Once upon a time in the days of Diana, a British journalist called to ask me if America wanted a visit from the princess of Wales. I don’t really know how the public feels, I told him, but I do know that magazine editors would be very, very grateful!
Ah, Diana, the greatest cover girl ever, much loved by People and every women’s glossy worldwide. For almost two decades, here and abroad, she could make the newsstand sales of any issue on which she was pictured reliably spurt upward. What a marvelous media moneymaker she was!
And it didn’t matter much if the story accompanying her photo was the original sugarcoated and never-accurate fairytale of the early Diana years–Cinderella marries Prince Charming. Or the darker, more tempestuous soap opera of the later Diana years that included infidelity and betrayal, backstabbing, and scheming, and lots of calculated spin.
Besides, Diana only gave one official TV interview, plus her not-for attribution spilling-her-heart-out audiotapes–which were handed over to her unofficial biographer Andrew Morton. It was her stealth attack on her prince. So magazines and newspapers could write endless speculative stories about her to go along with the endless appealing photos the paparazzi supplied. Remember that Diana was probably the most photographed person who ever lived.
I met her twice. Once when she was the 24-year-old fairy princess in a silver one-shoulder gown, dancing with her prince, wearing flats so she wouldn’t tower over him. I remember her shoulders were broader than his. No wonder she was always trying to whittle herself down, thinking, mistakenly, that would please him. It appears he preferred far more meat on the bone.
I saw her again just a few months before her death. By then Diana was older, a bit lined, and more photogenic than beautiful. In her later years she did look, as her rival Camilla Parker Bowles complained, extremely “muscle-y.” At the dinner we attended the waiters were surprised at how buff she appeared, sort of like an Australian tennis player on her way to Wimbledon.
But no wonder the current visit of Charles and his new bride is such a pale imitation of Charles and Diana’s dazzling visit 20 years ago. Back then, Diana danced with John Travolta at the White House. This time there is a White House dinner but no dancing.
A Sky News survey notes that 81 percent of the American public simply does not care about the royal couple being here. The media is probably even less interested and the reasons are obvious: Fifty-eight-year old Camilla doesn’t sell. She is no Diana. Heck, she is no Jessica Simpson. And Charles, old thing, was always rather dull. On Sixty Minutes on Sunday with his bald spot and British teeth he managed, smiling ruefully, to appear vague and seedy.
But Camilla, game girl, is certainly giving it a try. She has arrived on our shores with 50 dresses, three full-time dressers, a make-up artist, and a hairdresser. Forty staff in all. Will she wear the pearl-studded ivory evening gown at the White House and one of those somewhat eccentric feathery hats she has taken to wearing on gala occasions (like her wedding)? Last week, showing that she meant business and was no longer a country girl who was happiest mucking about, she borrowed one of the queen’s more fabulous tiaras and did manage to look quite regal in diamonds and lace at a royal banquet for the king and queen of Norway.
How is she doing so far? New York’s Daily News reports she looks classy and better than her photos. Whew! But the New York Post, in contrast, has declared her “Frump Tower” and dissed the bright suit and velvet cocktail dress she wore on the first day of their visit. While gossip columnist Cindy Adams shared that her emeralds were bigger than Camilla’s. The New York Times complained her bangs were so long she had to look sideways in order to see.
Poor Camilla! What’s a girl to do! In fact, Camilla now looks like a fairly well-groomed middle-aged upper-class English woman and dresses like a fairly well-groomed middle-aged upper-class English woman. No better, no worse. The press, as usual, is reduced to being catty when it has nothing else it wants to concern itself with.
In public Charles calls her his “darling wife.” In private, it seems they are cozy, watching their favorite TV programs, sharing an interest in gardening. After 30 years of being the other woman, Camilla, who never complained and never explained, is now the wife. And she is content. A state that Diana with all the covers, the headlines, the adoring crowds, and the obsessive interest of the press was, sadly, never able to achieve.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.