July 20, 1992 12:00 PM

FOR FIVE LONG WEEKS, SINCE THE PUBLICATION OF BRITISH journalist Andrew Morton’s Diana: Her True Story (excerpted in PEOPLE, June 22), Buckingham Palace spin-meisters had been pondering ways to salvage Prince Charles’s tarnished image. Wracked by the accusations that his indifference, indiscretions and general chilliness led his wife to bulimia and even attempted suicide, the good Prince has suffered a royal battering in the press, on talk shows and over Britain’s back fences. What’s more, the idea that Diana had permitted or even encouraged her friends to talk in order to generate sympathy for herself made the affair a sticky wicket indeed. Was Charles so little in command of the unstable situation that he should be removed from the succession to the throne?

But the Prince, it turns out, has calculatingly indiscreet chums of his own. Suddenly to his defense sprang royal biographer Penny Junor, telling all who’ll listen that Diana may indeed be bonkers but that it isn’t Charles who made her so. “I think she is in a very unbalanced state of mind, which is characteristic of bulimia,” says Junor. The Prince’s compassion, she adds, “wears a little thin. He’s been abused by her for 11 years. Shouted at. Blamed. She’s been cold as well. There’s a limit to how long you can be long-suffering.”

And how does she know? Junor told PEOPLE that after expressing empathy for Charles in a radio interview during the early rounds of the Morton brouhaha, she was “approached” by “extremely close friends” of the Prince’s who told her, “Thank you very much and keep it up. Please do more.”

And she did. In a detailed piece for Britain’s Today newspaper, Junor opined that while she doesn’t doubt that Morton had scribbled down exactly what Diana’s friends had spilled, “No one has asked whether Diana is actually speaking the truth, or whether her mind is in such turmoil that the truth has become distorted.”

Junor went on to write that Diana’s reported bulimia had been caused by a “disturbed childhood…sparked by the uncertainty and anxiety in her life during the engagement.” As for Charles’s relationship with longtime confidante Camilla Parker Bowles, it “has saved his sanity throughout these 11 years,” says Junor. “He is not a man who has lots of people he can go and talk to.”

Junor, 42, the daughter of blustery conservative columnist Sir John Junor, is the wife of businessman James Leith and mother of four children. In the first of her four books about the royal family, Diana, Princess of Wales, she wrote, in 1982, “Anyone else who had come through the childhood that [Diana] has experienced might have gone off the rails long ago.” Now, she clearly suggests, that time has come.

Though Junor insists that she’s simply helping to right “a grave injustice” to Charles, more detached observers say that if the Palace is indeed behind Junor’s observations, this blame-it-on-bulimia scenario could be used to explain either a forthcoming paper reconciliation or a dignified formal separation. Were unseemly things said? Chalk it up to temporary craziness.

For now, though, British subjects far and wide are suddenly walking on eggs around their beleaguered prospective King and Queen. Jaws dropped during an engagement of Diana’s in Northern Ireland when the band struck up the theme from M*A*S*H, suggesting its inappropriate lyric “Suicide is painless/ It brings on many changes….” Asked about the selection later, Royal Anglian Regiment bandmaster Tim Parkinson gasped, “Oh, my God! What a fool! I chose it because it is a nice tune. I hope she wasn’t offended.”

LOUISE LAGUE

TERRY SMITH in London

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