One of the first letters of congratulations I received when I began writing the Atticus column for the London Sunday Times in 1994 was from … Princess Diana. I had only met her once and very briefly, at a ball, so I was flattered that she remembered. (I had been rather tipsy at the time.)
When the spin doctors of the estranged Waleses, as the royal couple used to be referred to by the press, first began battling in earnest over media coverage, I received not a small amount of “inside” gossip from their respective publicists. Without hesitation I took the side of Prince Charles, going so far as to write that the divine Di—a woman scorned—was crazy with jealousy and was trying to bring down the monarchy. Then a funny thing happened. At a Sir James Goldsmith bash, where yet again I had too much firewater to drink, shy Di sent a friend to tell me she wanted to see me. Although a bit nervous, I approached her table, was asked by her to sit down, and managed to slip from the chair and fall underneath the table. She roared with laughter, artfully dipped those limpid blue eyes, and said, “Do you really think I’m mad?” Terribly embarrassed, the only thing I could come up with was, “All I know is that I’m mad about you.”
As they said in the movie, it was the start of a beautiful friendship, which ended with her death on Aug. 31, 1997. No, I did not have a romance with her, but I did invite every so-called important editor to my house when I gave dinners in her honor, which was the reason she took a liking to me in the first place. Yes, dear readers, Diana was divine, but she sure knew how to manipulate. So sudden was my change of heart, that a Greek royal (on Prince Charles’s side) had me to lunch and posed the inevitable question: Was I having an affair with her? How is it possible for a grown man to switch so completely from one day to the next? “Have you ever seen that look?” was my answer.
Now it seems as if Diana is finally having her revenge from the grave. And I’m not so sure that Prince Charles doesn’t deserve it. Diana was too smart to say anything against her ex during her lifetime. Prince Charles ditto. The fight has always been conducted by proxy, by the courtiers, spin doctors, royal servants, and the press. It is a three-way fight. Buckingham Palace representing the Queen, St. James’s Palace for Prince Charles, and Kensington Palace, the late Diana. The Fourth Estate, in the person of Rupert Murdoch, a confirmed republican, (he and Diana often lunched together alone) and other newspapers of the lefty persuasion now fight under the colors of Princess Di, and as of last month, Kensington Palace seems on its way to victory.
The object of the war of the Waleses is survival on the part of the Queen, ascendancy on the part of Charles, and abolition of the monarchy by the Murdoch press in an unholy alliance with the republican Guardian and Mirror. Babbling butlers, alleged victims of homosexual rape, improper cover-ups, all these are mere skirmishes leading up to the final battle. This will be in the form of sweeping changes that will strip the Queen of her remaining political powers by Parliament, plans of which are already being discussed by a House of Commons committee. Once stripped of political power, the monarchy will become irrelevant, and most likely eased out at the passing of the present Queen. And yet and yet, only last summer, during the Queen’s jubilee, hysterical crowds cheered her and Prince Charles to the proverbial rafters. Sensing defeat, the Left and Rupert baby went to work. With servants such as Paul Burrell, and bunglers such as the prosecuting DA, it was like taking candy from a very small baby.
It all began when Diana, trying to protect her turf after some idiot advised the Queen to lift Di’s royal title, began to gather ammunition against the House of Windsor. Her best sources were the royal servants. These butlers, footmen, valets, drivers, personal assistants, and bodyguards knew where the bodies lay. She thus learned—and taped—the alleged rape of Charles’s royal valet, George Smith, by an assistant to the Prince, still on his staff as I write. Smith was an admitted drunk and pill popper, claiming trauma from the Falklands War. Diana visited him in hospital and taped his allegations. Smith said he was drunk and did not realize he was being homosexually raped by the assistant until he woke up with a royal pain in the you-know-what, pun intended.
After her tragic death, Diana’s personal butler, Paul Burrell, lifted many items from her Kensington Palace apartments and took them to his home. Burrell, whom I have met more than once, was a roaring queen, as are most of the staff in all three palaces. Burrell, however, was married and had two children. (He paraded his family over here last month, when he came over to sell his story). The media refer to him as “Diana’s rock,” claiming that she called him that more than once. Personally, I doubt it, as singling out a favorite among the limp wrists in royal service would have been the end of him.
Here is where the Queen and Prince Charles, or their advisers rather, took their eyes off the ball. Remember, the separate courts have separate agendas, and while Buckingham was worried about St. James’s, Kensington won the day. Not unlike the second World War. While Britain fought Germany for European domination, the Soviet Union slipped through and conquered 500 million souls in the East. When Paul Burrell was charged with stealing hundreds of Diana’s personal items, the Queen and Charles were out to lunch. Burrell had in his possession what everyone but those fools advising the royals knew he had: the Diana tape, plus the claim that he had told the Queen that he had taken the items for safe keeping from Diana’s family, the Spencers, who are a greedy and unpleasant lot. Two years after Burrell was charged, during his trial, the Queen finally stepped in and called the whole thing off. She remembered the conversation the two allegedly had.
In reality, nothing of the kind took place. Burrell told the prosecutor that he would make the tape available, the Queen’s advisers panicked, a mistrial and Burrell’s innocence was declared, and the tape and the rest of the mephitic gossip emerged anyway. This is where the Murdochian knights come in, like Blucher’s charge late in the afternoon during the battle of Waterloo, dooming Napoleon, or, in this case, the royal family. For the British tabloids, it was manna from heaven. It is almost as if the press had, en masse, willed it to happen. The unending parade of salacious gossip and unsubstantiated charges were obviously fueled by lotsa moolah paid out by the Mirror and by Murdoch to anyone willing to come forward and embarrass the royals. (Smith even claimed he was present when a royal committed a sexual act with his valet. Yes, and pigs may fly, says I.)
So, is any of this important in the large scheme of things? For Americans, not at all. Except that if Rupert Murdoch can bring down the monarchy in Britain with his dumbed down newspapers, why stop there? Maybe the White House next. What really matters is that the Windsors are being stripped of their remaining dignity by a series of unproven yet stomach-turning allegations, and a thousand-year-old institution is about to be stripped of its traditional role of being above politics by republican opportunists and some very seedy members of the Fourth Estate.