Ah! There's the Rub
Enter Sarah Key, a physiotherapist who is determined to prove that no one need knife the Prince in the back. Key, 41, has been rubbing Charles the right way for three years and believes her client will soon be, if not back in the saddle, at least able to keep his appointments. "He's almost there," says the minister to the royal back, who claims as clients unnamed "earls and members of Parliament." Key says that she first came to Charles's attention "by word of mouth" in 1988, and that since his latest pains flared up she has kept an "intensive" therapy schedule at Highgrove, the Waleses' country house.
She won't give specifics of Charles's course of treatment, save for manipulating his spine with her thumbs and helping him stretch. Not surprisingly, her hands-on attention to the 42-year-old Prince has set British tabloid tongues wagging. They quoted from her book Back in Action that one excellent treatment for back pain is "a little gentle sex. It's about the best thing." Nor did it help that Key tended to Charles's arm in Scotland and France, when he was without Princess Diana.
Key, of course, says the tie between therapist and patient is strictly medical. "I'm constantly battling against being thought of as the 'bimbo that did Prince Charles's back,' " she says. Perhaps he has had to pay for her frustrations. "The gradient I was pushing him up with his arm was so steep," she says, "that I was inventing stuff to keep the progress swift."
Key herself had an uphill climb toward the circles of the rich and titled. Born in Melbourne, Australia, she spent her early childhood in Hobart, Tasmania, where her father, John, was a cray fisherman. It was her mother Josephine's neck pains and her subsequent osteopathic treatment that first piqued the 13-year-old Sarah's interest in therapy. After training at the New South Wales School of Physiotherapy in Sydney, Key moved to London "to set live a murmur inside." she says. In 1976, at age 26 and with little money, she opened her own clinic off Harley Street and became, she claims, "the darling of the aristocracy." And also of a man whom she did not many but with whom she had Jemima, 10, and Harry, 8.
In 1985 Key married Australian lawyer Russell Keddie, 40, and three months later she moved back to her homeland. Now she keeps a flat in London, which she visits about once a year (more often when called by special patients). She lives in a $2 million, 88-year-old Georgian-style house overlooking Sydney Harbour with her older kids and a daughter, Scarlett, 2.
Key has so much confidence in Charles's recovery that she just took a 10-day holiday in Tuscany. She credits the Prince's spirit as much as her own handiwork: "He really commits himself to a goal. It's a quality I was quite humbled by."
TERRY SMITH and MARGARET WRIGHT in London