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Britain, Feeling the Royals' Pain

Diana's former lover, Major James Hewitt is seen during a polo match.
AP Photo

James Hewitt in polo match
By Fred Barbash
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 5, 1994; Page C01

BLACKPOOL, England, Oct. 4 — The tabloids are one thing. They do what they do. But the Guardian, the Times of London and even the Financial Times -- which prides itself on ignoring such trifles -- put the latest steamy scandale royale on their front pages today.

It was a sign that "Princess in Love," a former army major's tale of his purported five-year romance with Princess Diana, is being taken seriously here -- not as literature, for it is being scorned for its overwrought True Romance style -- but as a genuine crisis for the Crown.

Scholars came on television to suggest that Parliament change the rules of succession. Commentators opined that the situation raises grave questions about the future custody of the children, Princes William and Harry, now that both their father, Charles, and their mother appear to have been adulterers. And just about everyone denounced retired Maj. James Hewitt, whose claims of a royal romance are related in the book, as a scoundrel.

The book itself was selling out all over Britain on Monday. Today there seemed little reason to buy it, since huge excerpts were appearing in the daily press. Try this:

"He kissed her tenderly, romantically. He was hungry for her, but suspected that this soft nurturing was all that she wanted, all that she expected. ... Diana stood up and without saying a word stretched out her hand and slowly led James to her bedroom."

Or this: "Suddenly she could not bear it any longer. Her need was too much. She was starting to flail. So, with the ease of a dancer performing a well-worn routine, she stood up, walked across to him and slipped sideways onto his lap. As she landed on him, cupping her hands behind his neck, James was both raging with desire and taken by surprise. He was unaware that what she needed, what she really wanted, was passion."

Or this, the bittersweet end: "She was worn out, weary from the effort of loving when she did not know where it was taking her, when she did not know what the answers were. ... Implicitly they understood that if they stayed together their feelings would become mediocre, and great love is not about the mediocre."

There is no documentary evidence to support Hewitt's story that the relationship he began as Diana's riding instructor ended in bed -- or, as alleged, in a number of beds, including one at Kensington Palace. But it appeared today that no one doubted it, for his name had been mentioned repeatedly over the years as one of four lovers taken by the princess, not counting Charles. Buckingham Palace called the account "tawdry, grubby and worthless" but said nothing about its accuracy.

Everyone had an angle. To the Financial Times, the book was a business story. "London bookstores reported huge demand for 'Princess in Love,' " it reported.

In the Guardian, it was a banner headline -- "Royals Made 'Laughing Stock.' " The paper reported that sources high in the government "were saying last night that the claims in the book bring closer the possibility of divorce between Prince Charles and his estranged wife and raise questions over the custody of their children. One said: 'I don't see how this can go on. It is making the royal family a worldwide laughing stock.' "

The Guardian's front-page spread featured a seven-column photograph of copies of the book in a Charing Cross Road bookstore. It looked like an Andy Warhol creation: 12 images of the book jacket arranged in two rows.

For others, it was the story of one of the publishing coups of the decade, a miracle story about how a small publishing house, Bloomsbury, managed to keep its blockbuster a secret until Sunday, when the story appeared in the News of the World, and how it then managed to get 75,000 copies into bookstores in a single morning.

The Times devoted a portion of its front page and a full inside page to the story, much of it an attack on the woman who actually wrote the book from interviews with Hewitt: Anna Pasternak, grandniece of Russian writer Boris Pasternak, author of "Dr. Zhivago." Her style was compared unfavorably with his.

The most serious note was struck by Paul Johnson, a constitutional historian who in a television interview called on Parliament to alter the line of succession to the throne. As it stands, when Queen Elizabeth steps down or dies, Charles becomes king. Johnson said he thought that unwise.

"I think we now have to think seriously about whether we should alter the succession and make it possible for Prince William to stand next in line," he told BBC. "It seems to me there have been rather very grave faults in this marriage and it rather puts them out of court as far as becoming king and queen."

He added: "I've only just become aware of the amount of damage which the royal scandal is causing to Britain's reputation in the world. It's enormous and it's growing and continuing. And I think this is something Parliament should ... address as an important constitutional issue."

Parliament, as Johnson pointed out, does have the power to alter the succession. "It's Parliament that decides who are suitable people to be sovereigns of the country," he said. "What Parliament has already done, Parliament can change and alter."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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