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A New Peek at Two Princesses Provides Royal Watchers Some Relief from the Blahs

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The regal Di has muted her eye-catching clotheshorse image. Charles is consulting with urban planners instead of his plants. Fergie and her once-randy Andy are no longer the do-no-wrong newlyweds. And even young Edward is” showing signs of (egad!) premature baldness.

In short, the past few months have been something of a dud for frustrated royal watchers, as the fairy-tale lives of Britain’s premier blue bloods seemed to sink into the mundane. What the lackluster scene needed was an infusion of the new. And on Easter weekend, that’s just what it got: a stunning new casual look from Di, fresh glimpses at her children and, rarest of all, the first peek in months at the Littlest Princess, the Duke and Duchess of York’s daughter, Beatrice.

There has been hardly a sighting of the baby since her christening last December: no photos of Bea bouncing on the Queen’s knee at Buckingham Palace or crawling round the temporary royal digs at Castlewood. So deep was the dearth of Baby Bea material that one enterprising London tabloid resorted to commissioning an artist’s rendering of what the infant Yorklet might look like.

Finally, during a hospital dedication by the Duchess of York in Manchester last month, one onlooker in the crowd popped the question. “When are we going to see a picture of Princess Beatrice?” called out the well-wisher. “I shall talk to Andrew about it and see what we can do,” replied Fergie. “But it has to be just right.”

And who better to make sure of that than the proud papa himself? Proving that he’s not entirely immune to public pressure, Andrew, a longtime camera buff, picked up his trusty Hasselblad and posed Mom and the now 8-month old baby in a Buckingham Palace bedroom.

The photo, released in time for the Easter Sunday papers, drew mostly favorable reviews. “Big and Beautiful!” bannered England’s Sunday People. “[The portrait’s] very good,” declared News of the World photo editor Frank Hart. “I’d give Prince Andrew a job any day.”

London’s Mail on Sunday wasn’t nearly as gushy. Evoking past criticism of Andrew’s photographic attempts, the paper said his latest effort is “unlikely to reverse the trend. [It’s] a family-album snap like thousands that will be taken this Easter weekend—and not a terribly good one at that”

“Prince Andrew really should stick to piloting a helicopter,” sniped Mail photo editor Gary Woodhouse. “His photography is the work of a somewhat artistically barren amateur.”

Used to drubbings like that it’s little wonder that Andrew and Fergie have shied away from showing off their little princess to the world. After a short-lived honeymoon with the press that ended not long after their 1986 marriage, Andy and Fergie have been roundly chided by critics, especially during their six-week trip to Australia last fall, when the couple left Bea at home with the help. That particular teapot tempest was rubbish, says one family member. “It hasn’t affected Beatrice at all. She was far too young to suffer [from it]. Andrew is as besotted with the baby as is Sarah, but he is determined Bea should be private.”

The other royals, of course, don’t have that luxury. While the new official portrait of a dressed-down Di, shot by fashion photographer David Bailey, was being unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery, dirty laundry was being fabricated on Fleet Street Reports circulated, in the words of one tab, of Di’s “secret dates” with “her dashing army friend David Waterhouse.” In reality, Waterhouse is a family-approved escort for the princess on private social occasions, and her behavior has been strictly aboveboard.

But the palace can’t do much to explain away the obvious separateness of Charles and Di’s private lives. Photos of a loving royal couple are now few and far between. More typical was the take from the family’s Easter weekend at Windsor Castle, where the paparazzi caught Charles—minus Di—pensively sketching the Thames. When younger brother Edward popped by for a look, the paparazzi caught their bald spots. “The sight of her husband and Prince Edward showing off identical, spreading bald patches must be enough to make Diana wince,” jeered one tabloid.

While Charles and Diana’s romance is settling into a marital “arrangement,” Andrew and Fergie’s seems to be thriving. “Quite often the two are on their own with Beatrice,” says one intimate, “particularly on weekends when the nanny is given a couple of days off.” From all reports, the blue-eyed Bea has been a beatific bundle, a happy and alert tyke who has slept through the night almost since birth, sat up unaided at 5½ months and is now “within a few days of crawling,” says the friend.

Even if she does tap-dancing pirouettes, of course, little Beatrice won’t ever entirely steal the royal family thunder. On the day the portrait was released, cousins William and Harry showed up for Easter service at St. George’s Chapel. Dressed in a navy blazer and long formal trousers, Prince William, 6, watched as brother Harry, 4, and Grandma hopped into a limo after church for the trip back to Windsor Castle. Reinforcing his reputation as a tiny terror, Wills pointed his finger like a gun at the limo and “shot” its passengers. Then, according to observers, the little John Wayne grinned and hitched up his pants.

—Susan Schindehette, and the London bureau