Reading is like peeping in the windows of the royals



Nigel Dempster and Peter Evans


! 272 pages; $22.95



James Whitaker


236 pages; $22

You have to feel sympathy for Charles and Diana. No one should have to live knowing that every private conversation could be recorded and broadcast to the world, or have to endure endless speculation about their sexual prowess or lack of it.

But that is exactly what the luckless Windsors have to put up with in the latest spate of books about their loveless marriage.

So much has been written about the Prince and Princess of Wales in the past year that any book short of an autobiography is going to risk producing severe ennui as it proceeds to regurgitate more warmed-over facts.

Nigel Dempster and Peter Evans' "Behind Palace Doors" and James Whitaker's "Diana vs. Charles: Royal Blood Feud" are no exceptions. The writers tread familiar ground, spicing their chronicles with speculation from unnamed sources and their own dubious observations.

"Behind Palace Doors" also deals with the failed marriage of the Duke and Duchess of York. And it reveals that Queen Elizabeth II might lookfrosty on a throne but proved almost too much for her husband, Prince Philip, on their honeymoon in 1947.

According to Mr. Dempster (a society reporter for the Daily Mail) and Mr. Evans, Philip did so much talking about his bride's bedroom demands that some members of the aristocracy appealed to the government to place a gag order on the garrulous bridegroom.

" 'We all thought that Philip was singularly unpleasant to discuss his wife in such an open manner . . . he was a disgusting man,' remembered the Duke of Leeds."

Both books rely on Stephen Barry, Prince Charles' former valet who later died of AIDS, for much of their more scurrilous details about theearly days of the Wales' marriage.

They also both feature the well-known tapes of conversations between Charles and his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, and Diana and her longtime friend, used-car salesman James Gilbey.

Mr. Whitaker, who covers the royal family for the Daily Mirror, also includes a transcript of a British intelligence tape of what he claims is a conversation between Charles and Diana at their country home.

Neither book flatters the other woman, Camilla Parker Bowles. They portray her as having the same hold on Charles as American divorcee Wallis Simpson had on his uncle, Edward VIII, who abdicated in order to marry the woman he loved.

Diana is portrayed as naive, prone to tantrums and having an unerring eye for publicity. Her husband is seen as prematurely old, introverted, promiscuous, terrified of his father and a reluctant bridegroom who married only to produce the heir and the spare.

But the real problem with books like this is that they leave you feeling like a voyeur -- a Peeping Tom looking through the windows of bathrooms and bedrooms in the hopes of a cheap thrill.

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