The news item followed reports of labor troubles in Liverpool but came before details of a political assassination in Northern Ireland. In her normal midday-news deadpan, BBC television anchor Moira Stuart today announced allegations in an American magazine that Charles, the prince of Wales, 36, and his wife Diana, 24, "are growing apart."
An article in the new issue of Vanity Fair, Stuart said, "alleges that Prince Charles is dominated by his wife . . . and is being told by his father to start behaving like a future king. The princess is described as being besotted with her public image and in danger of losing touch with reality."
Buckingham Palace, the BBC concluded, "says none of this will embarrass the prince and princess because it is rubbish."
The tabloid Daily Mail, however, was more to the point. "AMAZING ATTACK ON CHARLES AND DIANA," its front-page scoop screamed this morning, before elaborating more calmly: "What America Is Being Told on Eve of the Royal Visit."
On Nov. 9, the heir to the British throne and his consort will travel to the United States for a four-day tour that includes no fewer than three official Washington dinners (at the White House, the British Embassy and the National Gallery to celebrate the opening of the "Treasure Houses of Great Britain" exhibition), plus an afternoon of polo in Palm Beach, Fla., for the prince, followed by another dinner.
It will be the first trip to America for Diana, the nursery school teacher-turned-princess, and her countrymen are looking forward to showing off her tall, blond good looks, magnificent wardrobe and perfected royal manner.
Into that happy prospect today landed Vanity Fair, and whether it will damage the concocted enchantment of the royal visit remains to be seen. Other than the "rubbish" dismissal, royal couple spokesman Vic Chapman, a gruff Canadian who normally speaks his mind, said he had "no comment."
The U.S. embassy here was similarly terse, although slightly gigglish. "It's serious business, but it's not our business," said a relieved and insistently anonymous American official. "We don't have an officer in charge of court relations, and if we did, we'd have a big supply of adhesive tape" to secure his mouth on the sensitive matter, the official said.
While professional diplomats may take this sort of thing in stride, the British public does not. Vanity Fair does not even circulate here, and the issue has barely hit the stands across the Atlantic. But with the help of the Daily Mail, word of the scandal spread quickly across London. The Press Association, Britain's domestic wire service, sent out two bulletins, one of them noting that Diana had already read the Daily Mail report before visiting a senior citizen's home this morning. The princess, it was reported, seemed unperturbed by the news, although the pensioners pronounced it "disgraceful."
By noon, a group of secretaries already had a copy of the story itself electronically transmitted from New York. They photocopied and distributed it to all interested parties.
Britain clearly was not amused, although it is difficult to see why not. The article, written by Vanity Fair editor in chief Tina Brown -- herself an expatriate Briton -- is little more than a compendium of royal family gossip items printed in the local tabloid press here over the past year.
In New York, Brown called the reaction on Fleet Street "absolutely astounding," saying that in spite of her years as a London insider, she suddenly felt out of touch with her former home town. "It seems like Ruritania." She said her article, which she said had been "blown up as a violent attack" against the royal duo, was not meant to be negative.
Brown said her story was a response to a People magazine story called "Malice in the Palace," which Brown said portrayed Diana as "a beastly little girl, always stamping her foot.
"I don't think she is like that, and it was an attempt to redress that and to look at them from a more complicated point of view," Brown added. "I was writing about the royals as rock stars -- Elvis Presley married to Madonna. In fact, I suspect that Princess Di would probably have more to say to Madonna than to her present flatmate."
Brown's assertions that Diana has an "obsession with her image," spends wildly on clothing because she is bored, and likes rock music are old hat to British readers, who have a near-daily diet of the stuff. Even Brown's mention that Diana is not much in the intellect department is a mere shadow of stories like one titled "Is Anything Going on Under Di's Hat?" last month in The Sun, another London tabloid.
"Some people think there is something missing under that glossy blond mop," The Sun revealed. Having set up the unidentified straw men, The Sun then proceeded to knock them down, following a time-honored local formula used for insulting stories about the royal family. "Diana is now thoroughly fed up with the idea that she is nothing but a delicious dimwit," it said indignantly. An accompanying photo, showing her smiling prettily, was captioned "Bright Di: She's No Princess Pea-Brain."
Revelations that Charles is bullied by his father, Prince Philip, as well as his wife, are nothing new. Just last February, the Daily Star, another local tabloid, put the question in headlines: "Man or Mouse?" "Is the future King an ideal husband or Prince of the Wets?" it asked in reference to Charles' alleged wimpishness. The story delved deeply into the royal father-son relationship, quoting "a former valet to Philip" who noted he had heard Philip "say to the prince in front of guests and even after his marriage: 'move your bloody arse.' "
Brown did chronicle one previously unrevealed insight into Charles' character: While Diana is dancing with her Walkman, her husband has been known to attempt "to make contact on a Ouija board with the shade of his beloved 'Uncle Dickie' Mountbatten." But overall, Charles' fascination with the occult is widely and affectionately known here.
So why all the fuss over Vanity Fair's toned-down version of the Windsor family's peccadilloes? Perhaps it is because Brown not only doesn't refute them herself in the usual way of the tabloids, "but also implies that these bits of informational flotsam and jetsam provide important clues into the royal psyche of the 1980s.
"The generation gap between the royal couple is far more profound than a matter of age," Brown writes. "It is the yawning sensibility gap between the Me generation and the yuppie generation. The Princess of Wales is mentally and emotionally light-years away from the career girls, the rebels, the bolters, the experimenters Prince Charles associated with in his dancing years. She is one of the new school of born-again old-fashioned girls who play it safe and breed early. Post-feminist, post-verbal, her femininity is modeled on a fifties concept of passive power . . . She is a female type we don't often meet in the modern novel, but the Victorians knew her well. In 'Middlemarch' she appears as Rosamond Vincy, the exquisite blonde with the swan's neck whose decorous extravagance in the face of her husband's pleas to desist finally breaks his spirit."
As for Charles, Brown writes that his wife's takeover of the spotlight may be all for the good, enabling him "to relax his own arduous self-projection for the first time in his life . . . a release that has finally allowed him the postadolescent rebellion against the Teutonic boorishness of Prince Philip."
Aside from the overblown analysis, Brown's worst sin seems to be that she is one of the family and has aired the family linen not only to strangers, but to coarse and republican strangers like the Americans.
Still, those Americans tend to have at least the same high level of fascination with the British royal family as do its subjects. The royals don't sue, and the airing of the alleged foibles of Charles and Diana, timed so near to their U.S. visit, is bound to sell magazines for Vanity Fair, a slick, gossipy monthly that is something of a takeoff on Britain's "Tattler," which Brown once also edited.
But somehow, Brown seems to have betrayed a bit of the trust that her countrymen had in her. The increase in Vanity Fair's circulation under her leadership, the new pizazz the magazine has evidenced, has made Britons proud. Just this week, the London Sunday Express ran a half-page article about her titled "Tina takes a bite out of the Big Apple."
As usual with the British press, however, the Express couldn't resist a bit of a sting. Under her smiling photograph, superimposed on a New York skyline, the caption read: "Tina has Princess Diana's beauty and the style of Atilla the Hun."