The Ghost Of Diana

Amid the tsunami unleashed by Fleet Street last week, one tidbit is worth pondering: apparently, there is someone whose job includes squeezing Prince Charles's toothpaste onto the royal toothbrush. That someone is Michael Fawcett, the prince's personal valet. Since Fawcett is, according to various news reports, the only person Charles trusts with this awesome responsibility, one must presume that the heir to the throne's dental hygiene declines precipitously whenever the valet goes on vacation.

Fawcett's duties came to light in a series of lurid tabloid stories about some of the other tasks he is said to undertake for his boss. These reportedly include selling unwanted royal gifts for cash to the tune of about $150,000 a year, with Fawcett getting a commission and Charles getting the rest. That was actually among the tamer allegations flung at the royals. The most serious charge was made by one of Charles's footmen, who claimed he was raped by a senior aide. There were also reports of a palace "gay mafia" covering up the crime.

And if there's any doubt that the ghost of Diana continues to haunt the royals, consider these revelations from Paul Burrell, her former butler, who sold his story in Britain for $450,000 and is now hitting talk shows on this side of the pond. Burrell claims that Diana once left home to meet her lover clad only in a fur coat and pearls. Other beaus were smuggled into Kensington Palace in the trunks of cars. Burrell says that when Diana was feeling especially magnanimous, she drove around and handed out money to prostitutes, urging them to "go home." On at least one occasion, she dispatched Burrell to buy soft-core porn for her son William because she knew that it might be just a little difficult for the prince to buy the stuff himself (only a mother would think of these things). Despite this behavior, it does seem a tad rude of Prince Philip, her ex-father-in-law, to have written Diana letters in which he described her, Burrell claims, as a "trollop" and a "harlot."

All these revelations are providing a dismal end to what had been a triumphant year for the royals. It was the queen's jubilee, a celebration of her 50 years on the throne that peaked with two widely televised concerts this summer. The good PR ended when Burrell went on trial last month for stealing more than 300 items from Diana's home. Just as the butler was set to testify, the queen announced via her courtiers that Burrell had told her he was taking Diana's stuff for safekeeping. That put an end to the case, since the prosecution was based on the claim that Burrell had told no one what he was doing.

Once he was freed, Burrell sold his story to the Daily Mirror, which sparked a ferocious tabloid war and pushed other papers to ferret out the dirt about Charles's household. Late last week Charles assigned his private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, to investigate the allegations "without fear or favor." Opponents of the monarchy are also calling for an inquiry into the queen's last-minute intervention in the Burrell trial. A poll last week suggested that two thirds of the British public believe that she spoke out only to halt further embarrassing revelations. Don't the Windsors know by now that no servant in the world can put the toothpaste back in the tube?