LONDON — Prince Charles and Princess Diana reached the 10-year mark in their marriage yesterday amid growing uncertainty that they will make it much farther and unease over whether the next King of England will ascend to the throne with a queen at his side.
No one in an official capacity has mentioned divorce. No one officially has ever admitted the two were even at odds. But everyone here knows -- from newspapers stories and tattle-tale reports of former employees of the royals -- about the couple's estrangement and their separate living arrangements.
Should a divorce occur between Charles and Diana, no one would expect the pillars of the British monarchy to crumble, or the stability of the state to be shaken.
But neither would anyone see a divorce, or even continued estrangement, as a reinforcement of the thousand year old monarchy, which is going through, what they call here, "a rough patch."
The 1978 divorce of the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret, from her husband, Lord Snowdon, never went down well with the public. A recent poll by the Daily Telegraph revealed that a majority of Britons don't think the royal family is currently providing the best model of family life.
And nothing has done the monarchy more harm than the apparent souring of the union sealed 10 years ago yesterday in a splendorous ceremony, televised around the globe -- the marriage of Charles and the former Lady Diana Spencer.
It was a marriage built on practical purpose, but with tremendous appeal to fantasy among ordinary Britons. The marriage's apparent disintegration seems to have caused widespread pain and disillusionment.
The marriage of Charles and Diana has survived years of intense media scrutiny, which says a lot for it. All the royals are bread and butter for the more popular newspapers, such as the Sun and Mirror, but Charles and Diana have been their lifeblood. These papers, and the more serious ones such as the Times and the Telegraph, which pay closer attention to getting their facts right, have, over the years, created profiles of the two which are accepted as more or less accurate. These are the images: Charles is thought to be an introspective man, exceedingly serious, somewhat stuffy, who acts older than his 43 years. He is the lean, languorous aristocrat persuaded of his own superiority. But he is also known to work hard at being the sovereign-in-waiting, to contribute his time and efforts to many good causes, and seemingly never to tire of a staggering schedule of ceremonial duties.
Diana was a teen-ager when she married Charles, a man many royal watchers think might have been too old for her, not only in years. With her gleaming blond hair and a large and vivid smile, she reminds one of a Barbie Doll.
But she is as diligent as her husband in getting her role right. She is forever comforting the inhabitants of children's hospitals, inaugurating bridges or highways. She is more spontaneous than Charles, more winning. Recently she has become more direct than previously, speaking out in defense of AIDS sufferers. She may already be the most popular member of the royal family.
During the early, warmer years of their marriage, Charles and Diana used to work their ceremonial chores as a team. But in recent months they are rarely seen together. They didn't even come together on July 1, Diana's 30th birthday. The prince had offered her a party to mark that meaningful milestone in her life. She declined.
Since then, throughout the especially warm weeks of July, it has been a cool month for the royal marriage. The two are scheduled to attend tonight's recital by Luciano Pavarotti in Hyde Park. Thousands of people are expected to arrive, not all to see the Italian tenor.