A No-Nonsense Nanny Strolls into Charles and Di's Nursery

updated 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

If a little prince with a permissive nanny can get bumptious on occasion, a regal rapscallion without any nanny could fast become a royal pain. Nonetheless picking the right nanny is so important that it took six weeks for the Waleses, that nice couple upstairs in Kensington Palace, to change the royal nursery guard. In January, Barbara Barnes, the only nanny the Wales kids had known, moved on; earlier this month, Nanny No. 2, Ruth Wallace, who had been summoned to fill in, took official charge of rascally Prince William and the more docile Harry. Charles and Di presumably had a full dossier on the new appointee, but the British press was caught napping. The papers initially described her as blond, brunet, age 30, mid-30ish and 40 and spelled her name Wallis. But she hardly came from nowhere, nanny-wise. For years a children's nurse in a hospital, she left in 1980 and has since cared for the offspring of ex-King Constantine of Greece and those of the flamboyant Princess Michael of Kent. Says an aide to the latter: "Ruth is a sensible, very capable woman who always made sure the children were well turned out."

Apparently Charles was in the market for a sterner nanny than Barnes, who since leaving has loyally refused to discuss writing a book, which would fetch a lot more than a nanny's wages: Wallace, like Barnes, will get $700 a year for a six-day week and live in a bed-sitting-room on the attic floor. The perks, however, go beyond the usual fringe: She gets free meals and the best medical care, use of a royal car for shopping, a box seat at Covent Garden and free tee-off privileges at the Balmoral links. A housekeeper who has worked with Wallace thinks she is ideal for the job. "Ruth is a warm and understanding person," she says, "who can be firm when necessary." Perhaps, at the age of 4, Wills has met his match.

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