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The Royal Superstars

Royalmania, or, more appropriately, Dimania, had arrived in 1983 during Diana’s first trip to Canada.


 

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In Dartmouth, N.S., Alice Nicholl, 57, got up at 4:50 a.m. to prepare to serve royalty—as a waitress. She had never been one before, but she begged for the job so she could catch a first-hand glimpse of the Prince and Princess of Wales as they dined on lobster in a Bridgewater high school gymnasium. “They were beautiful, sweet and darling,” Nicholl said. “I touched Charles’s suit and I made the coffee he drank. It was wonderful.” In Toronto, Adrienne Kerr, a 24-year-old arts student, overcame her disappointment that the royal couple were bypassing her home town: she quickly caught a bus to Ottawa to see the prince and princess. Nicholl and Kerr were only two of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who fell prey to royal fever last week. Royalmania, or, more appropriately, Dimania, had arrived.

The most glamorous royal couple in the world electrified Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the first week of an official 18-day visit to Atlantic Canada, Ottawa and Edmonton. From the beginning it was clear that although Queen Elizabeth signed away Britain’s former colony when she signed Canada’s Constitution last April, the Royal Family’s grip on the heartstrings of the nation is undiminished. Indeed, that act may even have strengthened the traditional attraction of royalty. The matinee-idol screaming by thousands of spectators in Halifax during the arrival of Charles and Diana surprised even British veterans of royal tours. At times the royal aura seemed to be strong enough to make even grown men and seasoned politicians swoon. While toasting the royal twosome in Saint John on Friday night, New Brunswick Premier Richard Hatfield—an avowed monarchist—sounded more like a groupie than a head of state. “Let the flame burn, for yes, the flame is love,” said Hatfield. “A toast to love, the Prince and Princess of Wales.” The British media immediately pounced on Hatfield, demanding to know whether he was drunk during the toast. Hatfield flatly denied that he was. Said Wilfred Fielding, a Buckingham Palace official: “I have covered all kinds of royal tours with the Queen and Prince Philip, even with Charles before he was married, but I have never seen anything like the effect of Diana.” Added London Daily Express photographer Stephen Wood, 37, who has been covering royalty for 12 years: “You can’t get enough pictures of Diana, because the public demand is so high. She is rather like a cult figure.”

Apart from a cheeky breach of protocol by a Halifax newspaper, the arrival and welcome of the royal couple on June 14 in Halifax unfolded flawlessly. Even before their Boeing 707 landed, 1,500 people, who had been waiting for more than two hours at Dartmouth’s Canadian Forces Base Shearwater, began waving miniature flags and cheering the approaching dot in the brilliant blue sky. Thousands of others stood in sunshine along the 12-km route of the motorcade to downtown Halifax, where an additional 10,000 spectators burst into a chorus of hurrahs the instant Charles and Diana stepped from their gleaming grey Oldsmobile, with the ancient red, gold and blue standard of the Prince of Wales fluttering above the fender. Then, the heir to the British throne, first son of Elizabeth II, the most travelled monarch in history—1.2 million km since her 1953 coronation—proclaimed his delight at “the opportunity to introduce my wife to a large number of Canadians.” It was Diana’s first trip to Canada and veteran globetrotter Charles’s seventh. As the couple stood against a backdrop of gigantic Union Jacks flying above Halifax’s famous fortress, the Citadel, the throngs below returned the sentiment with applause and cheers.

The only blemish early in the tour emerged after Tuesday night’s reception for the media aboard the royal yacht, Britannia. There, the hosts chatted informally with 100 journalists—a traditional feature of royal visits, where the press are instructed, and honor-bound, not to write about the royal conversations. But the next day The Daily News, a saucy tabloid published in Halifax, slashed its front page in true Fleet Street fashion with the bold red headline, “The agonies of a princess.” The story, by reporter Diana Bentley, wife of the publisher, David Bentley, sympathized with Diana’s complaints about the remorseless scrutiny of British tabloids. But Bentley then gave the future queen reason to mistrust Canadian journalists by quoting her: “When [reporters] write something horrible, I get a horrible feeling right here [pointing to her chest] and I don’t want to go outside.” Victor Chapman, Diana’s media adviser and a onetime aide to Pierre Trudeau, said that the newspaper would never be invited to another royal reception. Noting that a similar breach by an American reporter had marred the Queen’s recent visit to California, he added, “This type of reporting could jeopardize future media receptions.” In an ironic twist, Fleet Street tabloids in London showed outrage over the indiscretion. “Private fury over reporter,” blared the Daily Mirror.

Even before Charles and Diana left Britain their Canadian odyssey was a subject of domestic controversy. Few royal tours in recent years have aroused so much interest and speculation. First, there was concern that Diana might still be tired after the royal couple’s recent arduous 43-day trip to Australia and New Zealand. When they decided to leave Prince William at home, child psychologists actually debated whether or not it would be good for him to be left—yet again—with a nanny, especially on his first birthday, June 21. Britons also worried about Diana’s intention to telephone her son every day. “That would not be a good idea,” intoned Prof. John Morton, director of the cognitive child development unit in London. “A disembodied voice on a telephone line could be very perplexing for the boy.”

In Halifax, Prince William was not far from his parents’ thoughts. While chatting during one of her walkabouts with two Nova Scotian grandmothers, Ellen Lownds and Audrey Rector, Diana said: “I wish I had William with me. I miss him so much. He’ll be with us next time we come.” Nearby, Charles told another group of interested Haligonians that the possibility of bad storms, which could have made William seasick, persuaded them to leave the baby at home. In Shelburne, Charles did say that he hoped “we can send our son back to celebrate your tercentenary,” not realizing that young William would be 101 at the time.

In Lunenberg, Charles both caused Diana to blush and sparked the latest flurry of speculation that she may be pregnant again. The stories began two months ago after a royal bodyguard said that Diana had morning sickness, and Charles had remarked that the royal “breeding program” was well under way. Buckingham Palace managed to squelch the rumor. But the appetite of British and continental popular papers for real or imagined stories about the prince and princess has become so insatiable that Charles is said to be thinking of selling Highgrove House, the Gloucestershire retreat, because it is too accessible to photographers’ telephoto lenses.

The legendary legions of journalists have been a gnawing concern for Diana since 1980, when British reporters discovered the leggy teenager at the side of the king-in-waiting. The pursuit of the young couple has been relentless ever since. From the beginning, London’s purple prose writers and snooping paparazzi shadowed the 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer as she emerged from her South Kensington apartment to travel to a nearby children’s nursery where she taught. They gave up only when she retired for the night. As speculation mounted that “Shy Di” was Charles’s choice, the intensity of the chase increased.

Diana was a novice in the goldfish bowl, and the strain showed. During one incident, a pack of photographers backed off in astonishment as an unnerved Diana pulled her red Mini Metro to a halt on a London street, jumped out of the car, screamed at the cameramen and ran into the crowd. On another occasion the tabloids ran front-page photos revealing a guileless Diana, wearing a transparent summer skirt that revealed more of her contours than the monarchy normally approves. The state of the play prompted protests from Buckingham Palace and a letter to The Times of London from Diana’s mother, Frances Shand-Kydd. “Is it fair to ask any human being, regardless of the circumstances, to be treated this way?” she asked Fleet Street editors.

The answer was a resounding yes. Royal objections aside, Fleet Street’s passion for Diana did not abate. When the Queen announced the engagement reportorial frenzy spread to more sober newsrooms around the globe. Diana, the blushing ingenue, the Tudor rose, the upper-class girl next door, became an international superstar. And a willing British public happily turned away from the grim reality of skyrocketing unemployment, strikes and the falling pound to embrace the fantasy displayed daily on page 1.

Three years later the media, like doting parents, remain fascinated with their creation. The desire to know more about Britain’s future queen has always bordered on the obsessive. During her courtship, photographers in search of yet another picture peeked through her windows, and reporters listened in on her private telephone conversations.

The engagement, however, was only a prelude to the main event—the wedding. With exacting artistry, the orchestrators of Charles and Diana’s nuptials delivered the Fairy Princess to Prince Charming on the appointed July day in 1981 at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Around the world 700 million people watched the spectacle on television and held their collective breath as the wedding-cake bride rendered her husband-to-be’s names out of order: “Philip Charles Arthur George,” instead of Charles Philip Arthur George.

After the honeymoon, British reporters, driven by nothing more apparent than caprice, set out to prove that their princess’ silver lining was covered by a cloud. Only seven weeks into the marriage Diana was reported to be bored and tired of Britain’s Royal Family. Rumors surfaced that she had given them nicknames from characters in The Muppet Show. Then “informed” sources revealed that Di was really a “spoiled brat, a bossy witch” and a “stubborn, strong-willed woman.” Subsequent speculation that the new princess spent $3,000 a week on clothes did little to enhance her image. Diana was accused of forcing Charles to get rid of his old friends and his valet of 12 years. The ultimate betrayal came when she declared that she was not amused by polo, one of the prince’s beloved pastimes. The Daily Mail’s celebrated gossip columnist, Nigel Dempster, took it upon himself to lecture the princess on her responsibilities to her husband and country, calling her, at various times, “a fiend” and “a monster.”

Even the announcement of the expected arrival of an heir apparent did little to neutralize the vitriol rolling off the British presses. As readers consumed the news about whether the royal infant would be breastfed and whether cloth or paper diapers would be used, they also delighted in the photographs of a shouting match in February, 1982, between the prince and princess on the steps of the Sandringham estate. But enough was enough. In an unusual move, the Queen summoned Fleet Street executives to chat with Michael Shea, her press secretary, who declared: “The Princess of Wales feels totally beleaguered. The people who love her and care for her are getting anxious at the reaction it is having.” The editors agreed to be gentle to the princess during her pregnancy. But the truce was short-lived. The Daily Mirror's legendary royal follower, James Whitaker, trailed the couple to a secluded holiday retreat in the Caribbean and, crawling on his belly through the jungle for several hours, he and his photographer discovered a bikini-clad Diana, then five months pregnant. When two British dailies, followed by countless foreign publications, ran the photos, both the Palace and the public expressed outrage and demanded apologies. The next day, the Sun complied—with a catch: it reran one of the offending snapshots with the caption “Sorry Di.”

Although the arrival of Prince William took some of the spotlight from his mother, Diana has continued to be the subject of merciless scrutiny. Last winter, on a skiing holiday in Liechtenstein, Diana exhibited a growing reluctance to be the subject of the hunt. Angry with photographers who chased her on skis, aimed lenses at her from a helicopter and tracked her in high-speed car chases, the princess lowered her cap over a furrowed brow and refused to smile. In London, headlines proclaimed that she was “freaking out.” Some British writers used U.S.-invented stress-factor scales to back up assertions that the princess was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In another incident, congratulations for the new mother about regaining her svelte figure promptly gave way to speculation that she was, in fact, suffering from anorexia nervosa.

Meanwhile, Charles seemed to benefit from the marriage. Royal watchers who had followed the prince through his bachelor adventures as a parachutist and polo player concluded that Diana’s influence had made him more relaxed. Now he is apparently less reserved and stuffy, has given up biting his nails and twisting his ring and, observers say, he has also overcome a nervous tic that afflicted him on some public occasions.

The prince and princess appear to complement each other’s openness and affection for people. But even more important, they seem to be changing the way the monarchy is perceived. “I think they have broken the air of formality around the monarchy and made it more fun,” says royal photographer Wood. “Their role has changed. They bring happiness to people’s lives and talk to people rather than talk down to them.” One measure of their popularity is the television ratings. During their tour of Australia TV reports drew nine million viewers a week in England while only about three million watched Pope John Paul Il’s first trip to Poland.

Diana’s allure was never stronger than last week among the Nova Scotia crowds. “There is an element of hysteria here,” said the Daily Mirror's Whitaker. “In Australia we saw this sort of thing as the tour progressed, but here it has come right at the outset. What happens is that the emotion builds as each place tries to outdo the welcome of the one before it.” In Halifax retired Eva Frye drove five hours from Sydney to stand in the front row to meet the couple during a walkabout. Frye’s account: “He said, ‘Have you seen my wife?’ I said, ‘Yes, she’s beautiful. Don’t lose her.’ ” Beside Frye a group of seventh-grade girls from a Halifax school tugged at the restraining rope and shouted for Diana to come back. Said Shauna Lewis, 13: “I love her so much. Ask her to come back, please, please.” As chants of “We want Di” arose, boys climbed nearby trees to get a better look and office workers watched from the roof of a nearby building.

Meanwhile, in St. John’s, city council angered some citizens by sending letters to 600 householders telling them to clean up their homes for the upcoming visit—or face legal action. Said one woman, who was told to paint her clapboard house: ‘I'm going to send the bill to Buckingham Palace.”

Even Pierre Trudeau benefited from the spell cast by the royal couple. Despite his low standing in the polls, spectators cheered and pumped his hand while he waited to greet the couple at a state banquet in the Hotel Nova Scotian. Proposing a toast to “Elizabeth, Queen of Canada,” Trudeau later called Maritimers “gentle people, respectful people ” and warned the prince and princess in a rueful tone that they would find Central and Western Canada “the working part of the trip.”

Diana, in a lustrous white silk dress, dramatic black cape and dazzling tiara of diamonds and pearls, conveyed both the vulnerability of a debutante at a coming-out ball and the regal composure of a princess to the manor born. Charles, meanwhile, addressed the black-tie assembly of Nova Scotian business and political leaders without a prepared text. The result was an eloquent 10-minute evocation of the Commonwealth as a “golden thread” that links nations and represents a force for good in a world where evil “is seldom far below the surface.”

Promising to bring Prince William to Canada at a later date, Charles said: “I was brought up on stories of the Commonwealth. I very much hope we will bring up our children on similar stories.” He recalled that his grandmother, the Queen Mother, used to tell him how she had to hop out of bed, throw on a tiara and cover her nightdress to wave at crowds in the middle of the night on a train trip through Quebec in 1939.

As a legate of the Commonwealth, Charles was clearly a hit. More than 100 people stood for hours in the cool, foggy evening to catch a brief glimpse of the royal departure, greeting the couple with applause and boisterous, adolescent screaming. At times, planners worried about problems with crowd control. Insp. Lloyd Hosford of the Saint John police force became so alarmed last Friday about the size of a throng of 70,000 in Market Square that officials roped off the entire Trade and Convention Centre for a gala dinner attended by 600. A day earlier, when about 6,000 people jammed the main street in the old shipbuilding town of Shelburne, fans broke through barricades and pursued the royal motorcade down the street.

As they travelled throughout the Atlantic region the royal couple elicited a passionate outpouring of emotion. It was not only a mark of the couple’s personal popularity, but a reminder of the warm place Britain and the monarchy retains in Canada’s heart.


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