It must have seemed like a great idea to someone, perhaps to the Princess herself, who has a well-known taste for glitter. Why not have Charles and Diana swoop into Cannes for the annual film festival? Why not let them host the dinner for Sir Alec Guinness and tour the British Pavilion? It couldn’t help but enhance the image of the British film industry. It might even be fun.
Why not, indeed. What the palace brain trust hadn’t taken into account was the, well, low nature of the occasion. During festival time 40,000 extras turn Cannes into a seething behavioral sink. The small Riviera resort is overrun by paparazzi moving in packs like homeless dogs, by Hollywood types enarmored of gold chains and ironclad contracts, by starlets who give new meaning to the words “naked ambition.” The Cannes Film Festival is an unlikely place for a Lady, much less for a Princess.
“I don’t see how she can walk without at least a hint of movement in her upper body,” said an onlooker, as she watched Diana mount the Festival Hall stairs. “She couldn’t have been that stiff when she taught school.”
“Why is she so timid?” grumbled a disappointed French photographer. A few minutes earlier the same man had been part of the throng vying to shoot a young woman in a blazer that was much like Diana’s, except that she had no dress on beneath it.
The Princess was clearly out of her element, and that fact was not lost on the London press. “Frankly,” wrote the Daily Express, “the Royals are just not glitterati. Diana looked bored. Charles looked detached.” And at least one British filmmaker looked more put out than pleased by their ostensible effort to boost the industry. At the press conference following the screening of his new movie, The Whales of August, director Lindsay Anderson shouted at the people who wanted to hear only about Charles and Diana. “We have just seen a film. This is a conference to discuss that film. Anyone who is interested in the film say so. Anyone who isn’t, could you get out of here quickly?”
Curiosity about the royal couple was inevitable, though, for anyone who’s been following their most recent comings and goings in the British press. Charles, it seems, had spent the time before the festival on a small, rustic island in the Outer Hebrides digging ditches, planting potatoes and mending walls with the common folk. Was he just getting back to nature or away from Di? The tabloids hinted darkly that the marriage was in trouble. And now it was rumored, Diana’s hopes of spending the weekend soaking up sun had been thwarted when Charles insisted on jetting back to London after a mere 10 hours on the Riviera so that he could play polo the next day.
The palace spokesman who was left to explain Charles’s Hebrides jaunt said the Prince has a “great love for lonely, desolate places,” adding that “he recently returned from the Kalahari Desert, where he found peace of mind.” Some of the press chose to poke fun at Charles’s purported taste for primitivism with such headlines as “Prince of Spuds” and “A Loon Again.” Only Christopher Booker, writing in the Daily Mail, seemed willing to concede that prefering mulch to movie stars makes a certain amount of sense. “We may well ask,” he wrote, “which is really a saner aspect of human existence—mixing with [the crowd] in Cannes—or taking three days off to catch prawns and live simply in the Hebrides.” We may, indeed.