From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
BY ANY RECKONING, IT HAD BEEN A Difficult week for the Princess of Wales. On Nov. 1, Diana turned up 10 minutes late for a charity gala at London's Equinox Disco-Tec, wearing a lacy, high-on-the-thigh ensemble that seemed a tad outre. Pale and agitated, she "appeared to have used a lot of eyeliner to cover up tears," in the words of one witness. Midway through the performance, a detective escorted the teary princess out a back door and rushed her home to Kensington Palace. (The official explanation: a migraine.)

The next day brought further distress. At a memorial service for the Earl of Westmorland, Diana found herself in the company of Prince Charles's longtime confidante, Camilla Parker Bowles. As Di took her place in a pew in the Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks, "Charles's mistress kept her eyes fixed on the floor," Today newspaper reported. Though the archrivals ignored one another, few were unaware of their discomfort.

By Nov. 4, Diana could no longer contain herself. Hounded by reports that a high-profile trip to Russia had been "postponed" and that she was battling bulimia again, she looked tense when she took the stage during the London relaunch of a women's charity called WellBeing. Though she wasn't scheduled to speak, she strode purposefully to the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen," she announced, "I think you are very fortunate to have your patron here today. I was supposed to have my head down the loo for most of the day. I'm supposed to be dragged off the minute I leave here by men in white coats. [But] if it's all right with you, I thought I might postpone my nervous breakdown."

Although the audience met her remarks with sympathetic applause, most Palace watchers were taken aback. Like Andrew Morton's 1992 apologia, Diana: Her True Story—whose poor-Di point of view came straight from the princess's friends—the petulant speech demonstrated that self-pity seldom strengthens one's case. As The Guardian noted on Nov. 5, "Beneath these remarks, you can hear the shrill pulse of a rising hysteria, [of] a woman finally being forced to come face to face with herself."

Indeed. Since the Waleses' separation was announced last Dec. 9, Diana, 32, has found herself in limbo: Lonely and embattled, she is allowing the public to glimpse a side of her that is dangerously unflattering. Far from setting up a rival court, as supporters predicted last year, she seems at odds with Buckingham Palace, and she is painfully aware that Queen Elizabeth has the whip hand. Once able to keep the public in her thrall no matter how-unhappy her private life, she is flaunting her distress—and, not incidentally, presenting an unfortunate contrast to the newly confident Charles.

"Shattered and overstressed," in the words of one friend, Diana spends much of her time alone. When she isn't working on behalf of her 80-odd charitable causes, she can be found at Kensington Palace or at Chelsea's Harbor Club, a sports complex where she trains with instructor Carolan Brown. She has not been seen at San Lorenzo, her favorite restaurant, since April. On evenings when her sons are at school and she has no official engagements, she watches TV alone or chats with girlfriends on the phone.

Di's sense of isolation has been exacerbated by the loss of two important staffers. On Nov. 4, it was announced that Simon Solari, the Waleses' chauffeur, who had driven for Diana since the split, was leaving to work for Charles—reportedly because he was uncertain about the princess's future. Just 24 hours earlier, Ken Wharfe, her favorite bodyguard, had been reassigned—ostensibly to protect visiting diplomats, although some Palace watchers were convinced that he and Diana had become too close.

The blowup over the photos taken at London's L.A. Fitness also took its toll. Although Diana declared her "distress and deep sense of outrage" when the pictures were published in the Sunday Mirror on Nov. 7, the British press believes that she may have known about them before they appeared. Professional photographers say it would have been virtually impossible for a self-described duffer like gym owner Bryce Taylor to set up a hidden camera that could produce photos as clear as the Sunday Mirror's; they also note that the photos look posed and that there is nary a bead of sweat on Di's brow.

In any case, it is clear that Diana is newly vulnerable to opportunists and that, without the Palace behind her, she feels at sea. At a Nov. 16 mental-health conference in London, she said, "There seems to be a growing feeling of...emptiness in people's lives. Deep within us all is a need to care and be cared for...yet many people, in their attempt to build a life...lose touch with their own sense of belonging and of being a part of something greater than themselves."

While the past year has highlighted Diana's lack of emotional resilience, it has underscored her husband's strengths. Plainly relieved, Charles, 45, looks both younger and happier of late. As one aide has said, "He feels an enormous burden has been lifted." With the Palace public-relations machine behind him, the Prince has thrown himself into his job—such as it is—and "is determined to regain the confidence [of the public]," in the words of one courtier.

"What is extraordinary is that a year ago Charles was very much in Diana's shadow," notes Brian Hoey, author of several books on the Windsors. "Since then, Di has been downgraded. She doesn't have the same number of official engagements, and her overseas tours are very low-key. Charles, on the other hand, has won the PR battle hands down."

This year, Charles began courting the press—albeit in a stately way. Eager to establish himself as a player on the world stage, he made high-profile visits to Poland, Mexico and the Persian Gulf, and he delivered a hard-hitting speech at Oxford in which he decried the "unmentionable horrors" perpetrated by Saddam Hussein. (In return, Hussein's eldest son accused Charles of "sinking deep in adultery and family intrigues.")

Wisely, he also is attempting to revamp his reputation as a cold-fish father; during an August trip to Balmoral, a crew filming a Central TV documentary on the prince was allowed to shoot a "spontaneous'' fishing expedition with his sons, William, 11, and Harry, 8.

Charles has even attempted the kind of Mother Teresa missions that are Diana's forte. On Oct. 9 he popped into the London home of paratrooper Alistair Hodgson, 22, who 18 months before had lost both legs to an IRA bomb in Northern Ireland. Said Hodgson (whose wife, Rebecca Davis, was also on hand): "Neither of us could believe it when the prince walked through the door into our living room. He shook hands with both of us and then chatted about life.''

Windsor watchers were flabbergasted when, on Oct. 19, Charles appeared on a downmarket TV show called Hearts of Gold to chat with 13-year-old Ashley Jones, who had swum through sewage-tainted water for hours to help flooded neighbors in Llandudno, Wales. Jaws dropped again on Oct. 22, when Charles gave a rare interview to BBC radio's pop-music channel and confided that he laps his toes to Tina Turner.

Of course, Fleet Street wasn't fooled. A Sunday tabloid declared his visit to Hodgson a "cheap stunt," while the Daily Express pegged the BBC interview as "part of an image-building campaign . . . to erase the bitter memories of his marriage breakup and embarrassment of Camillagate."

Overcoming the damage wrought by January's love-tape scandal will be a Herculean feat, however. Few who read the transcript of Charles's 1989 phone conversation with Camilla will ever forget his adolescent crude-ness. As The Guardian noted al the lime, "The Prince of Wales emerges from this transcript as a pathetic figure, frozen in some ghastly, petrified slate of emotional retardation."

As disastrous as the leak may have been, it seems to have had little effect on Charles's ardor. Although his camp spread rumors that the affair had cooled, he seems determined not to forsake the woman he loves. The discreet Camilla, 46, and her husband, Brig. Andrew Parker Bowles, 53, are still welcome in royal circles. Charles, who reportedly has purchased an unbuggable phone, apparently calls Camilla regularly; although she has not been spotted in his new quarters at St. James's Palace, the two reportedly rendezvous at friends homes.

For her part, the woman whom Di contemptuously calls "the rottweiler" has fell the strain. She has dropped weight and begun chain-smoking, and the paparazzi who slake out her house in Wiltshire (a 10-minute drive from Highgrove) have snapped her looking haggard. "It would be absolutely unnatural if [the scandal] had not had some effect," family friend Lord Patrick Beresford told The Sunday Express. "But she does not let it show. She manages to be her cheerful self whenever I see her."

In October, Camilla left Andrew and children Tom, 18, and Laura, 15, to lake a trip to India. At that time, Parker Bowles dismissed rumors that Camilla too was on the edge of a breakdown, saying, "She's perfectly all right. She has gone away on holiday with another couple of girls, that's all." Andrew (who in May was photographed leaving the Battersea home of divorcée Carolyn Benson at 6:45 a.m.) also denied that his marriage was in peril. "Everything is all right between us," he said.

If peace reigns between the Parker Bowleses, relations between Charles and Diana are barely civil. On May 30 they made a rare joint appearance at a service honoring WWII veterans at Liverpool's Anglican cathedral. While the cameras rolled, they laughed and joked, but afterward they refused to look at one another. When Di attended the Oct. 8 wedding of Princess Margaret's son, Viscount Linley, Charles made it a point to be in Turkey. As the Daily Mirror put it, "[He] is...desperate to avoid his estranged wife."

Typically, though, it is Diana who boycotts royal family gatherings. In June she missed the Trooping the Color ceremony in London, which celebrates the Queen's official birthday, and she failed to appear for the Aug. 4 photo session marking the Queen Mum's 93rd birthday. Still, the Queen has not allowed her to stray too far. Diana was invited to appear beside her at a Nov. 13 pre-Remembrance Sunday ceremony at Royal Albert Hall to honor the war dead, and she has been invited to stay with Fergie at Wood Farm on the Sandringham estate where the Windsors spend Christmas.

Rebel though she may be, Diana reportedly regrets having used the press to wage war against the Windsors. She is said to flinch when Morton's name is mentioned, and, according to a senior courtier, "she wishes she had confided more in the Queen instead of publicly humiliating Prince Charles."

Paradoxically, the princess also is said to oppose the notion of a divorce. As Hoey points out, her power and position derive from Charles. "A divorce would drive her into oblivion, and she knows it," he says.

The Palace, however, seems determined to tidy things up, lest Diana ever claim the right to be crowned queen. "They've got to get her out of there," says one insider. "It's as simple as that."

Still, the operation must be done carefully. While Di continues to be the royal family's top crowd-puller, recent polls suggest that British public opinion is turning against her. Nevertheless, any attempt to jettison her too quickly could backfire. By all appearances, the Palace is attempting to ease her out gently—and to enlist others to help with the dirty work. On Oct. 19, Prime Minister John Major met with Diana at Kensington Palace. Topics on the agenda included her continuing public role—and, reportedly, divorce.

According to British law, which requires a two-year separation, a divorce could not take place until December 1994. But some royal watchers expect the Palace to speed things up. "What has to be remembered is that the government is capable of altering the law to accommodate the Crown," says Hoey. "They've done it before, and they will do it again. This has been pointed out to Diana in words of one syllable."

MICHELLE GREEN
TERRY SMITH and MARGARET WRIGHT in London

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Smith,
  • Margaret Wright.