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But Will They Live Happily Ever After?

Wed., Aug. 28, 1996

There’s her face again in the papers. Blond puffy hair. Big white toothy smile. You get kind of sick of it after a while.

Not Diana’s picture. Camilla’s.

The marriage that the media somberly assured us was straight out of a fairy tale, the one between Diana and Charles, is expected to officially end today with a sad little bureaucratic ceremony in a London divorce-court building.

And the British, who love soap operas, are handling it remarkably well by getting themselves all geared up for the next scene - the one in which the future king of England either marries his old flame Camilla Parker Bowles or forswears her in the interest of God and country and duty to the monarchy, blah blah.

Back to Charles and Diana for just a moment. By now, you’ve got all the “key dates,” as the British Press Association calls them, practically fixed in your brains: July 29, 1981, they marry; June 21, 1982, the heir, Prince William, is born; Sept. 15, 1984, Prince Harry, the spare, is born; sometime in the ‘80s, Charles has an affair with Camilla, and Diana has an affair with riding instructor James Hewitt, as well as several nervous breakdowns during which she throws up a lot; 1992, Charles and Diana separate; February, 1996, Diana agrees to a divorce; July, 1996, Charles and Diana - who gets a reported $20 million-plus - receive a preliminary divorce decree.

Throw in a few choice buzzwords - bulimia, suicide attempts, Squidgy, tampon - and it looks a lot less like a fairy tale than “As the World Turns.”

At least it will end quietly enough: Today, in the Somerset House court building where London’s divorces are granted, a filled-out divorce form will arrive along with a couple of attorneys and one zillion British reporters. A clerk will look the form over; a $30 fee will be paid; the form will be stamped. That’s it: 15 years of the world’s most ballyhooed royal marriage down the loo.

Charles will spend the day on holiday in Balmoral with the queen and the boys. Diana, whose future role remains uncertain, is expected to be in London for a charity gig.

And you can be fairly certain that the low-profile Camilla won’t set foot anywhere near a camera lens. The paparazzi are really lusting for her now. On Sunday, the News of the World had a picture of her and Charles, about 20 feet apart, outside a favorite country hideaway. (Other papers suggested on Monday that the photo was actually a setup and part of her public coming-out process.)

Tuesday, the Sun treated us all to a special poll on its Great Royal Divorce Debate Hotline: 47,033 Sun readers, or 85 percent, told Charles not to marry Camilla. “Bed her … don’t wed her,” the headline screamed.

It makes you wonder: Are the royals weirder these days, or is the modern British public simply getting the tabloid-sensationalized monarchy it wants and deserves?

Probably the latter. No king has been chopping off wives’ heads or abdicating for love for awhile. But this year, for the first time in the history of the British royal family, a closeup of a princess’ thigh cellulite - Diana’s - was splashed across a tab’s front page.

For its part, the inner royal family, sans Diana, with the impeccable Queen Elizabeth II at its helm, has been holding its head high throughout the divorce scandal - rather like a proud hostess who ignores the stink coming from her trash bin.

Brilliantly, the Windsor clan leaked reports of its plans for a thoughtful overhaul of the monarchy - just days before the last gasp of Charles and Diana’s marriage.

Under the tentative plan, reported by several British newspapers, the monarchy’s “civil list” would be streamlined so that fewer royal relatives would be dependent on the public till. The heir to the throne would no longer be barred from marrying a Roman Catholic, and for the first time, a princess - a girl! - could inherit the crown, assuming that she was the first-born.

For a while at least, news of the overhaul has overshadowed the impending divorce. “The House of Windsor, from its non-German renaming to its emergence into the television lights, has proved itself more foresighted than most,” rhapsodized an editorial in the Times of London, sounding as if it were writing about a family in which the biggest scandal was a dropped fork.

But today, the screaming headlines will be back. And the British public may find that it truly mourns the loss of the mismatched couple who made such a great whole: Charles the somber and responsible king-to-be and dutiful son; Diana the emotional, at times loony princess who touched hearts by shaking the hands of hospital patients with AIDS. The marriage is dead; long live the dream.

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