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The Wedding of the Century

No one will be short of things to talk about. Two days earlier Charles will have played polo for the last time before his wedding. They will all have been there. And that same night, the polo night, the new American ambassador, John Louis, is throwing a do for Nancy Reagan. The Balfour guests will have been there, more interested, to be sure, in Mrs. Reagan's Galanos than in the paintings on loan from the Wildenstein that hang in the ambassador's new home—one of those nice little perks of his job. That party will be a very big deal, the American equivalent of the palace ball. Nancy Reagan will be kept busy—she'll have two hot dinners at Buckingham Palace and two lunches with Mrs. Thatcher. Drue Heinz is throwing her a ball. She'll watch Charles play polo at Windsor and have drinks with Lord Carrington. Presumably, she'll have her Beverly Hills matron chums in tow.

The day of the wedding, international white trash will be celebrating too. London is the IWT capital of the world. The Roof Garden, formerly Regine's, has sent out a flier advertising "our large video screen" and, for the children, a Punch-and-Judy show. Dai Llewellyn, Roddy's brother, is throwing a Charles-and-Diana disco party at his new nightclub, Tokyo Joe's. That party will attract the same group who will have shown at the Berkeley Square Ball. The night of the wedding, there will be only one place to be, if your ambitions run to hanging out with the royal crowd. That will be Liz Shakerley's ball at Claridge's. She's Patrick Lichfield's sister and a third cousin to the queen, who is supposedly showing up at this one. But Liz is a little controversial. Not always so discreet. One editor asked her if he could send a photographer to the party. "God, no," cried Liz. "The queen is expected. But, of course, if you want to have your photographer outside snapping color photos for your next issue, I wouldn't mind at all."

Debs, peers, international white trash will all be giving parties.

Then there are the gatherings that no one ever hears about; they don't make the William Hickey column or "Nigel Dempster's Diary," in the Daily Mail. These are the parties for the closest friends, the quiet little pre-wedding get-togethers in some fancy Mayfair spot. Like the dinner for 24 people that Nicholas Soames threw last week in a private suite at Claridge's—in the Royal Suite, of course. Nicholas Soames is Winston Churchill's grandson. He is as unpopular as Raine, and, like her, is very interested in power and position. A lot of his own success is based on his relationship with Charles, people say. And Soames knows how to please his prince. For this dinner, he'd invited Wales's real friends, such as the horsey-racey crowd, the van Cutsems, and the Halifaxes, as in the earl of. Charlotte Soames Hambro was there—she's Nicholas's sister and the ex-wife of the banker. Charlotte's daughter, age five, is a bridesmaid for the Royal Wedding; it will be her fourth bridesmaid gig this month. Then, there were the Parker-Bowleses, Andrew and Camilla. You have to wonder about them. Charles's relationship with Camilla is as close as it is publicized—those sly mentions in the tabloids, the proper mentions in Anthony Holden's book Their Royal Highnesses: The Prince and Princess of Wales. Yet Andrew Parker-Bowles and Charles are the best of friends, and Charles is a favorite Parker-Bowles houseguest. They have a lot of time alone to talk on those nice little grouse shoots.

All of this makes sense, of course. There's a lot of prestige in European upper-class circles attached to having one's wife enjoying the kind of friendship that Charles and Camilla—as well as Lady Tryon—supposedly had. Charles even has a pet name for Dale Tryon. He calls her "Kanga." She's Australian, naturally, and Charles met her at a sock hop when he was at school at Treetops, in Australia.

Everyone here talks about this and writes about it too. The husbands all seem rather proud. Anthony Holden makes the point that, in this way, Charles had a lot in common with his great-uncle the duke of Windsor. They both found "a unique security in the close friendship of married women." They didn't have to worry about rumors of marriage or "declarations of interest." Charles happily serves as godfather to the eldest children of Kanga Tryon as well as those of Camilla Parker-Bowles. Now that Charles is marrying Diana, things might have to change gears slightly, but only slightly. All of these people are so civilized.

And that's the point to remember about HRH. The civility and the ritual extend to all things. Even Charles's closest friends call him "Sir" and drop curtsys to him. On the surface, Wales may try to act almost normal: He may talk about his book sales with the Maynards from Maidenhead with the élan of a William Morris agent; he may have gone—for the first time in royal history—to school with other kids; but Charles, much more than his father, who is nicknamed "Phil the Greek," is very aware of who he is. He doesn't like having strangers ask him how he feels about getting married, or whether he's capped his teeth. For all those childhood pranks and skiing and scuba diving. Charles adheres, more than his predecessors, to every shred of royal decorum. If at times he seems a little priggish, one can't forget that one day he'll be a king.


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  • Archive: “Features
  • From the Aug 3, 1981 issue of New York
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