The royal family's affairs are royal mess

September 07, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- It was William Congreve who wrote these line that are forever being misquoted:

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,

Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.

Well, maybe fury isn't the right word; determination might be closer.

That describes Emma Stewardson, a horsy young woman who felt scorned by the --ing cavalry officer, Maj. James Hewitt. It was she who gave the newspapers the recent story about Major Hewitt's relationship with the Princess of Wales, warm embraces in the stables and such.

He was her riding instructor. The suggestion is he might have been much more than that.

"I stand by every word," said the aggrieved Ms. Stewardson, "and am prepared to reveal the full truth about his friendship with Diana."

Thus the woes of Britain's royal family increase, it seems, with each day. Previously they derived from the scandal surrounding the Duchess of York's antics in San Tropez with her "financial adviser," the American John Bryan. There was the irrepressible Fergie, what with foot kissing, horsing around at poolside, bare breasts in the press for all who were interested to see.

Many were interested; many saw.

Now the focus has shifted back to Diana, she who more personifies the ideal of a princess in the public's mind, the ethereal and melancholy blonde who has been compared by American sociologist Camille Paglia to Cinderella no less.

First came the "Dianagate" tapes, recordings of a conversation between the princess and one James Gilbey which had been pirated out of the air by a retiree in Oxford with eavesdropping equipment and turned over to The Sun newspaper, which held them for two years and finally published them.

They revealed an intimacy between the two. Mr. Gilbey referred to the princess by the tender diminutive, "Squidgy."

It has never been officially established that the voices on the tapes were actually those of Princess Diana and Mr. Gilbey -- who has removed himself to the country -- but people believe it is.

If they didn't why would tens of thousands of them dial up a special telephone number published by The Sun to hear the tape, all 23 minutes of it, at a cost of about $22?

More recently it was revealed that the security men who guard the Princess had been dismissed on at least half a dozen occasions so she could go off alone here or there. The palace is mum about this, of course, and speculation is rife that she was off meeting with Mr. Gilbey. It was even suggested, and vehemently denied, that the princess went alone to the remote Norfolk farmhouse where Mr. Gilbey is desperately trying to lie low.

Toward this, the palace was thunderingly silent. Nor was a word heard from the Prince of Wales, Diana's husband and future king, who of late has been in Balmoral shooting grouse.

But the real trouble for the royal establishment lay not with the Diana-Gilbey relationship, friendship, association -- or however it might be accurately described. It is with Major Hewitt again. He, being a gentleman of the old school, is seeking satisfaction against the The Sun, which declares itself the greatest newspaper in the world.

Since he can't run the editors through with his sabre, lash them with a horsewhip, he is taking them to court. The Sun may be sleazy, but it is not cowardly. It declares itself eager to go. Lawyers are strapping on their irons, licking their chops.

This means that Princess Diana might be called to the stand. Not the the queen, of course, since she is literally above the law in this land. But the princess would be enough. Her testimony could do the monarchy inestimable harm, most people agree.

Royals don't go to court. It is hard on the mystique; it dims the magnificence and splendor that they are supposed to be all about. Of course they haven't been all that magnificent or splendid of late, but the monarchy has survived bad patches in the past. Most royal watchers think they'll get through this one too.

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