Let's get the question of the language used on the tape out of the way first. This doesn't particularly shock me, though I know lots of people who find it rather unkingly. Some (male) commentators have tried to excuse his references to Tampax as public school humour of a lavatorial kind. To me it sounds straight out of a Jilly Cooper novel - say Polo - stripped of the author's ready humour. I've had some exposure to the hunting and shooting county set and this is exactly how I would expect people who spend large amounts of time bouncing around on the backs of large horses to speak when they are engaged in pillow talk.
No, the shock of the tape lies in the simple fact that Charles is so comprehensively in love with another woman that you wonder why on earth he married Diana. Camilla Parker Bowles was no brief flash of passion but a long-standing affair. The royal marriage now looks as if it was doomed from day one.
When the recording was made, the royal couple's children were just seven and five. Put yourself in the Princess of Wales's gilded shoes. A young mother with small children is vulnerable, let alone when she has married into such a peculiarly hostile family. Yet there is your husband on a new year's eve, not by your side, perhaps in a quite separate part of the country, pining for his mistress in the small hours and hoping to phone her in the morning when he wakes.
Moreover, this is an open secret shared with friends who have been providing meeting places and support, probably for years. Diana was expected to mingle with them at semi-royal social occasions. The tape doesn't say it, but who is now to doubt that Mrs Parker Bowles hosted dinners for Charles at Highgrove - the country home of the royal couple.
Presumably, Diana at the time was safely out of the way in London delivering her small sons to their (then) day schools. This is surely conduct by a husband that belittles both his wife and his children. Personally I can understand why the Princess of Wales then resorted to such desperate behaviour. Can she be blamed for endorsing the true story of her sham marriage?
The behaviour of the Prince of Wales is even sadder when you consider how, on selective occasions, he can be a sensitive, thoughtful man who likes to talk to his organically grown flowers and vegetables. I for one welcome his concern for the national architectural heritage: every time I go to the National Gallery I am thankful he saved us from an ugly carbuncle of an extension.
It seems tragic that this sensitivity deserted him on the most critical matter: his ill-starred marriage. He was the senior partner by a mile. He chose a 19-year- old ingenue, a girl obviously - at that stage - not his equal. Instead of helping her to adapt, he seems on the evidence to have used her to bear his heirs and then to have trapped her in a loveless golden cage.
To those who say that members of the Royal Family, especially Princes of Wales, have always behaved with sexual licence, there is only one reply. This is 1993. We used to hang people in public, and send children down mines and up chimneys. Nowadays men and women are equal; modern marriages have to evolve as partnerships or they are nothing. Who can blame Diana for asserting herself?
So where does it all leave us? Prince Charles can, of course, still become king. This is the point of hereditary titles: you are born to them, they are not offices for which you are selected on merit. A sensible monarch knows that in a democracy this privilege has to be supplemented by good works, by an exemplary life. Those who wish Charles to come to the throne just have to hope that many years will have passed before the nation has to suffer the strains of 'God Save our Gracious King, Long live our noble king . . .'.
As for Diana, she needs a divorce as soon as one can be decently arranged. Why should she remain alone? She has been placed in a terrible position. She has adapted amazingly from being a nave, high-born nursery school helper to an international superstar with a heart.
There are those who say she has become in the process a publicity-craving monster. But it is clear she has been greatly provoked. It is perfectly possible she could transform herself once again, given space and privacy - and perhaps a second marriage, with a new husband and several new children - into a contented, mature woman. I hope for her sake that there can be a fairytale ending, and she manages somehow to live happily ever after.Reuse content