Around the Clock

UPDATED 05/01/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/01/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

"One's life," Diana has said, "is 70 percent slog and 30 percent fantastic." Everybody knows about the fantastic part—money, jewelry, travel, clothing, glamour. Diana's idea of slog, presumably, is what passes for work in the princess business—getting up early on a rainy day to press the flesh on a royal walkabout, planting yet another tree or making small talk with some visiting dignitary. Indeed, despite the spectacular trappings of her royal existence, Diana's days and nights are a mixture of the marvelous and the mundane, the giddy and the merely exhausting.

Consider a recent public engagement at the Guinness Housing Estate, a low-income project 20 miles west of London. At 10:32 a.m. on an overcast spring morning, Diana's three-car motorcade glides into the courtyard. As the princess alights from her dark blue Ford Sierra, the residents applaud politely while giving voice to a genteel murmuring of "Hello, Diana!" Resplendent in a deep red suit, the princess enters the administration building to meet the estate's directors, emerging just moments after the sun's first appearance. She shakes hands with the gardeners in their coveralls, then works the crowd, accepting flowers from youngsters with apparent delight, as if she's never received a bouquet before. In the reception tent, she takes a cup of tea, turns down a shrimp puff, bids farewell to her hosts, waves to the multitudes, then slides into the Ford for the trip back to Kensington Palace. Total length of visit: 60 minutes, or, as one wag put it, "Not what anybody would call hard work."

Diana accepts four to six engagements a week, each booked several months in advance, each a polished performance. She is a patron or president of 29 British charities, contributions to which soared dramatically when she first lent her name to their various works. Most of Diana's charities reflect her own interests. (She supports the British Lung Association, for example, because her father, the Earl Spencer, suffers from lung disease.)

Though all her appearances have some civic purpose, nearly every one has its lighthearted moments. Once, when Diana was assigned to press a button that would launch a British frigate, she found herself surrounded by so many officers who were eager to help that she pressed the button and pretended to swoon. "Oh, how exhausting!" she sighed. On another occasion she committed the tiniest of faux pas when, having been presented with a silver platter, she impulsively turned it over to study the hallmark.

Despite her eagerness to please, Diana is not notoriously quick on her feet and is sometimes betrayed by incorrect information. Once, visiting a low-income housing project, she was mistakenly informed by the flustered manager that there were 2,000 tenants—not 500, the actual number—in the project's 150 apartments. No one corrected him, and well into the tour, Diana remarked how impressed she was with the project's cleanliness, considering the number of tenants teeming within. Since good patronesses are hard to find, no one had the bad manners to giggle.

By and large, Diana has earned high marks for her enthusiasm in pursuing royal philanthropic tradition. Says author Nicholas Courtney: "She has that great gift of spontaneous conversation—nothing very profound or remarkable, but exactly the right sentiment for whomever." A palace aide once put it far more cruelly: "Only somebody with Diana's lack of intelligence," he complained, "could remain as happy as she does meeting a succession of young and old people who only want to talk about babies, the weather or other inconsequential subjects."

In fairness, though, she is sometimes called upon to do more than prattle. Though Diana finds visiting the terminally ill an ordeal ("She gets terribly upset," says a staffer), she bravely conceals her aversion. When she shook hands, ungloved, with an AIDS patient last year, the publicity helped temper fears of contagion, and she demonstrated a grit for which she is only infrequently credited.

Diana's daily schedule is flexible; some days are crammed with activities, others are relaxed and low-key. On a typical weekday, Diana tends to wake up around 7 a.m.; butler Harold Brown leaves a tray of weak coffee just inside the bedroom she shares with Prince Charles, who rises at about the same time. Gathering her faculties, she usually switches on an all-pop station on her portable radio—though she occasionally breaks the routine with a BBC news program. Then, while Charles scribbles down his dreams in a notebook—a Jungian ritual he believes helps him to know his inner self—Diana slides out of their four-poster bed and into her sweats for a 10-minute drive to the Buckingham Palace pool. Typically, she breast-strokes 20 laps in 20 minutes, a morning rite undertaken for the sake of keeping fit and as a way of relaxing and dealing with stress. (At Highgrove, she has been known to flick off the security cameras and swim her laps in the buff.)

By 8 a.m. the wet-haired Diana rejoins Charles at Kensington Palace for breakfast (more coffee, pink grapefruit, granola, sometimes a boiled egg on toast), served as always by Brown, their affable butler; says Diana: "He is the only person we can stand to see in the morning." William and Harry often eat in the nursery with nanny Ruth Wallace, who then prepares them for school.

On days she plans a public appearance, Diana has her hairdresser Richard Dalton arrive to do her hair before 9 a.m. (returning at 5 p.m. whenever she has an evening engagement). Diana then spends 20 minutes applying her own makeup-moisturizer, foundation, blush, eyeliner and eye pencil by Clinique and mascara by Christian Dior. If it's a workday, she's usually out the door by 10. She prefers to be home by lunchtime and sometimes flings off her princessy pumps the moment she recovers her privacy. Then she slips out of her very proper, British-designer work clothes and into a pair of jeans, although it has been reported that she's been known to put on leather miniskirts, satin pants and Italian silk shirts. If she's in the mood, she'll play tennis at the Vanderbilt Racquet Club, where she's described as an average club player. About once every two weeks, she will join a friend for lunch and gossip at one of her three favorite haunts: plant-filled San Lorenzo on trendy Beauchamp Place, Harvey Nichols' second-floor restaurant in Knightsbridge or the intimate Launceston Place restaurant in Kensington. In restaurants, as at home, Diana keeps things light: a little pasta, a little veggie, a little fruit and mineral water; she generally passes on desserts. Two discreet tables, usually in a corner or near one, are booked a day in advance—one for Di and her friend, the other for a bodyguard who discourages eavesdroppers (see box at right). Diana receives no royal discount, and unless her luncheon partner picks up the tab (Di and her friends take turns paying), the bill is sent to the Waleses' office in St. James's Palace or picked up by her detective with a credit card.

Some lunches are followed by a spot of shopping. Occasionally, Diana detours to Aldgate to watch a rehearsal of the London City Ballet, of which she is an active patron. (Religiously, one afternoon a week, she has her own rigorous 90-minute tap-ballet-jazz workout with an instructor at home. "It is my absolute passion," says Diana. "It's vital to switch off for one or two hours a week.") She has also been known to take a whimsical break from her schedule when the spirit moves her. Not long ago, while shopping with her kid brother, Charles (Viscount Althorp, a contributing reporter on NBC's Today show), she wanted to see where he worked. So the two of them dropped in unannounced at the NBC bureau in London, where nearly everybody was out to lunch. Once back at the palace, she relaxes by playing the piano (everything from Chopin to Elton John) or writing letters to friends. Now and then one of her designers will drop by with sketches and fabric samples.

Teatime, around 4 p.m., always involves her children, often with a few of her friends and their kids. She also uses the occasion to socialize with outsiders. Last fall she invited Bette Davis, who politely declined because she was too tired; on other occasions she has played host to wheelchair-bound Margaret Tebbit, the wife of a Conservative member of Parliament, who was paralyzed in a 1984 IRA bomb explosion.

Whenever she can, Diana tries to be at the palace when the boys get home from school. She will watch TV or play with them until it's time to help Nanny bathe them and put them to bed. If she is spending the evening at home, which is about three nights a week, Diana will read Wills and Harry a bedtime story and then call for lights out at 7:30 p.m. A half-hour later Diana will sit down to dinner with Charles. She once took cooking lessons, but is not inclined to putter in the kitchen. Culinary duties are handled by chef Mervyn Wycherley, 32, purloined from the Queen with Her Majesty's permission. Each Monday he gives Di a printed card of menu choices, and she circles what she wants for the week. Though Diana and Charles are not strict vegetarians, they rarely eat meat. Typical fare in the summer, for example, might include a carrot soup, cheese soufflé or salmon and fresh vegetables imported from Highgrove.

After dinner Charles often works at the desk in his private study and listens to classical music, while Diana catches up with her favorite soaps—Dynasty and EastEnders among them. (She also keeps track of some daytimers, which her staff tapes for her while she's away.) Diana usually retires about 10:30 p.m. with a new book, her taste running from unabashed trash to the middlebrow, from Danielle Steel to Colleen (The Thorn Birds) McCullough. Charles, meanwhile, has been known to doze off at his desk. Otherwise, an hour or so later, he'll quietly join Diana in bed.

In the early days of her marriage, Diana rarely entertained. When he quit in 1984, former butler Alan Fisher complained, "I got bored having absolutely nothing to do." Now, Charles and Diana throw black-tie dinners about once every two weeks for a mix of guests that at one time or another has included New Zealand-born opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, who sang at Charles and Di's wedding, Jordan's King Hussein, Charles's cousin the Duke of Gloucester, a Kensington Palace neighbor and close friend, Sir Richard Attenborough and Placido Domingo, one of Charles's favorites, who was once asked to sing for his supper. The lively conversation usually covers politics, the theater, current events and social issues, with Diana chipping in on her family and vacation getaways. Everyone usually goes home by 11 p.m.

Sometimes, if Charles is out of town, or scheduled to attend one of his all-male power dinners ("boys' nights," Diana calls them), she might ring up four or six friends (see box, page 31) and have them over for a casual dinner. They are met by the butler and led to the princess's drawing room, where they are greeted by their royal hostess. They sometimes bring flowers but never wine, and upon arrival, close friends receive kisses on both cheeks from the princess. Then, relieved of the need for formality, they call her Diana for the rest of the evening. At times like these, Di has the freedom to be herself. No longer on display, she needn't rack her brain for the politic thing to say but can pump for gossip and lapse into Sloane Rangerese—a sort of upper-class Val-speak—exclaiming," I don't believe it!" and "Re-e-e-eally!" When exasperated, she has even been known to mutter, "Oh, shit!"

Diana and her pals rarely hit the discos, though about four or five times a year she turns up at Annabel's, a $900-a-year private club in Mayfair, and spends about three hours eating a light supper and dancing. (It was there that Diana took Andrew and Fergie for Charles's 39th birthday celebration last November.) With Charles out of town more frequently these days, she will go to the theater or accept a friend's dinner party invitation, although she dislikes putting them through the maddening security hassles; guest lists wherever she goes must always be checked out in advance by her detectives. And wherever Diana goes, she knows the press is likely to follow. As she was leaving her friend Kate Menzies' house after dinner one night last November, a lurking photographer snapped away as her escort and friend Major Waterhouse playfully pretended to mow her down with his car. Her detective demanded and confiscated the film, while Diana reportedly made an impassioned speech to the photographer about feeling trapped and having few friends left. "It's the first time I've been out all week," she reportedly said. "You don't know how it feels."

More recently, Diana is reported to have been turning up at the Knights-bridge apartment of Anne Beckwith-Smith, her lady-in-waiting, for gossip and girl talk. The Today newspaper quoted Beckwith-Smith as saying Diana "will pop around to watch TV, have a chat and enjoy a snack of whatever I have going—more often than not it's scrambled eggs."

Though Diana's royal existence may cause stirrings of envy, both of her lives-public and private—are more complicated than one might assume. Certainly she must have been on the brink of exhaustion, if not outright delirium, when she confided to two housewives at a charity event, "I can think of nothing better than doing the ironing while watching television." More understandable, perhaps, was her comment to a full-time mother of two, who told the princess she envied her nannies. Said Diana: "I'd change jobs with you anytime."

NIGHTS OF 1,000 STARS

Diana can't escape occasional evening duties and is often the royal representative, with or without hubby, at film premieres or charity benefits. If she's lucky, she gets to moonlight at a West End musical or at a rock concert for the Prince's Trust, Charles's personal fund that helps aspiring but poor entrepreneurs get a start. If she is unlucky—by her standards, anyway—she is forced to stifle her yawns at a state banquet. In either case, Di, who can be as awestruck as a commoner when mingling with famous types, greets them with a few friendly words. Although she is the ranking celebrity in almost every crowd, she still gets that pinch-me-I'm-dreaming look on her face when meeting the likes of Elton John or Phil Collins.

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