Doubting Charles Everyone (even Camilla) felt Diana was perfect -- except the royal groom boosler cut

June 08, 1993|By Nigel Dempster and Peter Evans

In Part Three of a five-part excerpt from "Behind Palace Doors: Marriage and Divorce in the House of Windsor" by Nigel Dempster and Peter Evans, Prince Charles didn't want to marry Lady Diana Spencer, but even his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, was certain that "the mouse" was absolutely right for England's future king.

Charles Philip Arthur George, prince of Wales, heir to the British throne and the world's most eligible bachelor, had a problem. He was not in love with the girl he was going to marry.

And nobody would listen to him.

His fiancee, Lady Diana Spencer, was the girl next door. Their families had known each other all their lives, and for generations past. She had been vetted, guaranteed Immaculate by the admirable Mr. Pinker, surgeon-gynecologist to the queen; she defined the word "innocent." Her face on the cover of a magazine sold out the edition. Exactly as advertised, approved and admired by all, Lady Diana seemed made to order. . . .

But he barely knew her.

"She is exquisitely pretty, a perfect poppet . . . but she is a child," he told a woman friend plaintively, still brooding less than a month before the nuptials about the wisdom -- the sanity -- of his choice. "She does not look old enough to be out of school, much less married," he fretted.

But for all the angst and air of irresolution surrounding the prince in the weeks following the announcement of his engagement to Lady Diana, Palace aides did not sense a crisis, or even acknowledge a problem. No code-blue alarms rang in Buck House. The prince's worries were drowned in the palace clamor for a marriage that was more than a marriage: It was a massive PR coup for the monarchy itself.

Ratings is the name of the game for royalty as well as for television, and The Wedding was to be the essence of triumphalism, the biggest ceremonial event the British monarchy had ever staged: a royal spectacular, a real-life fairy tale shown live on satellite TV around the world. Hundreds of millions of dollars were in play, and the prince had as much say in the matter as a corporal in the Light Brigade. He met with his father in an attempt to win him to his side. However ambivalent he may have been about his father, the prince felt that he was generally more capable of commitment than the queen. But the meeting was a disaster and only resulted in a long, inconclusive wrangle that ended with Prince Philip bluntly telling him that since his 30th birthday he had been "living on borrowed time" as a bachelor. Public expectation was at a peak: It was time, Philip growled, "to get off the pot."

The prince left the meeting with his father more depressed and frustrated than ever. "Why does he always manage to make me feel like the bloody monkey to his organ grinder?" he asked the woman friend in whom he sought solace that evening, and who was one of the several married women in whom he placed a special trust. Like his late great-uncle David, the Duke of Windsor, he had a weakness for other men's wives.

Camilla Parker Bowles, the one he trusted most, and had loved longest, continued to try to soothe his nerves as the wedding grew closer. She had the most important qualification as a mistress: She was a good listener. She had vetted all his women, the serious ones, as if some fealty were due, as if his future happiness were on her conscience. She knew that Charles fell in love with dangerous ease and she would perceive his conquests through her steely reality rather than his romanticism. Marking them out of 10, none so far had earned more than six on her score card. Diana, far different from the others with whom he had been involved, got a nine. "She's an absolute mouse," Camilla told him in her well-bred voice. "She will be fine; she is almost perfect."

It was heartfelt advice. Only a little older than Charles, she was considerably wiser in the ways of the world, and her strategy as a mistress turned on her sanctioning and taking an early hold on his bride. In Diana, she was convinced that the prince had found a woman who suited her own book exactly . . . "an absolute mouse."

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