There must have been more than a few who suddenly stiffened at the opening words of the Bishop of London, Right Reverend Dr Richard Chartres, when he took the pulpit to address the congregation gathered in the Guard’s Chapel near Buckingham Palace, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death.
For several long moments he stood there, his head bowed in silence, before he looked up and asked a simple direct question.
Again he paused, uncomfortably long for several members of the royal family and invited guests to ask themselves if he could possibly be talking about them. They would have wiped the metaphorical sweat from their brow and breathed a sigh of relief as the Bishop continued.
“Those were the words of Princess Diana to a pair of elderly inmates playing a game of Beggar My Neighbour’ at an old folk’s home which she was visiting. How they all laughed.”
His question was not a challenge to the morals of the congregation, but merely a reminder of the natural fun and spontaneity of the princess and her intuitive rapport with members of the public, which he went on to eulogize. But still, his first stark question seemed to linger in the air like a bad smell, stronger than the perfume of the profusion of English roses that decked the chapel.
“Who’s cheating?” Who’s playing around? Who’s being unfaithful to their wedding vows? Who’s having an extra-marital affair? Who is committing adultery?
Many eyes may have shifted for a moment from the pontificating priest in the pulpit to ponder uncomfortably on the backs of the heads of three of the most important guests in the front pew Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh, and their son, the Prince of Wales. How had the question affected them?
At least Elizabeth could not accuse herself, her fidelity unquestioned, (or was there more to her close relationship with Lord Porchester in the fifties and sixties than a shared passion for racing, and Prince Andrew the result?); but she may have reflected sadly on her role as a world-famous cuckquean, cheated on countless times in the past by the sour-faced old man sitting next to her, the man she used to call “my viking prince”.
Apart from a long term affair with the Queen’s cousin, Princess Alexandra, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was a well-known womaniser in his hey-day, with a string of affairs with polo wives, duchesses, countesses, and several famous actresses, including, it is alleged, Jane Russell, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Shirley MacLaine. Yet this was the man who wrote to his daughter-in-law Diana calling her a “harlot and a trollop”, telling her that she should put up with his son’s long running affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.
Yes, to the lugubrious-faced son, sitting next to the Duke on the front pew at the service in memory of his ex-wife, the question, “Who’s cheating?” must have rung most accusingly. If he had abandoned mistress Camilla after the fairy-tale wedding to his adoring virgin bride Diana, and remained faithful to her alone, then there would have been none of the scandalous mire of events that led Diana to her conducting her own extra-marital affairs, most notably with red-haired cavalry officer James Hewitt (rumoured to be Prince Harry’s real father), and eventually to her tragic untimely death in the Paris car crash with her latest amour, Harrod’s heir Dodi al-Fayed.
But Charles admitted in a television interview in 1994 that he had never loved Diana, and that during the marriage he had been carrying on an affair with Mrs Parker Bowles, who he had originally met at a polo match may years before.
“There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” a teary eyed Diana explained for the break up with Charles in her own retaliatory TV interview.
The place next to Charles on the front pew at the memorial service was conspicuously empty. His now wife, Her Royal Majesty, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, although invited by her stepsons, had decided it more appropriate that she not attend, saying that she feared her presence would detract from what should be a celebration of Diana’s life. Instead, the woman whom Diana called “the Rottweiler” watched the service on television alone at her country home. Next week she plans to jet off without her husband for a holiday in the Meditteranean with a small group of girlfriends.
Camilla had originally intended to be there at her husband’s side, and is said to be furious at having been pressured by royal aides to decline, but perhaps it’s just as well she wasn’t.
Although a strong-minded woman, perhaps she too might have quailed and trembled at the Bishop of London’s sudden question from the pulpit. An accusation from beyond the grave from the ex-wife of the man she had secretly committed adultery with, and caused such pain and misery:
MICHAEL DICKINSON, whose artwork graces the covers of Dime’s Worth of Difference, Serpents in the Garden and Grand Theft Pentagon, lives in Istanbul. He can be contacted via his website http://yabanji.tripod.com/ or at email@example.com