The Man Who Would be King

…if or when his mummy hands off the sceptre to him in the British monarchy relay.  Nobody is in any hurry, I think.  At the time of writing, Her Majesty is 89, and due to turn 90 in April of this year (2016), as would my own mummy, had she lived beyond age 87.  Her Majesty was born April 21, 1926, and my mother was born April 16, 1926.  Both remarkable women.

Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, has taken some hard knocks, due largely to his disastrous first marriage to Lady Diana Spencer.  I also feel some sympathy for her, in view of the humanitarian work she did, but this is tempered by an inability to understand the more ill-advised choices she made.

Even looking back on the Cinderella days of their courtship and marriage, it’s possible to see that they didn’t have a snowball’s chance of making a happy life together.  So different in every way.  And she was so young…only 19 when they announced their engagement.  She had turned 20 on July 1, 1981, and married Prince Charles on July 29, 1981.

In retrospect, a superstitious person might consider the muddle Diana made of Charles’s names during her wedding vows an ill omen.  She put ‘Philip’ first in his list of names, but it was perfectly understandable under the circumstances.  Her wedding day would have been a good deal more nervous-making than most, as was her subsequent role as the Princess of Wales.

I suppose Prince Charles’s choices for a marriage partner were narrowing down considerably, and at age 32 he must have been feeling intense pressure to find a suitable mate…someone with aristocratic connections, ideally, and someone who did not have ‘a past’ in order to satisfy the older, more traditional members of the U.K. and Commonwealth citizenry.  British royalty was still expected to hold to a particular standard, and this standard could only be relaxed for royal family members who were not direct heirs to the throne (I’m thinking of Prince Andrew’s marriage to Sarah Ferguson—the standards went on to become very relaxed, indeed!)

So we know that the marriage made sense on the face of it, even with some inherent difficulties.  Such an onerous adjustment period for Princess Diana, “Shy Di” in the public eye, but I suppose that she, like most other 19-year-olds in the world, before and since, thought that she could handle it.  The Royal Family probably had misgivings, but maybe they expected that, being young, she would be adaptable and perhaps grow into the role expected of her.  I’m sure they couldn’t foresee that she would be an international sensation of nuclear proportions.  For anyone raised on stories of fairy tale princesses, she was a fascination, and we couldn’t get enough of her.

Later on it would be claimed that Prince Charles and the Royal Family did not give her enough support…but I have to wonder if anyone could.  There has never been a ‘star’ amongst aristocrats or Hollywood actors or musicians and performers whose celebrity rivalled hers, and we know what happened with many of them:  self-destructive behaviours, multiple marriages, and strange lifestyles.  The pressure on her must have been enormous, and the bulimia that resulted was therefore not surprising.

Much has been made of Prince Charles’s offhand response to a television interviewer at the time the engagement was announced.  When he was asked about being ‘in love,’ Prince Charles jokingly replied, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.”  Diana laughed at that at the time, in response to his tone of voice if not to the words themselves.  This tiny moment on tape was raised to the status of an epiphany and endlessly replayed at the time of their marital breakdown.  It was seen (again and again and again) as a moment in time when Prince Charles supposedly revealed the true nature of his feelings–or the lack thereof–for Princess Diana. That’s how the media presented it, and so that’s what it became.

A couple of quotes from Marshall McLuhan’s writings might be relevant here:

“All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”

and

“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”

I see that remark, “Whatever ‘in love’ means” as something integral to Prince Charles’s nature–that he might seriously have questioned what exactly it means to be ‘in love’…the physical, mental or emotional nature of it.  He was, and is, an intelligent man who thinks about many things beyond their surface values.  In any case, it was an idiotic remark on the part of the reporter, and really deserved nothing more than the reply it got.  So whether Prince Charles’s response was philosophical or flippant, it certainly shouldn’t have taken on the level of importance it was later given.  Many of us say offhand things without considering the full effects on the listener, but our remarks are rarely immortalized on film and replayed ad nauseum.

Even Princess Diana herself took this as sign that he didn’t feel the same way she did at the time of their engagement; call to witness her voice coach’s (Peter Settelen’s) 1992/93 videotapes of his sessions with her.  In the Settelen tape she says that Charles’s remark ‘really threw’ her and ‘absolutely traumatized’ her; but at that point in time, many years after that engagement interview, I suspect she had simply absorbed the media’s magnification of Prince Charles’s casual remark, and elevated its status in her own mind–and perhaps for her own purposes.

In the Settelen tapes she talks unguardedly and at length about many intimate details of her marriage, and it’s quite a performance, if one is a bit cynical.  I find it difficult to believe that she could reveal so much to a man whom she knew on very short acquaintance–while being videotaped–and then keep the tapes instead of destroying them, as she should have done unless she intended using them at some point.

“A lot has been made of the fact that the footage was never intended for public consumption. Diana had possession of the tapes and could not have known she was going to die so young and they would end up first in Paul Burrell’s attic, then in Settelen’s hands […] By her early thirties, the age she was when the tapes were made, did Diana feel she existed away from the cameras? Did she do or say very much that wasn’t ultimately intended for public consumption? ” (Barbara Ellen in The Guardian, December 12, 2004)

And did he love her?  I would guess that he did in the beginning, in spite of what he later said.  When he came out with the confession that he never loved Diana in his Dimbleby biography of 1994, his marriage was an unrecoverable shambles, and he was firmly committed to Camilla.

It seems that the marriage to Diana failed in part because she and he could not find a common intellectual ground—a shared interest of some sort, apart from their children and their work.  He was a little bit opera and she was a little bit rock n’ roll.  Their differences could only be magnified over time, and since Charles evidently never lost his attachment to Camilla, the inevitable happened.

Also, if one were to believe Wendy Berry, who wrote, The Housekeeper’s Diary, Charles and Diana before the Breakup, there were serious personality conflicts at work as well.  I have only read Amazon reviews of this book, myself, but they seem to agree on that point.  Wendy Berry was the housekeeper for Charles and Diana, and it seems that her purpose in taking the supposedly low-paying housekeeper’s job was to write this book about them.  Did she embellish her observations to boost book sales?  Probably, but there must have been some truth to it, judging by subsequent events.

And then there’s Diana’s collaboration with writer Andrew Morton (a poor choice on her part…if she had to write an exposé of her life in the Royal Family, at least she could have chosen a less heavy-handed writer), and her interview with Martin Bashir (another poor choice, in my view).

Here’s a quote from ‘The Guardian’ newspaper of February 7, 2003,

“Michael Jackson yesterday made an official complaint to TV watchdogs over the controversial documentary on his life, and angrily accused interviewer Martin Bashir of “utterly betraying” him.”

[…]

“The 44-year-old star said in a videotaped statement yesterday: “Martin Bashir persuaded me to trust him that his would be an honest and fair portrayal of my life, and told me he was ‘the man that turned Diana’s life around’.”

Bashir’s remark about his impact on Diana’s life was a bit egocentric, and not entirely accurate, since what he did was to encourage her to say things that resulted in her divorce–not really a positive thing, IF there was any hope at all of reconciliation.  I really wonder why Jackson would have chosen Bashir after watching Bashir’s Panorama interview of Princess Diana on November 20, 1995.  Bashir was quite obviously out to milk her for every scandalous, damaging remark he could get.  I think she was very foolish to cooperate with him to the extent that she did–if only for the impact it must have had on her children–and that Jackson should have been forewarned by it.

I watched Bashir’s interview of Jackson, and agree that it was patently a betrayal of trust, and a total manipulation of Jackson’s revelations to highlight anything that might be construed in an unsavoury light.  Jackson’s naïveté was so much in evidence throughout that I can readily believe the allegations of Jackson’s impropriety with children to be false.  Granted that a grown man should not be sleeping with children, even if it is or was all completely innocent, but in Jackson’s case it appears to be no more than a flouting of societal conventions–through ignorance, it must be said.  Society will accept an adult sleeping with a child if the adult is the child’s parent, and there to comfort a child who is ill or upset.  If there is no parental relationship, suspicions are aroused.  It can be said that because Jackson’s life and upbringing were so far from ‘the norm’ of a regular childhood, and his adult life so far removed from the average person’s experience, we can probably allow for the fact that he would have no concept of this.

Diana interviewed by Martin Bashir in Panorama Nov 20, 1995

In any case, within a month of Diana’s interview by Bashir, her press secretary had resigned and the Queen had sent Charles and Diana a letter urging them to divorce quickly.

LONDON, Dec. 20— Queen Elizabeth II has written to Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and to his estranged wife, the Princess of Wales, urging them to agree to an early divorce, Buckingham Palace said today.  (The New York Times, Dec. 21. 1995)

Bashir revealed himself even more clearly in later years; the following is from a December 5, 2013, online article in the Independent:

“Bashir, 50, described Mrs. Palin as a “world-class idiot” and “America’s resident dunce”, before suggesting that someone ought to defecate in her mouth – a punishment historically administered to slaves by particularly cruel slave-owners.

He later backtracked, apologising to Mrs. Palin for what he called his “ill-judged” and “deeply offensive” remarks.”

Yes, Mr. Bashir.  Deeply offensive indeed.

And then there’s Andrew Morton, who was interviewed by journalist Deborah Ross in the Independent, November 30, 1997, three months after Princess Diana’s death in the car crash in Paris:

“We now know that Andrew Morton’s Diana, Her True Story was based on the Princess’s own words. He has the six C90 tapes to prove it, plus the hastily updated and snappily retitled Diana, Her True Story – In Her Own Words, which will earn him a second fortune for practically no extra work, the cheeky little monkey.”

[…]

“But is Andrew being true to himself – or to Diana, for that matter – with this new, updated version of the book, which includes 69 pages of her own, transcribed words? The Red Cross was not impressed. It refused to accept a donation from him. Bob Geldof was even less impressed. He called Andrew “a loathsome creep gorging on the memory of the woman who handed him his cheque”.

[…]

“He began researching his Diana book in the winter of 1990. Of course, he did not expect Diana to collaborate. But, even so, he asked Dr. James Colthurst – a mutual friend – if he would ask her to consider answering some questions. Amazingly, she agreed. Why? Because, he thinks, “she wanted to get her retaliation in first.” Retaliation against whom? “Charles, for going back to Camilla shortly after their marriage. Then Charles got his own back by doing the Dimbleby thing, which was actually promoted as the complete riposte to Morton’s book. Then Diana retaliated by doing Panorama …” He says that any accusations that he might have further wounded Princes William and Harry with his revelations are ludicrous. “Their parents had said it all in public already.””

Well, I guess they wouldn’t be the first couple to ‘have a go’ at one another when their marriage went sour.  Charles’s response to Morton’s book was to participate in the writing of Jonathan Dimbleby’s book (an authorized biography), which stated that he never loved Diana…”Buckingham Palace said yesterday that Charles had no regrets about cooperating with the biography, which describes him as trapped in a nightmare marriage with a bored, bulimic, self-absorbed and obsessively jealous young wife.” (Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1994).

It was unfortunate that all these accusations, recriminations, and extremely hurtful remarks should appear in the public forum, and in the hands of such as Martin Bashir and Andrew Morton.  There can be no mitigation or retraction of words that are published in print and recorded on film.  I question Charles’s departure from the stoic, stiff-upper-lip and stony silence on personal issues that the Royal Family has always maintained in the past.  His revelations in the Dimbleby book were ill-advised, in my view.  And I really question Princess Diana’s judgement in choosing Morton and Bashir, if she absolutely had to fire a salvo across the Royal Family’s flagship.  So I have to wonder about some of her other choices.  Dodi Fayed?  Hmmmm…

Dodi Fayed was famously described as a Muslim playboy and film producer, who was the son of Mohamed Al-Fayed.  He was engaged to model Kelly Fisher at the time of his ‘fling’ with Princess Diana, and had bought a house in Malibu for Kelly and himself, reportedly with his father’s money.  Kelly Fisher later sued Dodi Fayed for breach of promise.  Evidently Princess Diana, who believed herself to be a betrayed wife with a ‘third party’ (Camilla) involved in her marriage, didn’t scruple to be the third party in someone else’s relationship–and not for the first time.

Mohamed Al-Fayed, to all appearances, was a little bit obsessed by the British Royal family, and had pretensions to aristocracy himself (he added the ‘Al’ to his name to indicate this, and some of his family members followed suit for a time and later dropped it).

“In 1986 he signed a 50-year lease on the Parisian villa of the duke and duchess of Windsor, which he promptly restored.”  (Encyclopedia Britannica)

I know that I’ve read somewhere (and can’t find the source at the moment) that he wanted the Royal Family to use their influence in getting him British citizenship, and he was rebuffed.  Maybe that was speculation on someone’s part at the time, but it fits.

“Although frustrated in his efforts to be accepted as a British citizen—his application was first denied in 1995, and subsequent attempts were also unsuccessful—Fayed continued to play an influential and highly controversial role in Great Britain. Fayed had numerous feuds with the British establishment and helped wreck the careers of several Conservative politicians.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

“Fayed’s contentious relationship with the British establishment was well documented. In a rancorous takeover in 1985, he beat out mining giant Lonrho to purchase the House of Fraser, the holding company that controlled Harrods department store.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Of course, after the deaths of Dodi and Diana, his relationship with the Royal Family was open warfare, as is clearly seen from his court action against them and the security services (Feb 18, 2008), and in this article from the Daily Mail, June 27, 2011:

“Mohammed Al Fayed has burnt the royal crests that used to adorn the wall of Harrods as part of a TV documentary on the death of Princess Diana.

Al Fayed also brands the Duke of Edinburgh a ‘Nazi’ in the film, which will not be shown in Britain because it is far too libellous.

In the controversial scene Al Fayed is pictured standing in the grounds of his country estate near Oxted in Surrey.”

al-fayed burning Harrods's royal warrants

In any case, in the 2008 court case Al-Fayed charged that MI-6 murdered Dodi and Diana on the orders of Prince Philip, and branded the Royals “Dracula Family.”

He believes that Diana was pregnant with Dodi’s child at the time of her death.  Wishful thinking, I believe, since this was very likely his aim…to connect his family to the Royal Family.  Any child of Diana’s would be a half-sibling to an heir to the throne (William).

There really can be few other men who would have been less desirable as a connection in the Royal Family’s view than Dodi Fayed.  Easy to see how it all came about…Mohamed Al-Fayed no doubt saw an opportunity for his son with Princess Diana after her divorce, and the invitation he extended to her, William and Harry for a holiday in the south of France in 1997 was a calculated move that paid off.

“Diana and Charles divorced in 1996. Diana was hosted by Al-Fayed in the south of France in the summer of 1997, with her two sons, the Princes William and Harry. For the holiday, Fayed bought a 195 ft yacht, the Jonikal (later renamed the Sokar).  Dodi and Diana later began a private cruise on the Jonikal and paparazzi photographs of the couple in an embrace were published. Diana’s friend, the journalist Richard Kay, confirmed that Diana was involved in “her first serious romance” since her divorce.” (Wikipedia)

And of course Dodi and Diana died in a Paris car crash while being pursued by paparazzi on August, 31, 1997, a short time after their relationship began in that same summer.

Naturally there was a shocked reaction from all quarters, and an outpouring of public grief at the tragedy.  Even though I shared in the shock and grief, I remember seeing on the news broadcasts all the notes to ‘Dodi and Diana’ amongst the flowers piled at the gates of Buckingham Palace, and wondering how people could possibly imagine that they were Romeo and Juliet.

It was so obviously a match orchestrated by his father for reasons of his own, in which Dodi collaborated–in spite of his engagement to another woman, and likely because his wealthy father held the purse-strings.  Diana could no doubt see the affair as a spectacularly effective retaliatory measure.  Or perhaps she was just making another poor judgement call?  After her affair with James Hewitt, and publication of the book he collaborated on with Anna Pasternak, Princess in Love, (1994), one would think she’d be more cautious.  But she seemed destined always to misplace her trust in a rather grand way.

As for her trust in Andrew Morton, I think we can see how that went wrong.  Immediately after her death, he re-published the book he wrote about her, with additional transcripts held back from the first publication, and he openly revealed her cooperation.

Very sad that two little boys should have been exposed to all this about their mother just after her death.  What a rocky few years it was for them.  Did she ever pause to consider the effects of her revelations on her children?  Had the boys been foremost in her thoughts, would she not have done her utmost to protect them from all the animosity between their parents, and the ugly publicity that fed on it?  If she had to make a life for herself separate from her husband’s, why wouldn’t she just get on with it?  It would have been the better choice for herself as well as her children.  I suspect that if she hadn’t made the attack on her husband–their father–and a play for public sympathy in that first book of Morton’s, it might not have set the wheels in motion that brought her life to a crashing halt in a Paris tunnel.  A sad waste of a life that was capable of so much good.

The following is an excerpt of a New York Times review (March 5, 1999) of a more recent book written by Andrew Morton about Monica Lewinsky.

‘Monica’s Story’: Tawdry and Tiresome, By MICHIKO KAKUTANI

“Like Morton’s two Diana books (“Diana: Her True Story” and “Diana: Her New Life”), “Monica’s Story” reverberates with the cloying sound of the talk-show confessional. All three books also share an annoying, and sometimes inadvertently amusing, propensity for Gothic melodrama and romance-novel prose. Describing the hopes of Ms. Lewinsky’s mother and aunt that her infatuation with the president was winding down, Morton writes, “Over the next few weeks, however, like blood seeping out from under a closed door, the awful truth began to dawn.””

I haven’t read the Dimbleby book Prince of Wales (yet), but that one was apparently a retaliatory move prompted by Morton’s book, and contained Prince Charles’s remarks  about feeling pushed into a loveless marriage by his father.  Those two books really put an end to the marriage, if it wasn’t already dead, and everything that happened subsequent to that was the flogging of a dead horse.

If one can put aside all the drama and tragedy of his marriage to Diana, accept that she is gone, and allow for the happy marriage to Camilla that resulted, I like it that Prince Charles is interested in urban planning and organic farming and environmental issues and architecture…

At the 150th anniversary of the Royal Institute of British Architects (May 30, 1984) he said, “Why can’t we have those curves and arches that express feeling in design? What is wrong with them? Why has everything got to be vertical, straight, unbending, only at right angles – and functional?”

He also said that a proposed extension to the National Gallery in London would be a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved friend.”

And apparently he got up everyone’s nose with that remark, but what’s the problem?  If he has no power to dictate to people about what they can and can’t do, why should they mind that he says what he thinks?  I think his views are worth listening to, and I think he would do very well as king…someday in the distant future, I hope.

What I remember about Prince Charles during all that difficult time his and Diana’s marriage imploded before our eyes was the fact that he kept a speaking engagement at a U.S. university shortly after the ‘Camillagate’ tapes were being played on radio and television. (Were the ‘Squidgygate’ tapes prior to, or subsequent to that?  Oh…I don’t really care.)   In them, two people who were apparently Charles and Camilla, were having an intimate conversation.

I watched a news report around this time which featured a reporter who went to the university campus and interviewed some of the students there prior to Prince Charles’s arrival.  One young fellow with a purple Mohawk haircut and multiple piercings and tattoos was very disapproving of Prince Charles, and I remember thinking, doesn’t it just beat all that this strange-looking article should criticize Prince Charles, whom I thought was very brave to continue to honour his public engagements in spite of all the sensationalism and public censure.  It was very “Keep Calm and Carry On” of him.

I realize that that motto from the days of the London Blitz is overworked these days, but it was very heartening to see it in practice.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Man Who Would be King

  1. An extremely well written article Donna. When is your first novel coming out ? I always enjoy reading everything you post or now “blog”.

    Like

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