Revealed] The Charles of my dreams

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The Independent Online
PERSONALLY I blame the handbag. The present troubles of our beloved Royal Family date from the point when the handbag, rather than the orb and sceptre, became the symbol of the monarch's state.

Whose idea was it to show us those family snaps of the majesty of monarchy kitted out in a beige cardigan with a nice box-pleat skirt from Debenhams? What gave the palace mandarins the idea that what we wanted to believe in was a people's queen, who wore diamonds out of duty but, in the privacy of her palace, kicked off her slingbacks and watched Coronation Street?

Then there was her family, apparently desperate not to seem grand: a son who talked to geraniums and collected lavatory seats, and a daughter who bought her underwear at Marks &Spencer and publicly expressed the desire to be a long-distance lorry driver.

But it was the handbag that summed it all up; the sight of that functional pouch, bobbing beside the majestic elbow, that sent us the wrong image of who the Royal Family were - just like us. An example of family unity, respectability and dullness. Members of the English aristocracy would say, in a tone of distant pity: 'The trouble with the Royal Family is, they're so middle-class] So bourgeois]'

So compelling was the bourgeois myth that Charles and Diana's butler told the journalist James Whitaker, author of Diana v Charles, in just the same tone of condescension, that he had to leave because they were so boring and never gave proper dinner parties.

Now it turns out - courtesy of Andrew Morton and Mr Whitaker, not to mention Nigel Dempster's revelations this week - that it was all a sham. Behind the facade of suburban tediousness, our royals were embroiled in a saga that Barbara Cartland's honeyed pen could not begin to describe and even Jilly Cooper might fail to capture. It needs a Lord Chesterfield or a Lord Hervey or a Marquise de Sevigne. Every traditional court figure is here, including the court jester - the Duchess of York with an aeroplane sick-bag over her head, imitating a telephone.

Mr Dempster has danced with a girl who danced with Prince Andrew years ago and she said he said: 'I'm good, but my brother tries to live up to Warren Beatty's reputation.'

Why were we never told? Did the palace press office imagine that comparing the Prince of Wales to Warren Beatty would damage tourism? Here was their chance to double turnover, missed because of their obsession with presenting the Royal Family as a Horlicks advert.

What was really going on in the heathery background to the barbecue set as Their Highnesses washed up? Why, a version of droit de seigneur, a very Mozart opera. 'However badly Sir may treat you afterwards, it's a kind of pact - you know that the royal psychology is based on the notion of rule, right? You only get what you deserve,' another dance partner of Prince Charles has told Mr Dempster. It is a royal tradition, handed down from Henry VIII and Charles II.

There used to be no coyness about this kind of approach. In the Carolean court, the prince's old flames would be hanging down the palace staircase, immortalised by Lely, instead of speeding out of back entrances dodging cameras. A family like the Parker Bowleses - the wife a confidante of the royal heir, the Silver Stick-in-Waiting husband a former bachelor boyfriend of the unmarried Princess Anne, according to Mr Dempster - could have expected a viscountcy, at the very least, and a large estate to hunt over.

The royals must now pull themselves together. It is useless for them to continue with their damaging pretence of utter dullness and family unity. From the various accounts, it is now clear that hardly a day goes by in a palace without the Princess of Wales either throwing herself downstairs or pushing someone else down them. No week is complete without an ancient and angry major turning up to defend his daughter's honour. It is hopeless for Prince Beatty, as he must now be known, to continue to attempt to confuse the public and listening security services by asking his girlfriends, at the most intimate moments (Mr Dempster is the authority here again), to call him Arthur.

Their attempts at respectability have only laid them open to a lot of tut-tutting by the likes of Mr Whitaker, the Man who Knows the Royals. 'The Church,' he reports, 'is no longer looking to the Royal Family to provide either a religious or moral lead to the country.'

There is only one way out if the monarchy is to survive into the 21st century. Our royal superiors are more like us than we had ever supposed. They are full of scandal, trauma, rifts. But they have more opportunity than most of us because they have more opulence. They must now publicly admit that they are interesting.

Opening Buckingham Palace to tourists is a good step, but it is not enough. The monarchy must be privatised. Its entire running expenses, trains, Aston Martins, royal jets and all will be subsidised - almost certainly by Rupert Murdoch's group, but possibly by the Japanese - in return for exclusive rights to phone conversations and recordings from video cameras throughout the royal residences. Her Majesty may stop pretending to be humble now: one may give away one's barbie and ask one's footmen to unpack the gold plate.

There are signs that subconsciously even she is realising that it is pointless to continue the sham. Last week, at a centenary celebration at the Commonwealth Institute, that became clear. Her Majesty rummaged desperately for her glasses. And the whole country learnt that the handbag was, as it always has been, an empty shell.

Sandra Barwick was highly commended as a columnist in the British Press Awards, which were announced this week.

(Photograph omitted)