LONDON -- Today, they'll be free at last -- from each other.
The divorce of Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales, is scheduled to be finalized today in a routine proceeding that costs $31.
But what next for the sensational couple?
A worldwide television audience of 700 million people watched them marry at St. Paul's Cathedral. Today, the couple won't even have to attend the final act of the rancorous union that comes six weeks and a day after a uncontested decree was granted in the Family Division of the High Court.
Instead, lawyers will gather, documents will be checked, and barring any last-second appeals, a rubber stamp will be applied by a clerk to make the divorce final.
Will Charles, 47, now marry his longtime love, 49-year-old Camilla Parker Bowles, the famous "third person in the marriage"?
And what are the prospects for Diana, 35, who gives up her royal title but emerges with a divorce settlement that leaves her about $23 million wealthier?
"He'll do what he has done throughout this crisis, which is work," says Nigel Evans, publisher of Majesty magazine. "She'll have to use wit and charisma to maintain the high public profile she needs to have and to feel that she has not been ditched and eclipsed by the royal family."
The couple that made a mess of their 15-year marriage will now have to salvage the divorce, if not for the sake of the children, Prince William and Prince Harry, then for the sake of the monarchy, which has been battered by years of royal marriage scandal.
In the buildup to Divorce Day, the royals appeared to pull out all stops to placate a public growing increasingly disenchanted with the Windsors.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that senior members of the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth II, were discussing the development of the monarchy.
Among the proposals reportedly being considered were some that would allow heirs to the throne to marry Catholics, end the monarch's role as head of the Church of England and scrap public financing of the royals.
But the media remain focused on the royal soap opera.
Charles faces the "Camilla Problem" as the tabloid newspapers and public begin to turn their attention to his divorced mistress, who apparently has been the object of his affections since 1970.
The News of the World landed the first scoop Sunday by publishing the first "intimate" photographs of the couple in 20 years. Parker Bowles was photographed with a friend walking about five paces behind Charles, but the fuzzy picture was enough to ignite a media furor.
"Bed her don't wed her," thundered the Sun of London yesterday, trumpeting the results of a phone-in poll that claimed 85 percent of the callers were against Charles marrying Parker Bowles.
"Our poll is powerful evidence that perhaps Charles should make it clear he will never wed Camilla Parker Bowles," the paper said in an editorial.
The Sunday Telegraph claimed senior clergy in the Church of England had "strong misgivings, bordering on hostility," to Charles' remarrying.
"Right now, remarriage would be a complete disaster for him," Evans says. "It would show he is out of touch with the public mood. The irony is that Camilla has been the perfect courtier. She is very discreet. She has stayed in the background. That's what the royal family likes. She is the exact opposite of Diana."
Diana, who in divorce lost her title as "her royal highness," remains a royal headache.
She is the mother to an heir to the British throne. She is rich. And after the divorce, she'll again be single.
"What is going to be difficult for her in the future, is as the most famous woman in the world, she is under a lot of pressure and scrutiny," Evans says. "It will be difficult for her to form personal relationships with people. Everyone wants her story."
Pub Date: 8/28/96