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The Royal Wedding: Conversation Pieces

Prince Charles and then Lady Diana Spencer announcing their engagement.
AP Photo

announcing engagement
By Leonard Downie Jr.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 29, 1981; Page B01

LONDON — In an initimate wedding eve television interivew punctuated by easy laughter and affectionate glances at each other, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer said they have been overwhelmed by the reaction of Britions and by the worldwide attention to their romance, engagement and royal marriage.

Sitting together in wooden garden chairs in the sun-filled "summer house" in the vast private park behind Buckingham Palace, they thanked everyone who, in Charles' words, has been "so kind and generous and marvelous." But they also admitted the intense concentration of media attention has been a strain on them.

During the 15-minute interview, recorded last Thursday for broadcast on all British television networks the night before the wedding, the prince said he has experienced "the most marvelous, warm, affectionate reaction, which I just find incredibly touching." Charles said he and Lady Diana have received 100,000 letters and 3,000 presents since their engagement. The prince, who was dressed in a dark suit with striped shirt and check gray tie, continued, "And there's a corridor stacked with, I don't know, 40 sacks of presents and mail which we can't get through."

Diana wearing a gray and white matching loose skirt and blouse with ruffles, a bow and rows of buttons, said they had received one of every item on the gift lists she established at two chic London emporiums and that she was already busy writing thank-you notes. She said she was most touched by "all the things that have come from children who've obviously spent hours of work on paintings, pictures, cards, anything like that, and things they've baked at home. It's wonderful."

She was less talkative about the pressure she has been under, something she had never experienced before. Prince Charles, who has, explained how he could endure being watched by a large fraction of the world's population during the most solemn and personal moments of his marriage.

"I don't know about Diana, but I'm more used to it," he said, knowing for years that there're cameras poking at you from every quarter and recording every twitch you make. So, you can get used to it to a certain except, and on those occassions you accept that that's part of it. I think if you don't try to work out in your own mind some kind of method for existing and surviving this kind of thing, you would go mad."

Turning to his fiance, Charles asked, "Do you find after the last six months you're beginning to get used it?"

"Just," said Diana, forcing a smile as she peered out shyly from under the familiar wave of hair across her brow. Her emotions, including an expression of frustration at not being able to invite more relatives and friends to the wedding, were more evident throughout the interview than those of Charles, and she occassionally appeared bemused by his much-practiced earnest television tone.

Asked by one of the interviews if Charles had been a great help to her in adjusting to the public pressure, Diana looked admiringly at the prince and said, "Marvelous. Oh, a tower of strength."

"Gracious!" Charles responded, slapping his hand on a chair arm.

"I had to say that 'cause you're sitting there," Diana said, and they both laughted.

But not long after the interview was recorded last Thursday, the strain appeared to become too much for the tall, slim 20-year-old. She fled in tears from the stands during a polo match Saturday under the pressure of nonstop attention from photographers. At another polo match in which Charles played on Sunday, she still looked uncomfortable and nervous, retreating much of the time to the back of the royal enclosure or half-hiding in a doorway.

In a television interview before the Sunday match, Prince Charles blamed her discomfort on repeated press reports that Diana does not like horses and is both bored watching the prince "play polo and worried about his safety. "I really think the problem -- and it's worth emphasizing," Charles said, "is that one constantly hears that she does not like polo, which is absolute rubbish.

"It's not much fun watching polo when you are being surrounded by people with very long lenses poking at you from all directions the entire time and then taking a photograph, which is quite easy to do, saying 'looking bord,' "Charles argued. "I think all this added up to a certain amount of strain each time and it told eventually, hardly suprisingly. So I hope after we get married it will be a bit easier for her to come to a polo match without this intensity of interest."

Earlier, in written answers to questions from Britain's press association, Diana had said, "It has taken a bit of getting used to the cameras. But it is wonderful to see people's enthusiastic reaction. It is most rewarding and gives me a tremendous boost."

Acknowledging in that interview that her life will still be quite busy after the wedding, Diana said, "I look forward to that, but I do hope that we will also be able to have the opportunity to have some time to ourselves," to share mutual interests she lised as music, opera and outdoor sports, including fishing, walking and, indeed, polo.

After she becomes princess of Wales, Diana said in their wedding eve television interview, she wants to visit and learn more about Wales and expects to continue her involvement with children. "But interests will broaden as the years go on," she added. "As i'm 20, I've got a good start."

Recalling that he also "was about 20 when I launched, or was launched, onto the scene," Charles said he expected Diana eventually to develop some interests and projects separate from his own, "After a bit, you develop your own sphere," he said.

When asked about what their home life might be like, Charles turned to Diana, paused and finally prompted her, saying, "You're the one with domestic responsibilities."

She answered dutifully that she was "looking forward to being a good wife" and said she was an "average" cook, adding with a sidelong glance at Charles, "You haven't tasted anything 'cause I won't let you."

Charles then said, "It's is the most difficult thing trying to work out how you can have a family life as well as all the public demands that there are. I tend to lead a sort of idiotic existence trying to get involved in too many things and dashing about. And this is going to be my problem, trying to sort of control myself and, you know, work out something so that we can have a proper family life."

The day after the interview was recorded, when he and Diana visited the soldiers and families of the Cheshire army regiment of which he is colonel-in-chief, Charles had to correct himself after using "I" in addressing them on behalf of himself and Diana. "I am finding it difficult to remember to say 'we,'" he said, and then added to great regimental laughter as Diana looked coyly away, "I have got to the stage where I feel I am disappearing up my own fundamental."

Prince Charles also revealed a bit more about his own view of himself in two other interviews, conducted before his engagement but not made public until this week. In discussing on commercial television the transglobe expedition, for which he has been an enthusiastic and influential patron, he talked with obvious relish about the physical, mental and psychological challenges faced by the small group of Britons attempting the first circumnavigation of the surface of the globe across both poles.

He described the expedition as "gloriously and refreshingly mad." He could have been talking about his own daring exploits -- from parachute-jumping and piloting all kinds of aircraft to wind-surfing and deep-sea diving -- when he tried to explain the exhilaration of people pushing themselves physically beyond what their minds thought prudent or even possible.

Discussing his own more conventional duties as prince of Wales during the decades before he can expect to become king, Charles told a BBC raido interviewer that he thought his role "is trying to set an example, to help push people along, to be encouraging, to warn, advise, amuse. Everything to give people pleasure and a sense of purpose in life, a sense of satisfaction, a sense of feeling they have done something useful by congratulating them and generally being seen to show interest when it's deserved," he said. "It all, I hope and feel, goes towards trying to make as happy a society and country as possible."

At the end of the wedding eve television interview, conducted by the BBC's Angela Rippon and Andrew Gardner of the independent commercial network, Charles glanced at Diana and said: "We just look forward to being able to do as much as we can to help in this country and elsewhere in the commonwealth."

Asked if it would make a big difference to now have a "wife by your side," the prince said, "It's marvelous to have a lot of support."

Clasping Charles hand tightly for the first time during the interview, Diana responded, "I'm glad. I like that."

© Copyright 1981 The Washington Post Company

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