Baba Says Ta Ta to Wills and Harry—the Question Is, Did Charles and Di Get the Nanny's Goat?

updated 02/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/02/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Since their marriage in 1981, Prince Charles and Princess Diana have sacked or suffered the resignations of 40-odd employees, disrupting Kensington Palace life both upstairs and downstairs. Only the nursery has seemed immune to royal labor disputes. The stomping grounds of rambunctious Prince William, 4, and his(so far) more sedate brother, Prince Harry, 2, it has been the realm of Nanny Barbara (Baba) Barnes, a retired forestry worker's daughter whose sparkle and light-handed approach to children won her the top nannydom in the kingdom shortly before Wills was born. But on Jan. 15, Buckingham Palace released a statement: The POWs and Baba, it said, had "mutually agreed" that since Wills has just started all-day studies at Wetherby School, it was "a good time" for Barnes, 43, to move on. Beyond that terse explanation—which nobody believed—none of the principals was talking.

In, say, Paterson, N.J. the departure of a nanny might not make front page news, but then Paterson does not have much of a tradition of nannies. In the Sceptered Isle, both the press and people in the street have rushed in with speculations that might explain the unexpected rupture. Some cast Prince Charles as the heavy. Himself raised by a firm, old-fashioned Scottish nanny, Mabel Anderson, the correct Prince was said to bridle at Nanny ("Call me Barbara") Barnes's progressiveness, which he blamed for Wills's recurrent unruliness. The Daily Express held the Queen herself responsible: She "was so dismayed at Prince William's scallywag antics," it concluded, "that she told her son to find a new nanny." The Daily Mirror claimed it was due to both Charles and Di. "When the boys were naughty," the paper wrote, "Barnes gave them a cuddle. But their parents preferred...a good hiding."

Yet another theory has it that Barnes's great expectations were the real cause. In England's upper crust, nannies are often treated as members of the family, but Barbara, to her dismay, reportedly was excluded from Windsor family life by Di—and the fact that she was paid only $7,500 a year didn't help. The coup de grace, according to this school, was a bash the nanny attended on the Caribbean island of Mustique last December as the guest of Lord and Lady Glenconner, whose three children she had tended for 14 years before signing up at the Palace. During this tropical idyll, Nanny Barnes hobnobbed with the likes of Raquel Welch and Mick Jagger—and the atmosphere in the nursery has apparently been strained ever since. The Sunday Express quoted a "close friend of the royal family" as saying, "Princess Diana does not expect the people she employs—including her nanny—to socialize with her circle of friends. Some might even say she is snobbish about it." Another chum, according to the Mail on Sunday, reported that Baba had to refer her problems with the children to Diana, who would then resolve the dispute and sometimes side against Barnes.

Although nannyhood may be in its infancy here in the colonies, nannies have been fixtures in wealthy British families for centuries and have played a formidable role in the lives of some of England's most illustrious citizens. Prince Albert, Duke of York, later King George VI and father of the current Queen Elizabeth, was entrusted to a nanny whose ministrations were casual at best. The small Prince was often given his afternoon bottle while bouncing in a C-spring Victoria, an experience that has been likened to a rough Channel crossing. As a result he developed chronic stomach trouble that plagued him all his life. Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India from 1898 to 1905, suffered far worse at the hands of one Miss Paraman. "She beat us with her brushes, tied us up for long hours...and shut us up in darkness," he wrote in his autobiography. "I suppose no children well-born and well-placed ever cried so much or so justly."

Others, happily, fared much better. Winston Churchill's early years were filled with security and affection thanks to his nanny, called Mrs. Everest by most people and "Woomany" by Winston. Even when Churchill was a teenager, she still wrote him lovingly, "Winny dear, do try to keep the new suit expressly for visiting. Please do this to please me." Robert Louis Stevenson's nanny, Alison "Cunny" Cunningham, seems the most inspirational of all. "My second Mother, my first Wife,/ The angel of my infant life," he wrote of her in his dedication to A Child's Garden of Verses.

So far no one has ventured to guess what effect the beloved Baba's departure could have on Wills(Harry is presumably too young to care). Naturally, Nanny Barnes will stay on until a suitable replacement is found; the job could go to Olga Powell, 60, currently deputy nanny. Otherwise the POWs may approach one of the 5,000 yearly graduates of England's prestigious National Nursery Examination Board, a two-year course given at 166 schools. The top grads earn up to $250 a week, or several thousand dollars a year more than Baba, and also get room, board, a car and a telly. If money is a problem, of course, Charles and Di could always advertise: "WANTED: Full-time nanny to care for two royal terrors. Long hours. Short pay." They probably wouldn't want to add that, despite an often-broken contract that bars divulging royal household secrets, the book opportunities are exceptional.

—Written by Bonnie Johnson from London Bureau reporting

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