A Highly Placed Confidant

"Several years ago, Charles gingerly broached the subject of Parker Bowles to his mother at dinner. 'The queen said she never wanted to talk about that wicked woman and wanted nothing to do with her,' a 'highly placed confidant of the prince' told The Daily Mail columnist Richard Kay. 'He was devastated.' Meetings since then have been one degree above frosty. The first time Elizabeth agreed to be in the same place as her son's lover--a party for the exiled king of Greece--she put out her hand. Parker Bowles curtsied and the queen moved on without saying a word."

Sarah Lyall, writing last week in the International Herald Tribune from London about you know who. There is only one problem with the report. It is totally wrong. I don't know Sarah Lyall, but she's been in London long enough to know better than to use the phrase "highly placed confidant of the prince." It is a euphemism for making up a quote and attributing it to a highly placed confidant who doesn't exist, a British tabloid habit since Rupert Murdoch came to town sometime in the '70s.

Yours truly happened to be the only journalist present at the party for the king of Greece, where the queen supposedly agreed to be in the same place as Camilla for the first time, and if memory serves, the two chatted amiably and for quite a long time. (My friend John O'Sullivan told me the next day that my presence at the party was the equivalent of journalistic hell. "The only reporter there but unable to report.") In fact, I sat at Camilla's table and got drunk enough to drop a game-saving ball at the cricket match that followed.

Mind you, what is a reporter like Lyall to do? She does not have access to the royals, just their spokesmen, and relies on other hacks for her dispatches from rainy old London. Prince Charles's strained relationship with his mother is an ongoing story exploited daily by tabloid newspapers locked in a circulation fight to the finish. The truth, however, is somewhere in between.

The queen is not feuding with her son. Quite the contrary. But Buckingham Palace is perennially feuding with Clarence House, which is to say the queen's courtiers and advisors are fighting over royal turf with Charles's courtiers and advisors. The two sides plant stories to suit their own agendas, the tabloids (even the broadsheets are now tabloids in Britain, except for the Telegraph Group) go ape, and the truth gets lost somewhere in translation.

The latest brouhaha is of course the mishandling of Charles's wedding to Camilla on April 8. It has turned into a farce by which antimonarchists hope to score republican points against a much-maligned royal family that enjoys tremendous popularity among British subjects except for the Fourth Estate, the so-called chattering classes, left-wing academics, artsy-fartsy types, show-business folk, and assorted busybodies. According to the hysterical press, Camilla is dismayed, devastated, and bewildered. (Humiliated, battered, incandescent, furious, and so on.)

Here's what's really going on--at least according to "a highly placed confidant." Just kidding. My info comes from friends of the couple, which include her brother Mark Shand, her son Tom Parker Bowles, and close buddies of the Prince of Wales. There is no rift between Charles and the queen nor does Prince Philip bully his son and call him a wimp. The family is a typically British upper-class clan that shows little emotion in public, or in private for that matter, never explains or complains. Like the rest of the aristocracy, the family practices emotional distancing, something the vulnerable and willful Diana could not cope with.

The reason for the fiasco is a lawyer, one Charlie Falconer, once upon a time a flatmate of Tony Blair's. Blair ennobled Charlie and named him Lord Chancellor. Like our very own Robert McNamara, failure after failure has served Charlie Falconer extremely well. It was Falconer who gave mixed signals about the legality of the royal wedding, and it's Falconer who is playing a canny game assisting the royal haters. He wishes to abolish the already emasculated House of Lords and, eventually, the monarchy. Falconer only tried for elective office once and, having failed rather miserably, decided to rely on something even more deeply rooted in British history than royalty, patronage. Blair took care of the rest.

The Millennium Dome, a multibillion-pound disaster; the war in Iraq; and now the marriage arrangement can all be traced to Charlie--a real piece of work as they say stateside. Disaffection with the Prince of Wales seems to have never been so voluble. The usual suspects are to blame. They are even clamoring for Prince William to be the next king.

I am no friend of Prince Charles--we even got into an argument over race following an attack on my person by three West Indians in London ten years ago--but he will be the next king barring an act of God. TAC readers may not give a damn but at least shouldn't fall for that highly placed confidant garbage.

March 28, 2005
The American Conservative