WHEN AMERICAN presidents are in trouble at home they flee abroad, as President Clinton did recently to the Middle East.
It seems that British princes and princesses do the same thing.
Britain's Prince Charles was a smash hit in Los Angeles, where teen-aged girls screamed at him like rock groupies. And when Princess Diana pops up anywhere, the paparazzi are out in force.
But at home the heir to the British throne and his estranged wife are in trouble with their countrymen as tawdry disclosure follows sordid revelation. The decade-long adulation of Diana is wearing thinner with each new episode of the Windsor family soap opera.
One question regularly asked now is: Should Charles drop out in favor of his eldest son, Prince William, to restore credibility to the embattled monarchy?
Queen Elizabeth, "Gawd bless 'er," keeps her upper lip traditionally stiff and tries to carry on but her children keep thwarting her, bringing unprecedented heat on the family.
That it is open season on the royals is emphasized by the fact that Majesty, the British magazine that chronicles -- with appropriate discretion -- the royal family, includes in its current issue a four-page survey loaded with pointed questions about royal succession, the future of the monarchy and the people involved.
"Who should be the next King?" it asks bluntly. The choices are Prince Charles and his son, William.
After listing 26 family members from the most prominent to the most obscure, the 71-question survey gets down to business: "Who is your favorite adult [Windsor family] member?" followed by "who is your least favorite?"
Naturally the second question is the most interesting.
Then the magazine issues an open invitation to pick on the princes and princesses -- and their lovers -- by asking, "Which two individuals [one royal and one non-royal] do you think have caused the greatest harm to the Royal Family?"
At this point, it's almost a coin toss.
The latest missile in the battle of the books is Charles' authorized biography in which he confesses to three affairs with Camilla Parker-Bowles over the years, before and after each was married, and to not ever having loved Princess Diana.
Charles had earlier confessed his adultery with Camilla, whom Diana calls the "Rottweiler," while James Hewitt, an erstwhile officer -- but certainly no gentleman -- in the Household Cavalry, tattles on his riding lessons of all kinds with the Princess of Wales in the mid-1980s.
Charles and Diana deceived everyone back in 1980 when the betrothal was announced and the couple shared shy gazes as they faced the cameras in the back garden of Buckingham Palace.
The consensus now is that the teen-aged Diana was in love with her prince but that Charles, once an amateur actor, played his greatest role while having the name "Camilla" tattooed, figuratively, on his heart.
Cutting to the bone, Majesty asks whether Charles' public standing can ever be fully restored in light of his admission of infidelity and whether Charles can still be king if he and Diana divorce.
While the survey focuses on Charles and Diana, no one escapes completely; Prince Andrew and Fergie and Princess Anne's divorce and remarriage are mentioned, too.
Majesty doesn't say when it will publish the responses to the survey, which are due by Dec. 31. Respondents automatically are entered into a drawing for a picnic hamper from Harrods, the posh London department store, or a copy of the book, "Royal Children."
Let's go for the picnic basket; forget the kids.
Robert A. Erlandson was The Sun's London Bureau chief from 1979 to 1983 and covered the royal wedding of 1981.