It was just like a fairy tale, at least for those romantic or charitable enough to give the glowing couple the benefit of the doubt.

Flash forward 10 years: Diana has become a self-assured Barbie doll with impossibly long legs, a $2 million wardrobe and a little pillow that reads: "You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a Prince." "This woman is so popular in the United Kingdom it's unbelievable," says Marlene Eilers, author of "Queen Victoria's Descendants." "She makes grown men cry. She's the greatest asset the royal family has."

Everyone in the world is in love with her -- except, perhaps, her 42-year-old husband, a New Age old fogy who seems to prefer digging around his organic garden, railing against modern architecture and collecting antique toilet seats to spending time with his wife.

So goes the most public marriage in the world -- with every slight, sigh and dirty look exhaustively analyzed in the headlines. While Diana celebrated her 30th birthday July 1 in London with friends, Charles spent the day in the country. Originally Buckingham Palace said there was no dinner or party scheduled to observe the couple's 10th anniversary tomorrow, which surprised even the most jaded royal observers. Late last week it was announced the couple would in fact dine together at Highgrove, their country estate, a public display designed to quell some of the growing speculation of a formal split.

There's a new rumor every day: Prince Cozies Up to Old Flame! Tank Commander in Love with Di! Midlife Crisis for Prince of Wails! Royals Heading For Divorce?

Royal watcher supreme Nigel Dempster, of the Daily Mail, puts it this way. "He's very happy. She's very happy. They're just not happy with each other."

And the world can't get enough.

"We worry sometimes that readers might become saturated," says Landon Jones, managing editor of People magazine. "We console ourselves with the thought that as long as Diana and Charles have trouble in their marriage, we'll be in business."

She Gets the Press Charles is putting on a hat for photographers. Diana playfully raises her skirt. Charles sits down to play the cello. Diana wanders over to a nearby piano and begins to play.

"She upstages him," says Margaret Holder of Royalty magazine. "She upstages the whole royal family. She knows exactly how to manipulate the press. She's brilliant at it now."

And with television, radio, the "Nikon choir" of photographers and 10 daily newspapers in London, there's plenty to manipulate. The Chuck and Di show opened to smash reviews and, 10 years later, has evolved into a thriving industry.

"Part of it is a question of newspapers filling space," said one British reporter. "You have a tabloid editor sitting at his desk staring at a blank front page. Even the smallest story gets whipped up."

The six London tabloids thrive on hype, opting for the crisis theory in any royal riff. But even the establishment papers are getting in the act. The turning point appears to have come this spring, when the prince dallied in Italy with former flame Camilla Parker Bowles, a 43-year-old wife and mother. (Her husband holds the honorary title "Silver Stick-in-Waiting to the Queen.") As the estrangement of the royal couple becomes more public, the gentleman's agreement between Buckingham Palace and the press to turn a blind eye to royal indiscretions seems to be off.

In May, conservative columnist Sir Peregrine Worsthorne shocked Daily Telegraph readers by suggesting Charles remove himself from the line of succession, leaving him free to divorce. The day after Diana's birthday snub, the Daily Mail ran a front-page story, "Charles and Diana: Cause For Concern," which contained leaks from unnamed friends of the prince saying he offered to throw her a party but she turned him down.

Royal watchers in America are not deprived of any of this, thanks in part to the efforts of People. Diana has appeared on the cover of the magazine 51 times -- more than any other person -- including two of the five all-time best-selling covers: Her wedding preparations, and the birth of Prince William. (The remaining three: John Lennon and Grace Kelly -- posthumously -- and Andrew and Fergie's wedding.)

The magazine's London bureau has six reporters. The royal family is their number one beat.

"Diana is the franchise when you talk about royalty," says Jones. "There's certainly a large fantasy and fairy tale element. Readers identify with Diana. You could be swept off your feet by Prince Charming. She wasn't born a princess. She was made a princess."

An Arranged Marriage "Diana only married me so that she could go through red traffic lights," the prince once joked to reporters.

Oh, there was more to it than that. But it was an arranged marriage, of sorts, with the two grandmothers plotting to get Chuck and Di together. He was the most eligible bachelor in the world. She was a winsome blonde with no past. What more could a prince ask for? They announced their engagement in February of 1981.

"Are you in love?" asked a reporter. "Of course," beamed 19-year-old Diana. "Whatever love means," answered Charles.

Five months later, they married in a ceremony broadcast live to 50 countries. It was a national holiday in England, and millions of Americans got up before dawn to see Lady Diana Spencer become the Princess of Wales.

She wore a diamond and gold miniature horseshoe sewn into her wedding gown for good luck. They received 10,000 wedding presents including 300 uncut diamonds from King Khalid of Saudi Arabia.

She was blond, blushing and had more English blue blood than Charles, who has a lot of German ancestry.

And then Diana sealed her popularity with the British public by producing, in rapid succession, Princes William and Harry -- an heir and a spare.

Persisting Whispers From Day One, there have been whispers of a mismatch.

The prince is 12 years older, university educated, intellectual, interested in classical music, the arts, architecture, the environment, holistic medicine and spiritualism. He's happiest at Highgrove, weeding his flowers and organic vegetables. He still has a childhood teddy bear, which travels with him everywhere -- but then, both his brothers still have their teddies too.

Diana's tastes lean more toward the city lights. She is perhaps not "thick as a plank" -- as she once called herself -- but no Einstein, either. She's a fan of Neil Diamond, whom she danced with at the White House in 1985. She wanted to be a prima ballerina but grew too tall. She has the temperament of a dancer, however -- moody, high-strung, a performer who loves the spotlight.

And she loves to shop, spending more than $4,000 a week on clothes and accessories, according to unauthorized royal biographer Andrew Morton. In 10 years, royal watchers estimate, she has accumulated 750 outfits, including 100 evening gowns and 350 pairs of shoes. She has two full-time dressers and her own hairdresser, who comes to Kensington Palace every morning to style the royal coif but can't use hair spray because Charles has banned all products with CFCs from the palace to protect the ozone.

None of this, it seems, has diminished her popularity with the British public. Diana brought glamour, excitement and sex appeal to the staid royal family and can do virtually no wrong. People editor Jones calls her "the Teflon Princess."

At first, Charles was reported relieved that the press glare had turned to his glamorous new wife. But relief turned to frustration as he found his carefully prepared speeches relegated to the back pages. Diana's latest outfit landed on Page 1.

Shy Di turned out to be more strong-willed than first anticipated. There were loud clashes in the halls of the palace. "It was like working for two rival pop stars," one former staff member told the tabloids.

The honeymoon was over. The rumors began. Di Has Anorexia Nervosa! Charles Talks to Plants! Disco Di Dances Night Away! Fergie and Di Go Wild!

The royal couple had separate appearances, separate vacations and separate beds, according to a former security guard at Highgrove who yakked to the tabs. The press began counting the days or weeks that Charles and Diana spent apart. Speculation reached fever pitch in 1987, when Charles spent 39 days at Balmoral, the queen's retreat in Scotland, while Diana stayed in London with the two little princes.

In 1988, a skiing accident killed his friend, Maj. Hugh Lindsay, and almost killed the prince, who is said to have plunged into a deep depression. He became increasingly withdrawn. After a polo accident last summer -- which kept him off his beloved polo ponies for months -- Charles canceled most public appearances and was reportedly suffering from a whopping case of midlife crisis. Former girlfriends, especially Parker Bowles, kept showing up at Highgrove while Diana was in London.

When the couple was photographed dropping Prince William off at school last fall, what appeared to be a cozy domestic scene was quickly exposed: Diana had driven in from Kensington with her son, Charles had come from Highgrove. They spent 30 minutes together and then went separate ways. They had been apart 39 days.

During an official visit to Brazil this spring, "they arrived {at the airport} separately and avoided looking at each other," the tabloid Today reported. "Charles marched across the runway a full five yards ahead of Diana as she struggled to keep up with him."

The brunt of the blame for this state of affairs is falling on Charles, who dismayed even loyal supporters recently when he dashed off to the opera while Diana stood watch as their son William underwent surgery after being smashed by a golf club. British public opinion is firmly in Diana's corner. While she tends to her sons and makes hundreds of appearances on behalf of children's causes and AIDS patients, Charles is somewhere else. Sketching. Walking in the rain. Brooding. Neglecting his wife and children.

"Everybody got it wrong in the '80s," says a London reporter. "Charles was supposed to be the educated one. Fergie was supposed to be the worldly one. The real truth of the matter is that Diana is more streetwise than any of them. Nothing that she does invites criticism."

Chalk and Cheese Buckingham Palace has, as usual, no comment on any problems in the royal union. But sources in the palace repeatedly remind reporters that Charles and Diana are a two-career couple with demanding schedules that keep them from seeing each other as often as they would like. The argument is challenged by an ever-watchful press that points out the two spend most of their free time apart too.

Royal understandings are not unheard of in many aristocratic unions and not necessarily unhappy for the two parties concerned. "Americans look at it through middle-class eyes," says one royal watcher. "It's like chalk and cheese. They marry for different reasons and have different values."

"Within the contexts of historic marriages -- those of other 20th-century royals and their European relatives -- the Waleses' union is as good as most and better than some," says Margaret Holder. "But for many ordinary British people, it isn't good enough."

There are, however, persistent rumors that the couple is headed for a formal separation or split, the mere thought of which throws monarchists into a tizzy.

It will never happen, says Dempster. "If there's a divorce, that's the end of the royal family."

No reigning British monarch has divorced since Henry VIII, who split from the Catholic Church to divorce Wife No. 1, Catherine of Aragon, and No. 4, Anne of Cleves. George IV separated from his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, before coming to the throne in 1820. (He was fastidious. She smelled. He slept with her once. But no divorce.)

Technically speaking, there's nothing in British constitutional law to prevent a divorced heir from ascending the throne. The only stated provision prohibits marriage to a Catholic. The reigning monarch also serves as head of the Church of England, however, and the church does not recognize divorce.

"It gets debated all the time," says Holder. "The British public would not accept Prince Charles as future king if he divorced the very popular Princess Diana."

So Charles can divorce or be king -- but not both. British astrologers have predicted for many years that Charles will never become king -- due to death or abdication. Diana, they say, is destined to remarry. And their son, Prince William, is the one who will ascend to the throne.

Mallet to Mallet Perhaps there is still hope for the marriage after all.

Two weeks ago, Charles went mallet-to-mallet with Maj. James Hewitt, a tank commander who fought in the Persian Gulf War. The charity polo match drew special attention because Hewitt's former girlfriend announced to the tabloids that she had been dumped because the 32-year-old bachelor, who gives Prince William riding lessons, is "besotted with Diana." It has even been rumored that it was Hewitt -- instead of Charles -- who celebrated Diana's 30th birthday with her.

The prince and Hewitt played on opposing sides in the match. "It was blazing saddles and a clash of polo mallets that surprised even the commentators," said Holder. "It was a vicious game."

Could Charles be jealous?

Another day, another rumor.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top

Go to International Section Go to Home Page

WashingtonPost.com
Navigation image map
Home page Site Index Search Help! Home page Site Index Search Help!