London -- It might have been a bid for public understanding, but Prince Charles didn't get much sympathy yesterday by talking about his unhappy childhood and his miserable marriage to Princess Diana.
Instead, excerpts from an authorized biography of the Prince published by the Sunday Times set off a firestorm of criticism -- most of it aimed at Charles. The public consensus could be summed up in six words: "Couldn't you keep your mouth shut?"
The Sun, Britain's best-selling daily tabloid, asked, "If James Hewitt is a rat for kissing and telling, what does that make Charles?" (Major James Hewitt was named as Diana's lover in a XTC smarmy novelesque book that sparked the last royal scandal a little more than a week ago.)
The excerpts published from the biography about Charles were just as sensational. In it, the Prince says he was forced into marrying Diana by his overbearing father and never, ever loved her.
So, the monarchy shifted into its weekly crisis mode. Whether it was actually threatened remained unclear, though London betting shops reduced their odds on the monarchy being gone by the end of the century.
Constitutional authorities, psychologists, newspaper editorial writers, talk show hosts and church leaders offered conflicting opinions.
"He will definitely become king if he so chooses," James Hill, chairman of the Conservative constitutional affairs committee, said authoritatively. "That is the constitutional position."
Prime Minister John Major remained calm, coolly telling reporters the monarchy "has been there as long as anyone can remember.
"The monarchy is an enduring part of our way of life," Mr. Major said. "It's a fundamental part of our existence in this country."
The Duke of Edinburgh, the prince's father, said he wouldn't say anything about the prince's biography.
"I have never made any comment about any member of the family in 40 years and I'm not going to start now," the Duke told the Daily Telegraph, a conservative, monarchist newspaper.
Royal speech analysts took this to be a rebuke of his son. And some in the royal household were said to be piqued that the biography's excerpts eclipsed Queen Elizabeth's visit to Russia, the first by a British monarch since 1908.
Princess Diana, meanwhile, went to her health club for her daily workout yesterday, wearing her trademark stars-and-stripes sweat shirt. The biography depicts Diana as self-absorbed, obsessively jealous, bored and neurotic.
Jonathan Dimbleby, a friend of the prince who earlier this year produced a two-hour television interview with him, wrote the biography, which will go on sale Nov. 3. Charles, 45, gave the author long interviews and access to more than 10,000 of his private letters and diaries.
In Mr. Dimbleby's biography, Charles is described as an unhappy child, vulnerable and gentle, who was easily driven to tears by a stern father who wanted to toughen him up for the day he would be king.
Queen Elizabeth is depicted as a detached presence who delegated family responsibilities to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. The duke is said to have favored the "fearless" Princess Anne, Charles' younger sister, to the "solemn" prince.
The duke thought his son was a bit of a "wimp," according to a close friend quoted in the book.
At the Prince of Wales pub in south London, the duke's description gets echoed in a cockney accent.
"I don't think he'll be king," said Eileen Lapthorne, the wife of the publican. "I don't think he wants to be king. He should have
married Camilla Parker-Bowles."
The Prince conceded to Mr. Dimbleby on television he had had an affair with Mrs. Bowles.
Elsie Pugsley, a royalist gin-and-tonic drinker at the Prince of Wales, said the prince just used Diana for "having babies and leaving her."
Mrs. Pugsley said she was so royalist she used to dress up in red, white and blue, the colors of the British flag, on Empire Day, a celebration that has vanished with the empire.
"They have let us down," she said.
Mrs. Lapthorne is no admirer of Diana: "She's very, very shrewd, and conniving. She's not the demure little princess she's supposed to be.
"I think she married the thought 'I'm going queen.' "
In the Prince of Wales pub in Islington, Larry Fullam, the Irish barkeep, said, "I'm from County Kildare. You know what I think of them.
"They should be privatized and made to pay their own way," he suggested.
Jerry Doran, formerly of Dublin, snorted and allowed he thought Prince Charles "is the biggest [expletive] east of the Mississippi River."
That about summed it up for the Prince in Islington in North London.
Lots of people from publicans to press lords thought the Waleses should hurry up and get a divorce.
In the Evening Standard, Allan Clarke, a member of the privy council that advises the throne, said the Queen should abdicate.
"I do not believe that this latest book makes the slightest difference to the prospects of succession," he said.
The Prince of Wales is courageous, Mr. Clarke said. His character has been hardened by adversity. He is in the prime of life. "The sooner that he is crowned king, and can restore order and purpose to our most valued institution, the better."
No one has yet predicted the duration of this crisis. The last one ran on for about a week. No one need worry. There will be a new one next week. The Times publishes new excerpts from the biography Sunday.