Portrait Of A Marriage

In England, 11 years later, they still call it The Wedding. She, for obvious reasons, has stayed The Smile. And he-well, after last week, Charles, Prince of Wales and heir apparent to the throne of England, may be referred to, behind his back anyway, as Fred. The sad and silly reason can be found in a by turns sad, silly and significant new book called "Diana, Her True Story" now being published here and in England, and serialized in the London Sunday Times.In that slim volume, and in the torrent of follow-up stories washing over the tabloids and the telly, are vivid scenes from a marriage gone awry. So saturated is the English atmosphere with royal revelations these days that it's difficult not to know that Fred is the pet name given to Charles by his confidante-or that a depressed Diana is said to have developed bulimia and made five pathetic "Suicide" attempts during what even official Buckingham Palace now admits has been a "rumbustious" royal career.

No, this is not completely surprising. There have long been signs of strain in the marriage that has a larger purpose than most, a union that exists in part to symbolize what Dan Quayle would call "family values." The paparazzi for years have struggled to lasso Charles and Di in the same lens. Last month, when she paid an official visit to Egypt, he took a "sketching trip" in Turkey. About some other trips, Charles has been sketchier still.

Yet no one would have guessed the news would be this bad-and no one, it seems, could get enough of it. In Australia, thousands of people have been calling the equivalent of a 1-900 number to hear royal-marriage updates reported as if they were the highlights of a soccer match. At Sandringham, the royal family's country estate, officials put up velvet ropes last week to keep gawkers off the staircase that Diana is said to have flung herself down when she was three months pregnant with Prince William in 1982. Suddenly, England has a grisly new tourist attraction to go with the Tower of London and the walking tour of Jack the Ripper's old haunts. Mother and baby survived the reported plunge down Sandringham's stairs without serious injury. But it seems clear now that starting with the honeymoon-a strange word, really, for two newlyweds who hardly knew each other and the 276-member crew aboard the royal yacht Britannia-Charles and Di have been living a fractured fairy tale.

Might the marriage be beyond saving? Andrew Morton, the author of the 156-page "Diana, Her True Story," which is being published this week in America by Simon & Schuster, says that he was told by James Gilbey, a longtime friend of Diana, that the princess "hadn't made a date (in her appointment calendar] past July because she doesn't think she is going to be there." Morton also says that Diana has long had a premonition that she would never be queen. The furor itself seems to be contributing to the marital tensions. Last Thursday, while dedicating a hospice in Merseyside, the princess broke into tears when she saw supporters carrying signs that said, WE LOVE YOU, and had to be helped out of the spotlight.

Prime Minister John Major, responding to a typical question from The Week That Was, predicted that the 1,000-year-old English monarchy would survive this current crisis. He is right about that. Charles and Diana wouldn't be the first royal-family members to have their marriage run aground, or even the first this year; in April, Sarah, the Duchess of York, separated from Prince Andrew. But a divorce by Charles and Diana would no doubt be the biggest blow to the monarchy since Edward VIII abdicated to marry an American divorcee in 1936. It could also put a fair-size crimp in Charles's plan to become king. The sovereign also serves as the supreme governor of the Church of England, which does not sanction remarriage. The only divorced person to ascend the English throne was George I, in 1714.

That the discussion has gotten so serious so fast is in itself impressive. "This is not just a case of newspapers going too far, intruding into the lives of two unhappy people," the distinguished novelist and biographer A.N. Wilson wrote in his column in the Evening Standard."It has turned into something bigger than that." The archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, urged the press to exercise some restraint, expressed concern for the couple's two children, William and Harry-and then added that the "royal family was in [my] prayers." It's rare for figures of that stature to get involved in this kind of debate. Books about the royals usually cruise through English life like sightseeing boats on the Thames, some making slightly larger ripples than others. A few months ago, Lady Colin Campbell, herself a marginal member of the upper crust, published a biography of Diana in which she that Di was rotating five male "confidants" through the various royal residences. The tabloids ran with that story for a while, but no one took it seriously, if only because Diana--slumped in the stands on Harry's school "sports day," scuffing her toe in the Sahara while waiting for the photographers to finish--has looked too utterly miserable to be living it up the way Campbell contended.

What makes Morton's book more credible is certainly not the author's credentials; at 38, he's served time on the flashier tabs, and his previous books include the fawning " Diana's Diary." Tabloid legend has it that Morton was made a royal correspondent because at 6 feet 4 inches, he was best qualified to peek over crowds. His technique seems classic Fleet Street: he comes, he peeks, he goes back to the office and turns out serviceable prose. "Her True Story" is not a great read; Morton admits it was rushed out when he began to get a sense that the marriage "might come tumbling down at any minute." In the end, what sets these particular shocking revelations apart is that they are unusually specific; they are extraordinarily well sourced--and they make eminent sense in light of Charles's and Diana's recent public behavior.

The two rarely make joint appearances anymore, and according to the tabs they have maintained separate bedrooms for several years. It was Charles who pulled away first, the book says, occupied as he was with Camilla Parker Bowles, an unglamorous upper-class woman whom he first met in 1972, when both were 23 and single. Unlike Diana, who turns 31 next month, Parker Bowles shares Charles's penchant for hunting and polo. The prince, then a young naval officer, was not in a marrying mood when he and Camilla first dated, and she soon became the wife of army officer Andrew Parker Bowles-a man who, lest you think the monarchy is all silly pomp and meaningless titles, is now the official Silver Stick in Waiting to the Queen. He is also known less formally as the world's best sport. On the day that the book excerpts first broke in London, Brigadier Parker Bowles went with his wife to watch Charles play polo, and when they visited the royal box at Windsor Great Park, the couple reportedly "chatted amiably" with the queen. Her Majesty and the brigadier both seem to think that the Charles-Camilla relationship is bigger than both of them.

The signs of a bond certainly have endured. Shortly before she married Charles, Morton says, Diana discovered a bracelet that he intended to send to Parker Bowles, and she considered calling off the wedding. On the honeymoon, Morton says, Charles came to dinner one night wearing cuff links given to him by Camilla, which featured intertwined C's. Morton traces Diana's alleged emotional problems directly to the prince's callous behavior. "His indifference pushed her to the edge," says an unnamed friend.

If this version of the truth sounds slanted, the author doesn't deny it. This is " without a doubt, [Diana's] side of the story," Morton told NEWSWEEK. " I very quickly came to realize that you choose which side you are on-his or hers. If I had tried to straddle the divide between them, word would have gotten back to the palace and doors would be closed." In exchange for his loyalty, Morton says he found himself being received favorably by a select group of Diana's friends,--the kind of people who always check with the princess before talking, and who in the past have been signaled not to cooperate. "She's obvious authorized her friends to speak with Morton," says Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine. "There's no way, for instance, that James Gilbey, a dear friend of hers, would have talked about such soul-destroying things without her approval, or without her suggesting to him that he did."

Gilbey, a handsome 36-year-old heir to the gin fortune, was Morton's source on the alleged suicide attempts. These, the author admits, were "not really serious attempts to take her life" but rather "cries for help" from a young woman "struggling desperately to accommodate herself to her new position and new family." The reported incident on the stairs at Sandringham, just six months after the wedding, followed a bout of morning sickness and, as Morton writes, "the dawning realization that another woman ... meant more to her husband than she did."

A brief period of domestic tranquillity followed the birth of William in June of 1982. But, we are told, the Waleses' relationship ultimately got no better. One apparent reason is that there was precious little to build on. Charles, who met Diana when she was 16, may have been attracted to the pretty young Spencer girl for a while, but the two had nothing in common. She liked to listen to pop music and read Danielle Steel novels. He preferred to fish, shoot birds and dip into the philosophical works of Sir Laurens van der Post. The story now told by Charles supporters is that he may never have loved Diana. "The plain fact is," says Anthony Holden, Charles's biographer, "that there were very few eligible brides left. There weren't many non-Catholic virgins left in Europe. Diana fit the bill terrifically well, given that he was actually quite desperate."

The prince's supporters claim that they don't recognize the cold brute depicted in Morton's book. "Charles deserves an awful lot of sympathy," says Penny Junor, yet another of his biographers. " He saw his friends reaching the pinnacles of their careers while he was training for a job he still may never get. He was having a midlife crisis, and Diana wasn't there for him." Both sides agree that the prince was bewildered--and jealous--of the attention his bride received. When he and his wife went out to press the flesh, the crowd groaned if he took their side of the street. " He had spent his life until then as a star," Junor says, "and the loss of status ate away at him." Diana's mood, meanwhile, swung, she says, from "utter elation about the adoration of the crowds to deep depression when she realized the effect on her marriage."

That depression, it seems, only led to more self-destructive behavior. Diana, according to Morton, hurled herself against a glass display cabinet at Kensington Palace, "slashed at her wrists" with a razor blade, cut herself with "the serrated edge of a lemonslicer" and scored her chest and thighs with a penknife. In each case Charles is depicted by Morton as daring her to commit the deed, scorning her for doing it--or being off riding. " They were messages of complete desperation--please, please help," Gilbey told Morton.

Carolyn Bartholomew, a former flatmate of Diana's, is Morton's on-the-record source on the subject of bulimia, an eating disorder characterized by gorging and purging binges. Diana's reported habit of consuming, for example, an entire steak-and-kidney pie, then forcing herself to vomit, has "been there through her royal career, without a doubt," says Bartholomew. "I hate to say it but I feel it may erupt when she feels under pressure." Diana does seem to think a lot about food. When she fainted at the opening of the Vancouver Expo in 1986, she had eaten only part of a candy bar in the last four days. Charles's reaction? According to Morton, he told her that if she was going to faint, she should do it in private. Despite a wide range of treatments from acupuncture and meditation to conventional medical and psychiatric care, Morton says, she still seems to suffer from bulimia and depression: "She's coming out of it, but she's not finished with it."

Of course the true test of the current revelations is not whether people would speak to Morton, but whether those who did say he got the story right. Morton's chief sources came forward last week to say that he had. And on Wednesday, shortly before 8 p.m., a woman described as " well-spoken" called the picture desks of five London newspapers and reached the Daily Mirror photographer at home. "The Princess of Wales is visiting Carolyn Bartholomew," she said. "Do you know where that is?" Then she hung up without asking for money--a rare occurrence in the London tabloid world.

By the time Diana arrived, the Royal Pap, as the paparazzi are called, were all in place. In an extraordinary display of support for a friend who'd gone public with some very intimate royal problems, Diana arrived in full view of the press, stayed for nearly an hour and finally emerged "red-eyed," according to the press. Lingering on the steps outside the house while shutters clicked, Diana kissed Bartholomew and her husband goodbye, even though they would meet in a restaurant 20 minutes later for dinner. "It was almost like a regular photo call," said photographer Darryn Lyons.

It would be ironic if Diana left now, just when she was learning that there was more to the game of being a royal than toughing it out with a brave public face. The morning after she seemed to signal her support of Morton's book, Charles decided to take Prince Harry to school-a move The Evening Standard derided as "clearly a public gesture," since Charles seems not to have done the dropping off duties since last September. Score one for the princess. And look-the Daily Express is referring to Parker Bowles as "plainfaced." Score another. Those who sympathize with Diana might say, as Morton does, that she is just "trying to break the logjam" in her unhappy marriage. Maybe this crisis, he says, will mean that "they could decide to lead properly separate lives and the public would accept that." There is historical precedent for such an arrangement. Legend has it that Queen Alexandra, in 1910, summoned Edward VII's mistress to the side of his deathbed so the woman could share his last moments. How terribly British. How positively civilized. But come to think of it, how utterly unlike Diana.

Portrait Of A Marriage | News