Chapter One: Look At Me
With a light knock on the door, Lady Diana Spencer came into the office. She looked first at her feet, then towards the royal official who was now standing before her. It was obvious she had been crying. Would he mind if she asked him a delicate question? Of course not.
She hesitated for a moment and then asked whether he knew someone called Camilla Parker Bowles. He said yes immediately. He knew her as a friend of Prince Charles who was married to in officer in the Household Cavalry. He had met her several times; all the senior staff had.
Then Diana said in a quiet but serious voice that she had just asked the Prince of Wales whether he was in love with Camilla Parker Bowles. He had not said no. As the tears returned, but still looking him full in the face, she asked another question: 'What am I going to do?' The courtier had no idea what to say. In his years of royal service, no one had ever spoken to him like this. He wasn't alone. Within hours one of his closest colleagues, another senior member of the royal household, was asked exactly the same question.
The wedding was only ten days away. What were they all going to do? After urgent consultations in a corridor, the courtiers suggested to Diana that she should talk it over with Camilla face to face. One of them arranged a lunch at her favourite restaurant. It was called Ménage-à-trois.
So we had lunch. Very tricky indeed. She said: 'You are not going to hunt are you?' I said: 'On what?' She said: 'Horse. You are not going to hunt when you go and live at Highgrove are you?' I said: 'No.' She said: 'I just wanted to know.'
Inside Buckingham Palace they awaited the outcome apprehensively. When Diana came back she said 'It was brilliant. We all understand each other.' One of the courtiers told us:
We all heaved a sigh of relief. I do think Camilla and Charles backed off in the early years. But an atmosphere soon developed. Some of us put it down to Diana being spoilt. I put it down to different backgrounds.
Diana Spencer's background was different to Prince Charles's, but not that different. She was born into one of the grandest families in England, a family that for two hundred years had been intimate with the court and its slowly ossifying traditions.
'The Lord Chamberlain ventures most respectfully to hope that the heart-stirring though silent sympathy of the vast crowds of Your Majesty's subjects may have somehow helped Your Majesty in his crushing sorrow,' wrote Diana's great-grandfather to George V. Edward VII had just died and Earl Spencer was looking forward to arranging the new King's coronation. He made urgent notes regarding the forthcoming ceremonials: 'Queen's robes -- Are they safeguarded from moth in the Tower?'
Diana's grandfather was the first of his family for several generations not to take a place at court. But this was chiefly owing to his devotion to a more urgent duty: to preserve his own decaying heritage. In 1922, as a young officer in the Life Guards, Albert Edward John, 7th Earl Spencer, inherited the palace and estates of Althorp in Northamptonshire and the urban palazzo called Spencer House in St James's Place, overlooking Green Park. Both were packed with priceless fittings, furniture and paintings, all of which needed care and restoration.
There were debts, mortgages, death duties and the buildings were in disrepair. He raised £300,000 by selling six masterpieces, Reynolds, Gainsborough, van Dyck and Frans Hals, to the United States. This solved the immediate problem. During the war 'Jack', as the seventh earl was known, emptied Spencer to save its fabulous contents from Hitler's bombers, and he crowded more evidence of the affluence of his ancestors between the fading silk wall hangings of his country home. As time went by Althorp became increasingly museum-like. In 1957 he opened it to the public, the condition for receiving government grants to save the fabric of the house from dry rot and deathwatch beetle. But even though Jack Spencer was preoccupied with the conservation of one of the largest fortunes made in the days when Britannia truly ruled the trade routes, his wife, Lady Cynthia, kept up tradition. In 1936 she was made a Woman of the Bedchamber and she later became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth II. She was still a courtier when her granddaughter Diana was born.
Copyright © 2001 by Tim Clayton & Phil Craig and Brook Lapping Productions.
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