Britain's royal soap opera (cont'd) The Diana threat: Queen Elizabeth commands a speedy divorce.


QUITE WHAT Princess Diana was up to when confessing to the BBC television that her husband, Prince Charles, might not want to be king of England and that she wished to be "queen of people's hearts" is unclear to the hundred of millions with whom she shared these intimacies.

She was at least showing that she was better at manipulating public opinion than her estranged husband, the current Prince of Wales. As mother of the royal heir, Prince William (next in line after his dad), she might have been negotiating leverage with her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth. Diana enjoys the ribbon-cutting side of royalty and is good at it.

But Queen Elizabeth, though she may seem stiff, is one seasoned monarch. In quick order, Diana was given a disappointing hour with the prime minister, the palace made public that Her Majesty wrote to son and daughter-in-law suggesting (commanding) speedy divorce, and Prince Charles' press secretary put on the record that the prince has no intention of remarrying.

That should be it. Prince Charles should in due course become king. Diana, if not his wife, will not be queen. In the eyes of the Church of England (which the monarch heads when not in Scotland), divorce is no bar to wearing the crown. Remarriage is.

The royal family does not really exist to provide the British people a substitute for the O.J. Simpson they do not have. It is there to provide symbols of stability and unity, to step in with decision should the political process break down and to attract more tourist pounds than its upkeep costs. The British monarchy is continuously getting whittled down on a Scandinavian model, but is unlikely to collapse.

There is one more thing. Royals are supposed to be apolitical. Diana just appeared with Labor politicians to call for action against poverty. The ruling Tory party likes the real monarchy. Labor likes Diana. Tony Blair, the next Labor prime minister, hopes Diana has something worthwhile to do. How very unroyal of her.

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