A Tender Hug, a Sneaked Photo, and Prince Charles Gets a Bad Press

updated 09/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

For readers of Britain's tabloid the Sun, the bald spot and bandaged right arm (injured in a polo accident) were unmistakably familiar—even if fuzzily photographed from a snoop's perch a great distance away. But what Prince Charles, 41, was alleged to be doing while vacationing poolside in Majorca had never been seen by the public before. He was locked, the Sun said, in a "lingering, warm embrace" with Penny Romsey, 36, an "old flame" and wife of his good friend and cousin Lord Romsey, 42. Added the Sun: "The gorgeous blonde...nuzzled his neck and put her right hand on his left shoulder."

The paper's palace coup, so to speak, angered the royal family and sparked a bitter bloodletting on Fleet Street. The picture was temporarily withdrawn from distribution by a Spanish photo agency when the Romseys put forth an official explanation. The embrace, the contrite Sun now reported, was a "long and comforting" one by "caring Charles" in response to terrible news—he had just been told that the Romseys' daughter Leonora, 4, had cancer.

Scooped the day before, two rival tabs, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail, turned on their competitor. Lord Romsey was said to be but yards away from the embrace, deliberately cut out of the photo. "There is no pit so deep that the Sun cannot touch bottom," the Mail's front-page commentary bristled. "The Sun is the Saddam Hussein of journalism...mad, bad and dangerous. The world will be a better and cleaner place if they are both put down." The Sun apologized for "innuendos which were false," but according to the Mirror, Lord Romsey may still decide to punish the Sun in court. While the charges flew, some royalty watchers were agreed, in private at least, that if the Sun had leapt to the wrong conclusion, it was partly due to the chill that has settled on the Waleses' ever-scrutinized marriage. The Prince, it seems, can do no right.

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