From the August 3, 1981 issue of New York Magazine.
They were frozen there in a kind of eternal tableau, posed on the sweeping rear lawn of Buckingham Palace on this very special party afternoon, just before the wedding of the century. Instinctively, all the guests gathered understood their parts in the collective ritual of a palace garden party, one of thousands of complicated collective rituals that make English life at once so rarefied, so moving, and, often, so absurd. The queen’s garden-party guests—her 7,000 Tongan diplomats and Tory M.P.’s, her children’s-charity workers and the mayor of South Ribble, her managers of Sainsbury’s and British Shell—arranged themselves into the requisite three paths, neat as primrose borders, where the royals promenaded, stopping only to greet various presented guests. It was assumed that the queen, as was her custom, would take the middle path, where the crowd was densest. No velvet rope was needed to contain it. No beefeaters needed pikes to hold the unruly back. Brixton aside, the rule of civility in England still holds.
Even the weather knew how to behave during the half-hour wait for the royal party. A strong wind blew top hats and boaters toward the delphiniums, providing the necessary lightheartedness of the afternoon. The skies were gray enough not to outshine the queen, and, as if orchestrated, one shaft of sunlight pierced the gloom and managed to illuminate the copper dome of the massive, golden stone palace, with its family snaps by Van Dyck and Winterhalter, its alabaster statues of nymphs and nobles, this monument the Windsor-Mountbatten family calls its London home.
And then there was quiet. High on the terrace, Prince Philip, tanned and elegantly erect, led the promenade with his wife, HM, the queen. They moved slowly, solemnly, with all the pomp the occasion called for, at last turning to face the crowd. There wasn’t a hint of a smile or a wave. There wasn’t a cough or a fidget. Another moment. Tears came to eyes, lumps to throats. After a thousand years, the monarchy, however pointless, still thrived. What was more, the astonishing poetry of this moment was italicized by everyone’s awareness of the coming festivities at St. Paul’s.
At some point during the final trumpet run, the crowd began to notice the turquoise dot. The turquoise dot was a hat, a different kind of hat from the one the Windsor women wear. This was a Cecil Beaton-type fantasy of silk flowers and yards of aqua net. It was the kind of hat that showed that its wearer just might have a sense of style and an understanding of the kind of flair that will be required of a royal in a more demanding, electronic-media age. “God Save the Queen” evaporated from the horns and cymbals, and the rumor spread: Lady Diana is here. Is Lady Diana here? Is that Lady Diana in the turquoise hat?
She was, it was. The future Princess of Wales was at her first official engagement with the queen. Soon, Diana’s blond hair came into view. She had swept the so unregal Sassoon fringe under her brim, but her face was camouflaged by the netting, a piece of brilliant fashion theater that separated her from the dowdy Windsors, stealing all the attention from her sour sister-in-law-to-be, Princess Anne, and her future mother-in-law. Diana’s presence electrified the Tongan diplomats and the charity workers. Suddenly all was frenzy, as if they had spotted Elton John. There was a stampede from the queen’s middle lane. The 7,000 loyal subjects of HM raced across the lawn in their haste to get to Diana’s path. But the question was, Which path would she take? The north route, toward the royal tea tent and the herbaceous border? The south route, toward the gray-and-green-striped tent? The crowd, as if possessed, surged toward the right, then pushed toward the left, straining, shoving, jumping, fighting to see which way Lady Diana and her fiancé—the fellow who used to attract all the attention—would head. All that nicey-nice collective ritual broke down. Manners vanished. Not a “sorry” to be heard. And when Diana floated eastward toward the gazebo and the delphiniums in a cloud of turquoise-and-mauve chiffon, the guests in their droopy dresses and morning suits got even more frantic to grab a spot in the right-hand path to get a really good look at their next queen.
Girl of the Moment
Well, it’s like that in London this summer. Diana’s coy smile and Charles’s somewhat wary smirk hang in every chemist’s window, in every Barclay’s Bank. Everyone knows his part in this royal wedding ritual too. The anti-monarchist M.P., Willie Hamilton of Fife, made the predictable declaration about the six months of mush. The bricks fly in Toxteth and Moss Side, but everywhere else it is the bunting and not the bullets that is on English minds. But the bullets—or at least the BBC coverage—are on some minds. The hotels are only half-full. The tourists haven’t arrived. Flights are empty. Still, tourists or not, for the moment, unemployment and the disintegrating pound are off the front page, and Diana’s family link to Humphrey Bogart has come on. For the moment.
Collectors are out trying to scrounge for the 66 kinds of Charles-and-Diana mugs before the ceremony, on Wednesday. Diana’s face will wash your hands, dry your dishes, pour you a drink, warm a teapot, hold a pan. You can have her with your tea, on your biscuit, and as an after-dinner mint. A hundred million dollars’ worth of wedding kitsch has cheered up Carnaby Street vendors and the price of Royal Worcester shares.
Gossip abounds—another proper wedding ritual. At upper-class tables, people wonder what will happen to Lady Tryon and Camilla Parker-Bowles, Charles’s two blond, married lady friends, whom Daily Mail columnist Nigel Dempster inevitably refers to as HRH’s closest confidantes. The aristos wonder if Charles’s real friends—shooting types such as the Butter family, or his groomsman, Nicholas Soames—will ever accept Lady Diana as the real thing; they haven’t seemed to yet. The public adores her; the private friends adhere to the English tradition of holding back. Oh, all very polite, of course, but, so far, a little too polite.
Anyway, Charles’s grandmother is thrilled. Diana was the candidate she had been pushing all along. The Queen Mother, according to the aristos, had been competing with Lord Mountbatten, whom Charles called “HGF”—honorary grandfather. Mountbatten’s candidates had been his granddaughters, the Knatchbull girls, and the queen mum had been pushing the granddaughter of her lady-in-waiting, Lady Fermoy. The surprise was that after Mountbatten’s death the Queen Mother won.
“I hate the engagement,” she says, “but I shall adore being married.”
Mothers and grandmothers know how to push here too. Charles, for his part, seems charmed with his bride-to-be. Apparently, he fell in love with her during those weeks he was in Australia alone. He saw this glamour girl in the press every day and, according to a friend, realized that he had been pushed into marrying one cute cookie.
Meanwhile, the cute cookie has blossomed, having harpooned Wales. She’s dropped a good stone. She’s thrown out the middy blouses, and shops every day for strapless, backless beaded gowns. She’s said she doesn’t want to wear the same dress twice. Who’s paying the bills, even at discount? The theory is that it’s Diana’s mother, the wife of a wallpaper heir. In London, people realize that both the prince and Diana’s father are land-rich but cash-poor. You need more than the prince’s half-million-dollar yearly income to keep up appearances.
Anyway, Mrs. Shand Kydd, Diana’s mother, has obviously taught her to stay glamorous if she wants to keep her man. Frances Shand Kydd did what was impermissible in English upper-class life: She left her husband and her children and married, God help her, a man whom she loved. And the kids got a stepmother, Raine. She’s nobody’s favorite. In fact, just before the wedding, with all those tea towels to sell at Althorp, Raine has lost her butler. But there are larger concerns. Lloyd’s of London has insured the gewgaw-makers in case Charles, not the world’s greatest polo player, takes another tumble from his horse.
Tongues wag, often viciously. The talk is that Barbara Cartland was not invited to St. Paul’s. One hears that the queen worried about what form of pink Diana’s step-grandmother would wear, and that Cartland’s announcement that she had given her invitation to her son was merely an attempt to save face. And royal hostesses, such as Liz Shakerley, the third cousin to the queen, and Serena Balfour (as in the declaration), are being hounded by old friends to allow them to bring their sudden houseguests to their balls.
There’s worry too, of course, a terrible kind of too-awful-to-think-of feeling about Prince Charles. It’s a kind of undercurrent, rarely discussed, except obliquely—like the way Princess Margaret’s manicurist, a redhead named Pauline, frets openly about the IRA in her Mayfair shop while applying some deb’s gloss. It isn’t in the papers, though. But the American papers seem keyed up that something might happen—they are said to be sending street reporters as well as society editors here. At ABC, they’ve already planned where they will have special cameras, just in case an attempt is made. The security will be massive. Obviously. The English papers are using ambulances to get their wedding film back to Fleet Street—all of two miles. That’s how blocked off the route of the procession will be.
That kind of dreadful tension somehow heightens the suspense—and the excitement. So does the scale of the public spectacle, the 750 million wedding guests who will be linked by the BBC. Once again, the subjects of the commonwealth will be united. In Calcutta and Kenya, they will watch Diana not promising to obey, with proper tears in ex-colonial eyes and Pimms’ No. 1 Cup gripped in ruddy hands. Incredibly, the prince, always somewhat lonely and naïve, seems oblivious to most of these goings-on. His life has always been like this. Friends say he’s somewhat confused by all the attention.
Charles doesn’t seem to have thought about the ramifications of the archbishop of Canterbury’s advice about his future sex life: a good thing given by God that nevertheless, like all God’s gifts, needs to be directed aright. He doesn’t make statements telling the archbishop to mind his own beeswax. Nor does he protest the two miles of TV cables that will be in St. Paul’s. Charles is the first media prince. For him this is normal, and it’s kind of sweet how sheltered he is in the midst of the circus that surrounds him. He’s told his friends—and he means it—that he considers what will go on on July 29 an absolutely private event.
His bride, who was called “Two Amp” when she was at school, in this matter is not so dumb. She comes from the real world, the world of media events and divorces, where sisters get anorectic and fathers almost go bankrupt—as hers did—and then suffer near-fatal strokes. Lady Diana escaped into fairy tales as a child—one likes to think that “Cinderella” was a special favorite—but on the matter of her wedding she harbors no two-amp illusions. She understands that this service is pure spectacle, her spectacle. She knows that well enough to have brought in the makeup woman who did A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon to make sure that she will be the perfect TV bride.
For Diana Spencer, the ceremony on the morning of the twenty-ninth will represent the moment when she will finally get the ultimate security, a security never provided by the real world. Her future life will be defined by royal ribbon cuttings and court circulars in the Times, by summers at Balmoral and winters at Sandringham, by weekends at Windsor and weekdays at Highgrove. Her life will be without divorce or deviations from protocol, without ambivalence or being able to escape the obligation of having to attend an RAF show. After Wednesday noon, this twenty-year-old will never again be allowed out on the street alone.
At the moment, Diana trembles on the brink. Her chin juts out when she speaks, her hip sinks into her leg, her arm flails, her eyes drop. The giggle pierces the air. None of that matters to her future subjects. It certainly didn’t matter to the Maynards from Maidenhead, who had come in their brand-new polyesters to possibly be presented to their future queen. They stood there in Siberia, on the farthest reaches of the lawn, looking more than a little tense. Mr. Maynard, a legal cashier, was as flushed as he was bald. His walrus mustache clumped in spikes so often did he lick his lips. He had no idea why he had been invited to this royal affair. “I suspect someone has to recommend you,” Mrs. Maynard preened.
Somewhere in the middle distance, the prince and Lady Diana were a good hour’s promenade away. Just then, a man in a morning suit approached us: “Are you being presented today, Mr. Maynard?” he asked. “I am.” “Very good,” said the retired colonel. “If you will just stay right here, I believe the prince and Lady Diana will come this way.”
The chance of being next to a loyal subject being presented is somewhere between slim and none. Soon our little patch of Siberian sod became the only place to be. By now, I had lashed myself to the Maynards’ side. The prince and Lady Diana swam into view. He paid little attention to her and seemed somewhat sad, lonely, and very, very small—unprepossessing, to say the least. Poor little royal boy adrift on a sea of lawn. Diana was the star: radiant, perfectly dressed in her Pierrot collar and pale, pale hose, in a sexy drift of a suit that parodied the Hardy Amies armor her new family always wears.
Closer in, one noticed other things. Diana’s glamour began to crack a bit. The adolescent gait lingered. Her nerves showed. It was Charles who threw the sparks as they both drew near. His eyes pierced. The polo scar on his right cheek made him seem less of an icon, more like any old god. But his body language was at war: His posture made him look spindly, tentative, with that cold-shower-induced repression of the true upper-class twit. His face told another tale: There was warmth and wit, as well as a sense of the absurd. Like anyone who is truly regal, he seemed not particularly grand.
He stood inches from me. Mrs. Maynard dropped to one knee. “Are you retired now, Mr. Maynard?” HRH politely asked. “Yes, sir,” Mr. Maynard mumbled, “I am.” “Well, I hope you’re not having too hard a time keeping up appearances.” A flash of the royal smile. The prince turned to more fertile conversational ground. “And, Mrs. Maynard, you’re a writer, then, are you?” “Yes, sir. Gardening books.”
“Tell me, Mrs. Maynard, do you write under your maiden name in Maidenhead?” “No, sir.” Mrs. Maynard hesitated. “I write under my married name, which is Maynard, in Maidenhead.” A glint in the royal eye.
“Do you mean to say that you write under your married name of Maynard in Maidenhead and not your maiden name, which isn’t Maynard?”
“Oh, I see.”
Another pause. “You know,” HRH, the Prince of Wales, said, “I wrote this silly little book for my younger brother that’s in the shops now, and, it’s terribly embarrassing, but, do you know, the thing has gone and sold 190,000 copies?” He paused a moment. “Isn’t that extraordinary? They’ve even gone and translated it into Japanese.”
This was too much for Nan Maynard of Maidenhead: “Well, sir, that won’t happen to me.” “No,” said the proud author, “I suppose it won’t.” And still the prince lingered.
“You know, sir, I once stopped to watch you play polo… .”
“How terribly brash of you, Mrs. Maynard. I do say, that was brave.” Almost as an afterthought, Wales turned to a matron by Mrs. Maynard’s side: “And what have you done with your husband today?” he asked cheerfully.
The woman looked stricken. “We’re separated, sir, I’m sorry to say.” The prince registered nothing, not a flicker of sympathy or chagrin. “I see,” he said, and then he was gone, without saying a royal good-bye.
Meanwhile, Lady Diana was ten steps behind him, greeting another couple slightly down the line. The woman pulled a Lee Annenberg and wrongly dropped dramatically to one knee. Diana’s response was to cough nervously in her face. “Oh,” she said, “excuse me. I have such a sore throat. All the excitement.”
Clearly, Diana didn’t go far enough with her Clarence House instructions. Someone will have to teach this twenty-year-old that queens are not allowed to cough and kvetch within the public eye.
But the girl was trying. “Have you been to many of these garden parties before?” she asked gamely. The matron looked confused. “Oh, no, ma’am. This is my first.” Diana giggled. “This is my first too. I’m awfully nervous.” Everyone was charmed. The woman grew brave. “Are you enjoying your engagement, Lady Diana?” An explosion: “Oh, no! I absolutely hate the engagement. But I shall adore being married to Charles.” Off she wobbled like a marvelous duckling, fast on its way to becoming a royal swan.
She will have role models to help her become that swan. Princess Michael of Kent, with her upsweep of blond hair, her ersatz-Givenchied presence, might be able to teach her a few things—about appearance, anyway. The Windsor women are not Princess Michael fans. They call her “the poor relation” and snigger about how her stipend of $20,000 a year forces her to have to ask for a royal discount on those nice little Bottega Veneta bags in Knightsbridge shops.
For the rest of her life, Diana will not be able to go out alone.
The family is not amused. One could see that at the garden party, during the final promenade. From out of the royal tea tent first strolled the queen, looking surprisingly strained and irritable in her ivory Hardy Amies and midwinter black kid gloves, accented with what resembled $25 Baker’s shoes. To loud clapping, Princess Michael in her fake cream Givenchy smiled and dazzled the glamour lovers in the crowd. Just to Princess Michael’s right, making her way past the beefeaters, was Princess Petulance, the unlovely Anne. Her hat for the occasion appeared to have been picked up on a beach at Mustique. Loosely woven raffia, in a cone shape, held down by a chiffon scarf. Anne had added a touch of color to the brim—a cluster of miniature plastic fruit—so as she stared viciously at Princess Michael gathering all the applause, her rage was so intense that the banana bobbed against the cherry, which crashed against the plum. “You would have thought Anne could have come up with something a bit smarter for her head, now, wouldn’t you?” one onlooker said.
But there’s another lesson to be drawn here. Perhaps Lady Diana should think what happens to those royal smarty-boots who try to steal any thunder from the Windsor women. Maybe she should forget about the fancy hats and Bally shoes and act more like a proper frump if she wants to fit in.
What to Buy the Bride
The secrets are just north of Sloane Square, in black plastic notebooks, as hard to get into as the pre-wedding ball, at Buckingham Palace. Even the bride’s closest friends won’t tell you what’s in those little books. One slip about the black leather trash cans at $50 each could sever a relationship, bring the Highgrove shutter down. Diana and Charles’s imperious command “No decanters,” which is boldly printed throughout their register, could have English glassmakers in a fury that they don’t want a crystal camouflage for the not-so-vintage port.
Diana has registered herself at the General Trading Company, an eclectic bazaar in Chelsea that carries a royal appointment but is eccentric enough to stock both the Mel Calman T-shirt (“What wedding?”) and those upper-class leather bins. Also: Paddington Bear dolls, avocado shells, Mexican tchotchkes, and, for the royals and their friends, the requisite Royal Worcester, George III three-tier mahogany whatnots, and heavy, heavy Royal Brierley glass.
One has to mount an undercover mission to get into those notebooks. You can’t wear jeans and a rugby shirt. On came the droopy silk and the garden-party hat, white cotton gloves. “My mother and I have just arrived from America for the festivities,” I whispered.
The trash bins were first on a seventeen-page typed list of requests ranging from antiques to salad crescents to Bloomingdale’s country china. Most of the requests have been filled—Lady Porchester, the wife of the queen’s racing manager, is giving her the two dozen champagne glasses at $14 per. You mustn’t linger too long in those lists, though. For God’s sake, don’t have a pen in hand. A Knightsbridge blue-hair came bustling over: “You mustn’t write anything down,” she said. “Are you sure you’re a family friend?”
I swept up to the antiques department with all the indignation that I imagine Barbara Cartland shows on such occasions, only to be greeted pleasantly by a very bored salesman who was a double for My Fair Lady’s Freddy Eynsford-Hill. This time I did not make a mistake. I commanded Freddy to write down what I wanted. In England, everyone responds if you just treat him like a clerk. Freddy not only made notes about their special-request. Regency toilet mirror with candle sconces and chinoiserie decoration—you can have it for £ 750—he rushed to drag out the three-tier whatnots and the Georgian tufted stools, to try to explain their request for two Chippendale-design sofas, £ 470 each. The second one was so that Diana’s decorator could paint the Chippendale base to look like bamboo. “I can’t imagine why,” said Freddy Eynsford-Hill. One item intrigued—the Chinese porcelain vase, with a floral-and-snake design, circa 1870, converted to a lamp. Price, £ 85. It had been reserved for Mrs. Callaghan. The wife of the ex-prime minister? Indeed. Freddy and I looked at each other in the same way: You would think a pol would know better than to spend a lousy 85 quid on a man who will be king.
On to China and Glass, then. Diana’s choice of porcelains reveals she is still stuck somewhere in her teens. She’s picked Royal Worcester’s Evesham—a too bright white spotted with corncobs, asparagus, and blackberries. Very like Anne’s hat. Oh, well, she’ll have time to learn about Mason Ware.
Her glass pattern, Apollo by Royal Brierley, is much more regal. It’s heavy, anyway. Move away from the apple-dotted marmite jars—at £ 32 per—and choose the two dozen Apollo clarets, a bargain at £ 6.35 each. She’ll have matching salad crescents with beveled bottoms, £ 12.90, for those High-grove dinners, but the breakfast guests won’t be so lucky. No one has bought her an Evesham breakfast cup or saucer, much less the £ 32.70 pot de crème. She’s registered for six.
The big one is at the palace, of course, 1,600 people Monday night. This dance is “for all the people who have known each other forever and who have been seeing each other forever,” according to a peer. He means the English upper class. Diana’s hairdresser won’t be at the Buckingham Palace affair, nor will the ministers from Sri Lanka who will have gotten the invite to St. Paul’s. But the musical trio, Placido Domingo, Colin Davis, and Charles Groves, will. That same night is the Berkeley Square Ball, usually a highlight, as they say, of the London summer season.
Not this year. This year, anyone who shows up at Berkeley Square will simply be announcing that he was not included in the gala for Diana and Charles. The organizers expect Lynne Sellers and David Frost. Just about as exclusive will be the next night’s fireworks display in Hyde Park, which the tabloids say will be the biggest ever. A million people are expected to see Buckingham Palace recreated with rockets in the sky. The other night at a dinner, Barbara Walters joked, “Well, I do have one exclusive. To the fireworks in the park.”
On Tuesday night, Serena Balfour will have a gala of her own—a ball in her house in the Little Boltons, off Fulham Road. Charles and Lady Diana won’t be there—it is the night before the wedding, after all—but what people still call, somehow without laughing, “the international set” will. Carolina Herrera, staying at Kensington Palace with Princess Margaret, will be there. So will Betsy Bloomingdale, Lord Snowdon, the Women’s Wear Daily crowd.
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.
It’s not enough to get an invitation to Buckingham Palace and St. Paul’s. Not enough to have the Claridge’s footman bow to you because you’ve gotten the silver-bordered command to “The Reception” (read: “ball”) given for HRH, the Prince of Wales and his bride by HM, the queen.
So Rita Lachman worries. She sits at Claridge’s amidst the cabbage-rose silk wall hangings and her seven Vuitton cases and her decade-old Diors. How can she get invited to the dinner for Nancy Reagan at the American Embassy residence? How can she give those Art Deco glasses to Prince Charles and Lady Dee, as she calls her, and then put them in the catalogue of her new mail-order business without it looking to her dear friend Raine as if she’s cashing in? How can she allow the BBC to film her on the wedding day without the Spencers’ feeling that this doesn’t reflect so well onthem?
Problems. Anyone who reads the columns knows more than he wants to about Rita Lachman’s problems. About the $30-million lawsuit—she’ll tell you it’s “really my daughter’s lawsuit”—against her ex-husband’s widow, Jaquine. (Rita and Jaquine were both married to Charles Lachman, the man who, years ago, was the l in Revlon.) But never mind all that. For the moment, that crisis is not on Rita’s mind. Now that Rita “has proven to all those social climbers like Joanne Herring that I stand for something in New York because of my invitation,” you would think her anxieties would end.
They haven’t. Take this Nancy Reagan thing. “Dahling,” Rita says one morning on the telephone, “I don’t know what to do to get into the American Embassy party. I mean, it would be an embarrassment for the American people if I, Rita Lachman, as the only unofficial invited guest—and a dear friend of the Spencers’—wasn’t there at the dinner for Mrs. Reagan. Dahling, that would be terrible. So ven Raine dropped over to Claridge’s yesterday to see the ball gowns—you von’t believe how elegant they are; a vintage dress is always right, you know—I asked her what to do.”
A pause. “So Raine suggested that I should just write a note to the embassy saying that I am ‘passing through’ London for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Dee, and just let it drop at that.”
Raine and Rita understand each other. “You know,” she says, “Raine is so incredible. She saved Johnny’s life. She’s such a lady. So good with servants. The other day she called me, and she said that 600 people had visited Althorp and she had spent the whole day picking up cigarette butts. I never thought I would get invited to Lady Dee’s wedding. When the invitation came, I was opening my mail in front of my building, and I saw that in the bottom corner it said, ‘Lord Chamberlain.’ To tell you the truth, I thought that it was the invitation to the opening of a new nightclub. When I looked at it and realized what it was, I just started screaming on the street. I fell apart.
“I am so nervous. I don’t want to do anything wrong.” And so much could go wrong. “Do you know that I just learned from Raine the other day that you never say ‘Queen Elizabeth’ when you mean the queen. Raine told me that if you say ‘Queen Elizabeth’ that means the Queen Mother. Can you imagine what would have happened if I had made such a mistake?”
Rita’s worries occupy her day. There’s the worry with the new present—she has to cancel the Art Deco glasses—and her new mail-order catalogue, Rita L. (“a collection of vunderful things, my taste”). There’s the worry about Betsy Bloomingdale and Lee Annenberg —”Can you imagine those two?”—and the awful realization that, while they will certainly get to John Louis’s party, she may not. With all of this, it’s hard to stay calm. Somehow she does. “You know,” Rita Lachman says, sighing, “since I’ve been invited to the wedding, nothing can be bad anymore.” She stares at her Diors lined up in the Claridge closet, their ruffles grazing the closet floor. “What more could I ever want? Now … life is beautiful.”