Charles' too-frank biography continues to raise eyebrows

LONDON — London -- It's Chapter 4,000-and-something of the never-ending serial of Charles and Diana, wherein Princess Di becomes queen of Washington society while London debates whether Prince Charles should become king of Britain.

And Charles confesses: "Tart Fondled My Thigh in Colombian Brothel," as the News of the World put it with tasteful elegance yesterday.


The News of the World cribbed its headline from the Sunday Times. where the second installment of Jonathan Dimbleby's biography of Charles revealed the prince had three affairs over 20 years with the same woman -- Mrs. Camilla Parker Bowles, "the most intimate friendship of his life."

This "amazing" revelation is on a par with revealing the Prince of Wales plays polo. Mrs. Parker Bowles has been named the other woman in this theme-park Britain triad virtually since Chuck and Di were married 13 years ago.


Mr. Dimbleby's authorized biography -- read by the prince, scrutinized by aides to Queen Elizabeth, vetted by Prime Minister John Major and discussed with Lady Diana -- has raised questions about the prince's suitability to be king and even the future of the monarchy.

In its cover story this week, the Economist, that august journal which believes itself to be the true voice of Britain's meritocracy of intelligence, declared the monarchy "an idea whose time has passed."

The Economist found "the only powerful argument against abolition is that it is not worth the trouble."

The Sunday Telegraph, the mouthpiece of the conservative establishment, suggested that the monarchy be brought under the civil service, which would make the Prince of Wales a royal bureaucrat.

The Telegraph also condemned the serialization of Mr. Dimbleby's book by its arch-rival the Sunday Times as "insanity."

The Times boasted that its circulation rose by 400,000 copies to 1,630,000 with the publication of the first installation of the biography a week ago.

At what the Sunday Express called a crisis meeting at Balmoral Castle, the much-beloved Queen Mother reportedly suggested that her grandson the prince and Diana remain married until their son, William, becomes 18.

When William reaches 21, Charles would step aside. William would become Prince of Wales and eventually king. Prince Charles would be 54 by that time, Queen Elizabeth 75, and the Queen Mum, 103, which she gives every indication of achieving.


Princess Diana, meanwhile, spent the weekend in Washington where she had lunch with Hillary Clinton, was profiled by Sally Quinn in the Washington Post, and then dined with Katharine Graham, owner of the Post.

And if that's not de facto coronation, it's certainly post-democratic adoration, idolization and beatification.

Mr. Dimbleby, in describing the "affectionate relationship" between the prince and Mrs. Parker Bowles, resorts to the Harlequin romance language of Anna Pasternak's tale of Princess Diana and the cavalry major.

"She was pretty, bubbly, and she smiled with her eyes as well as her mouth," Mr. Dimbleby writes of the young Camilla. The Prince of Wales was "the most eligible bachelor on earth."

"She was affectionate, she was unassuming, and -- with all the intensity of first love -- he lost his heart to her almost at once."

The constant reader of this prose could feel at this point a bit like Dorothy Parker confronted with Winnie the Pooh: "Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up."


But soldiering on, one learns that Prince Charles apparently never got over Mrs. Parker Bowles. The affair was renewed after her marriage to the ineffably discreet and apparently obliging Mr. Andrew Parker Bowles, and again after his marriage to Lady Diana.

Mr. Dimbleby related last week that Prince Charles married Diana out of a sense of duty to the monarchy and never learned to love her.

Their marriage was soured even before it began when Diana discovered a parting gift for Mrs. Parker Bowles from the prince among the wedding presents, a gold bracelet inscribed with the letters GF.

They had a row, the biography says. Diana thought GF meant Gladys and Fred, pet names of Camilla and Charles based on characters from the "Goon Show" they loved.

The prince tried to explain away the gift as a token of gratitude for Mrs. Parker Bowles' "understanding and support." Diana has been depicted as remaining suspicious and obsessed with her "rival."

Mr. Dimbleby describes Mrs. Parker Bowles as the antithesis of Princess Diana: "Not caring for fashion or style, she was at home with horses, hunting and familiar with the established hierarchies and simple traditions of unglamorous squireiarchy."


As a young naval officer touring in the 1970s, Mr. Dimbleby says, the prince was "a magnet for every unattached woman (and not a few erring wives as well) in every port of call."

He "succumbed" to an officer's daughter in the West Indies and a polo player's wife in Venezuela. He visited the red light district of Toulon, France, and the brothel in Colombia, where the lady fingered his thigh, but where he hastened to add he did not succumb.

In Hawaii, two "blonde bombshells" offered him the de rigueur '70s marijuana -- an "elephant" joint of rare Thai pot. He told Mr. Dimbleby he declined,

"I did not like smoking for one," he said, "and secondly had no need of stimulation.

"As soon as I could I made a retreat," he said, "rather reluctantly because they were great fun."

Mr. Dimbleby believes the "accounts of such episodes are so gauche as to suggest he was still somewhat of an innocent abroad."


He has made a 640-page book out of such tales. The Times publishes a third installment next week. Some people can hardly wait.