The Royal Separation: The show goes on for Royal Industries plc: Tim Kelsey joins the commoners gathered at the gates of Buckingham Palace

'PRINCESSES are supposed to live happily ever after, aren't they, mum?' Chloe asked. 'Well, perhaps she will. But I must say,' her mother wondered aloud, 'this all seems a bit as if this was the princess who kissed the prince who turned into a frog.'

It was shortly after John Major had told the Commons that the Waleses were to separate and a group had gathered outside Buckingham Palace.

There was no hint of turbulence on the other side of the black-and-gold railings. Carol and Chloe watched the Grenadier Guardsmen step from their sentry-boxes and march up and down. There were some unusual sights: powerful television spotlights had been erected on the north side of the Palace.

But otherwise all was normal. Royal Industries plc has weathered worse storms. Further along the railings Georgia Elrod, an American psychologist, was standing staring at the Palace. 'Oh God, no, yes, of course I know them. It's such a shame, you always want someone to be happy and successful. I mean the whole thing is so romantic.'

Miss Elrod had made a visit to Buckingham Palace her first priority on coming to London. While she spoke, a Dutch tourist strolled over, a local government worker. He was less enthralled and more level-headed. 'I think it's obviously realistic. If they don't get on they shouldn't stay married.'

Both blamed the press. 'You know,' the Dutchman said, 'here the media is so intrusive. In Holland we treat them (the monarchy) as private people.'

Both were confident that the British monarchy would survive. A few scandals, two or three separations, none of this would stop the Guards swivelling in perfect order along the front of the Palace.

'They call it a scandal,' Miss Elrod said. 'But I mean this happens all the time to ordinary people. Besides, I'm sure that there will always be the Changing of the Guard.'

Near by, a group of 18-year-old history students, on a day trip to London, were discussing the ramifications of the Prime Minister's announcement. 'I reckon they should wait until William gets older and make him king,' one said. 'There's no one else respectable enough.' But the monarchy must go on. 'Oh, come on, this is a symbol of what Britain was. It reminds us of our heyday.' Strange though to find a bunch of students hanging around the rails on a freezing Wednesday afternoon. 'We just wanted to come, you know.'

Further down the railings, Carol noticed a red Austin Metro grinding up the pink gravel on its way to the gate. An Italian bystander expressed his suprise at not seeing a Rolls-Royce. Carol glanced round: 'Oh no, things have changed. They've got to be more careful with their money than they used to be, they pay tax now.'