From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
March 26: Diana, Princess of Wales, turns up at London's Grosvenor House for a charity gala staged by Bruce Old-field, one of her favorite fashion designers. Attended only by three "courtiers," she ignores royal protocol by failing to leave at a previously arranged time. Instead she lags behind to dance and chat with beautiful people such as Christopher Reeve and French composer Jean-Michel Jarre.

June 1: Diana, again without Charles, arrives for a Saturday night dance at a friend's country house in Leicestershire. When bashful bachelors are too timid to ask her to dance, she takes matters into her own hands. Grabbing a partner, she exclaims, "Come on, for goodness sake, let's dance!" She does—until 4 a.m.

June 21: Queen Elizabeth hosts a 21st birthday bash at Windsor Castle for her son Prince Edward and three of his royal cousins. After a few whirls around the dance floor with his frisky wife, Charles retires to the sidelines. Diana, however, continues to bop to the music—alone.

Charles and Diana—the Prince and Princess of Wales to their subjects and storybook lovers to the rest of the world—will celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary on July 29. Yet little more than halfway toward that fabled seven-year itch, there are signs of growing conflict in the royal household. Diana, no longer the blushing kindergarten teacher who snared the world's most eligible bachelor, is boldly displaying a new assertiveness and self-confidence. She is venturing out socially without Charles more than ever, and this month—for the first time—her public engagements will outnumber her husband's. At the same time Charles has reportedly tired of his relentlessly repetitive royal chores as he waits to succeed to the throne. That event might not take place for another 25 years, given the good health of his mother, Queen Elizabeth, now 59.

Separated by more than a decade, the Princess, 24, and the Prince, 36, are at decidedly different stages of their lives: She seems eager to enjoy her unspent youth; he is succumbing to, or perhaps welcoming, his approaching middle age. While Di dances all night, Charles prefers nothing more than playing polo, tending to his sons, Prince William, 3, and Prince Harry, 10 months, watching television and hitting the sack early.

Of course, during their visit in November to the United States don't expect them to dial Dr. Ruth or drop in on Donahue to discuss their marital differences. Still, the secret society that surrounds the royal family continues to yield revealing glimpses of Charles' and Di's life together. Like puffs of smoke that appear from the Vatican during deliberations over a new Pope, intriguing information floats up from behind palace walls. This in spite of the fact that for many years royal employees have had to promise in writing to keep the palace's secrets.

While Fleet Street and Diana's countrymen couldn't be more delighted with her independent style, she has caused some troublesome and embarrassing moments for the royal family. Since she became lady of the house at Kensington Palace in 1981, 40-odd employees—some of them longtime servants handpicked by Charles—have left. That's an astounding number considering that royal staffers frequently serve for life. Some say that Di has systematically purged holdovers from Charles' bachelor days, others that the Princess is merely capricious, giving the royal boot, or at least the elbow, to anybody she doesn't like. And she has reportedly told friends she does not want "confirmed bachelors"—a delicate English euphemism for gays—near her children.

Diana has been blamed for many of the departures (see box on page 57). She is supposed to have cried after reading biting press criticism of the March resignation of Edward Adeane, Charles' private secretary since 1979. Last month, in a rare royal action, she collared reporter James Whitaker of the Daily Mirror during a visit to a home for the mentally retarded. "I just don't sack people," she told him. "I am not responsible for any sackings." The disclaimer, splashed across the tabloid's front page, only drew more attention to a problem the palace wishes would go away.

Some former employees paint her as a tough, domineering and occasionally meddlesome taskmaster. Says one palace source: "No one is in any doubt who the real ruler is in Charles' and Diana's household. Below stairs everyone calls her 'the Boss.' " Notes a longtime palace observer: "It's common knowledge these days that you offend Diana at your peril."

The other problem at Kensington Palace is far more private—and potentially more serious. Charles is reported to be emotionally adrift. "He can no longer see rhyme or reason in continuing the tireless rounds of ceremonial appearances and handshaking" that he's done since graduating from Cambridge, says Daily Mail columnist Nigel Dempster, who adds, "He doesn't know what to do with his life."

At the same time Charles is reportedly becoming more distant from his brothers, Prince Andrew, 25, and Prince Edward, 21. He seldom sees his sister, Princess Anne, 34, who lives only a short distance from his country estate, Highgrove. Moreover, say some observers, his relationship with his father, Prince Philip, 64, has deteriorated to the point where the two hardly speak. (It was widely reported last year that Prince Philip was angry with Charles for shirking royal chores and ignoring his sister.)

Charles' apparent lack of purpose-fulness is underscored by the fact that he is said to feel overshadowed by his glamorous wife, for whom a simple change of hairdo guarantees front-page headlines. When they made solo appearances last spring in the County of Hampshire, for example, Diana's turnout was reportedly 10 times larger than Charles'.

As Diana grows into her role as the Princess of Wales, Charles has had to cope with changes of his own—many of them at Diana's insistence. She has reportedly weaned him of friends from his bachelor-about-town days and has seen to it that he has virtually no contact with women—married or otherwise—from his life before the marriage. In addition Charles has yet to find a replacement in his life for his beloved great-uncle Lord Mountbatten, who was assassinated by IRA terrorists in 1979—a void made doubly painful by Charles' estrangement from his father. Charles supposedly tried to summon Mountbatten's spirit on a Ouija board. "He is a fairly friendless person," says one palace source of Charles.

Charles' isolation was accelerated, by the departure of Adeane, 45, who was the Prince's right-hand man. Adeane's father had been Queen Elizabeth's private secretary for 19 years, and Adeane was expected to remain in Charles' employ for life.

Charles considered Adeane a close friend; the two were shooting buddies until the Prince, apparently in keeping with Diana's wishes, curtailed his participation in "blood sports." Charles is said to have adored Adeane's dry humor while Diana, say insiders, was never so captivated, considering Adeane a fuddy-duddy. Observes one insider: "He and Diana have nothing in common. They are like chalk and cheese."

Adeane, who also worked for Diana prior to his resignation, may have felt increasingly unwanted and out of place in a royal household dominated by children. "If I ever see another knitted bootee, I'll go mad," the bachelor reportedly complained. Besides letting Wills roam free, he complained, Diana met with him while blaring pop music on her radio.

When Adeane made plans to move his office from Buckingham to Kensington Palace—which was Charles' wish—Diana is said to have intervened and said no. By one account her reasoning was that she already had 15 workers underfoot—including her two dressers, Charles' two valets, two nannies, two chefs, a butler and four maids—and didn't want Adeane adding to the confusion. Insiders say, however, that Adeane also had a falling out with Charles. The Prince was said to be unhappy with Adeane's rigid schedules. It was considered a measure of Adeane's indignation that he left before a successor could be appointed. He was quoted as telling one friend, "Don't ask me about it. It is so awful I can't bear to talk about it."

The position of private secretary remains unfilled and is being called "the job nobody wants." (Royals recruit lesser staff through recommendations of current personnel, the British Armed Forces, blind ads and employment agencies.) Sir Antony Acland, the head of Britain's Foreign Office, has twice been asked by the palace to comb his department for likely replacements for Adeane. Having made no progress, he confessed somewhat sheepishly, "You have never heard so many excuses in your life."

The departures caused such an uproar in the press that a Buckingham Palace spokesman was moved to respond. "The Princess does not hire and fire," he said, adding: "Neither of the royal couple is bossy." None of the resignations has been pleasant, but Adeane's hasty exit has by all accounts been the most painful. Without a private secretary there is no senior staffer to coordinate Charles' public engagements. The Prince, meanwhile, seems in no hurry to correct the situation. He has discovered that he can fill his calendar—or not fill it—as he sees fit. "He has maneuvered himself into a situation where he answers to no one," says Dempster. Charles has—at least for the summer—made polo-playing a priority and let important paperwork slide, according to one insider; he often schedules his matches first and then accepts only those appearances that don't conflict. His senior staff is said to be shocked by the Prince's lack of attention to his duties.

It seems inevitable that all this would have some impact on the world's most celebrated marriage, but that remains to be seen. So far there have been no suggestions that the two are seriously drifting apart; in public they seem to be happy and genuinely to enjoy each other's company. Neither is shy about displays of affection, and Charles goes out of his way to be attentive and courteous.

Diana's newfound obduracy may simply be growing pains; the constraints of the royal life are, after all, severe. Earlier in her marriage she seemed like a prisoner peering out of her cell; during a trip to Australia in 1983, she told an admiring housewife, "I would trade places with you anytime."

More realistically, Diana would likely trade places with the person she could have been: an eligible 24-year-old "Sloane Ranger," attending balls, skiing in Switzerland and sunning in the South of France at will. That kind of life is still enjoyed by many friends from her Lady Di days and even by other young royals. Prince Andrew, who is a year older than Diana, and such other "royalettes" as Lady Helen Windsor, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones and Viscount Linley are regulars at London's trendy nightspots. Diana would join them if she could, but either the press or the public alone would be sufficient to make such outings futile. Besides, the more she sees what she's missing, observes Dempster, the more "she will understand her life for the sterile existence that it is."

Diana still may occasionally pine for the more anonymous life she would have led had she not married Charles. But insiders say she seems determined not to let her public role stand in the way of a good time. Observers are predicting that Diana will probably have another child within the next few years. After that, they say, she may pursue the kind of "separate lives" pattern common among royals.

In short, Diana has had to learn about the difference between fairy tales and real life. Last month, for example, she gratefully accepted a $13,000 diamond ring from French jeweler Louis Gerard, sponsor of a benefit polo match. Next day Diana was told that protocol forbids her from accepting such presents from outsiders and was forced to turn over the ring to charity.

In a real fairy tale, the princess gets to keep the ring.

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Smith.