By Andrea Chambers
May 20, 1985 12:00 PM

The two most famous couples in the world recently descended on Europe within days of each other, and the lessons they learned might be of help to summer travelers abroad. Rule Number One: If you are Prince Charles and Princess Diana, don’t worry about anything—you’ll eventually charm an entire country, particularly if it’s Italy. Rule Number Two: If you’re President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy, why not settle for a nice trip to California?

Prince Charles and Princess Di, of course, were enjoying a vacation voyage spiced with ceremonial pomp, while President and Mrs. Reagan faced a working trip freighted with political danger. Their styles were as different as their purposes, but there was little question about which trip was the more successful. For days after the Reagans stepped onto the rain-soaked airport’s red carpet in West Germany for a state visit and to attend the economic summit in Bonn, the mood was as grim as the weather. The furor over the wreath-laying ceremony in the Bit-burg cemetery cast a pall over the entire trip, which had been seven months in the planning. More demonstrations accompanied the Reagans’ subsequent arrival in Spain, where the government of Prime Minister Felipe González opposes U.S. policy in Nicaragua and wants to reduce the number of U.S. NATO troops on Spanish soil. Two more stops—in Strasbourg, France and Lisbon, Portugal—were planned before the end of the 10-day visit.

Meanwhile, that other celebrated couple was sailing on far smoother waters aboard the royal yacht, Britannia. Having just completed a triumphant 17-day tour through a dozen Italian cities, Charles and Di were enjoying a private vacation last week with their sons, William and Henry, who had been flown from London with their nanny and bodyguards to join them in Venice.

Like the Reagans’ trip, Charles and Di’s brush with la dolce vita had been plotted with stopwatch precision—in their case, with all the meticulousness that Buckingham Palace, Scotland Yard and the Italian government could muster. The Prince and his Consort and the President’s wife were even scheduled into the same highly photographed tourist spot: Vatican City, where the Royals and Mrs. Reagan enjoyed audiences with the Pope just a few days apart. But there all similarities end. In substance and style, the presidential stomp through Europe and the royal romp through Italy were as different as a drill parade and a minuet.

Reagan arrived in West Germany with 700 security guards in place, 226 American White House reporters and a personal entourage of 12, including White House physician T. Burton Smith and White House steward Eddie Serrano, whose job was to prepare as many presidential meals as possible—and to watch personally over those he couldn’t. Two bulletproof presidential limousines and other security cars were airlifted in advance from the U.S. Though guard dogs swept the Bonn airport before the President arrived, and packs of West German motorcycle police escorted his motorcade the following day, the responsibility for protecting Reagan was ultimately up to the Secret Service. Throughout the European visit airports were shut down, roads closed off for hours and local life totally disrupted wherever the President traveled.

The Royals, on the other hand, behaved on most occasions as if they were at a tea party at Balmoral. On their Italian trip they spent about half their nights on their 412-foot floating palace, lest they unduly flummox their hosts with worries about proper princely accommodations. Aboard Britannia they were attended by a crew of 22 officers and 254 royal yachtsmen (including the Royal Marine Band) and surrounded by souvenirs of previous trips, gewgaws like solid gold camel statuettes that were too ghastly to take home. On land they ate what local chefs prepared, with no need for a royal taster. Because both Charles and Di are nonmeat eaters, their advance team let be known their preference for fish or fowl. And they gladly left the family cars at home in London and rode around abroad in borrowed Lancias, Maseratis and a Rolls-Royce.

Although three policemen from Scotland Yard constantly flanked the Prince and the Princess, the major burden of security rested with the Italian police. Alas, the local carabinieri were not always up to the job. On one occasion, when luggage was being unloaded in Sardinia from the royal aircraft that flew Charles and Diana to Italy, a magazine reporter and a photographer managed to walk undeterred right up to the plane. They counted 51 pieces of baggage, including metal trunks (stamped either “Prince of Wales Office” or “The Office of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales”), cardboard boxes, jewelry cases and suitcases.

During some visits—notably to a restaurant in Rome where they met the president of the Italian senate and outspoken enemy of the Red Brigade, Francesco Cossiga—security was drum tight. In other places it was almost nonexistent. At Boys’ Town outside Rome and at that city’s All Saints (Anglican) Church, the local cops failed to erect barriers to keep the public and paparazzi in order, and the royal couple was nearly mobbed. Roofs were not always checked, and public places rarely searched before the Prince and Princess entered. Of course, the royal couple’s purpose was to meet and charm the Italian people, and with at least one group they succeeded admirably. The plainclothes police assigned to Diana were so lovesick over the Princess that they couldn’t take their eyes off her and hence presumably failed to scan the crowds properly.

Despite the casual security, the couple persevered with the help of their loyal entourage. Here, at least, Reagan and the Royals were well-matched. Charles and Diana had two physicians along; one was Dr. Michael Linnett, who attended Di during her two pregnancies—fueling rumors (denied by a Buckingham Palace aide) that the Princess was again pregnant. Also in tow were equerries, a royal baggage master, a butler, a press secretary and his assistant, three “lady clerks” from Buckingham Palace, Charles’ valet and orderly and Diana’s hairdresser, maid and three ladies-in-waiting. Part of their job was to tote around at all times a spare pair of stockings and a handkerchief for the Princess, as well as a needle and thread for emergencies.

Diana’s counterpart in the Royal Consort business, Nancy Reagan managed to effect the same, or sometimes even more striking, airs of nobility. The First Lady set off for her trip to Europe with 19 suitcases containing three umbrellas, a mink, 15 pairs of shoes, 16 handbags, six cashmere pullovers, 21 daytime dresses and 11 evening gowns, worth a total of $250,000. The future Queen of England, on the other hand, according to London newspaper guesstimates, brought a wardrobe worth only $130,000 for a lengthier tour. It must be noted, however, that the Princess gets all her clothes wholesale.

Nancy’s shining moments came during her solo trip to Rome, where the First Lady triumphed despite a few jabs in the local press, such as the cartoon that depicted her laying a wreath at the grave of Mussolini. The Italian Solidarity Center presented Nancy with its prestigious “Project Man” award for her work in drug rehabilitation. Italian President Sandro Pertini honored her at a private lunch, though the octogenarian good-naturedly griped that both Nancy and Diana were too thin and just “picked” at their food. “We Italians like a bit more flesh,” he said. Later, U.S. Ambassador Maxwell Rabb feted Mrs. Reagan at his official residence, the Villa Taverna, her headquarters in Rome. The Aga Khan gladly accepted the invitation to pay court to Mrs. Reagan, as did Sophia Loren, Gregory Peck, Federico Fellini, Gina Lollobrigida, Franco Zeffirelli, various Agnellis and members of the Italian nobility and glitterati.

But by far the highlight of Nancy’s side trip to Italy was her 25-minute private audience with the Pope. Dressed in a black Adolfo coat-dress and snappy hat, Mrs. Reagan talked with His Holiness about drug addiction. Later he greeted her personal entourage, including her hairdresser, Julius Bengtsson, and exchanged the customary presents with the First Lady. Mrs. Reagan gave John Paul II a book entitled Scribes and Sources, edited by A.S. Osley, and a crystal box with the White House and her signature etched on top. The Pope, who gets to check out his presents the night before to avoid getting more than he gives, presented Mrs. Reagan with a beige leather box containing a silver and mother-of-pearl rosary. So enthralled was Nancy by the audience that she left her gloves and purse on the Pope’s desk; a Vatican official came running out with them. The usually meticulous and fashion-conscious First Lady emerged from the Papal quarters with her black stockings bagging around her ankles—a first.

For Vatican City it had been a busy week. A few days before, Charles and Diana had passed through the doors covered with gray velvet that lead to the Pope’s private library. Naturally, what the Princess would wear for this momentous occasion dominated British press coverage, and she did not disappoint. Even the nuns, it was said, were awed by her demure beauty in a Victorian black lace dress with matching mantilla, set off by a simple strand of pearls. But the familiar smile was missing, and both Charles and Diana seemed uncharacteristically nervous.

Thirty-five minutes later—10 more than allotted for the private interview and 10 more than Mrs. Reagan would get—the couple emerged beaming. Then it was gift time. Charles presented His Holiness with an autographed photograph of himself and Diana, as well as a specially bound version of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in the 8th century by the Venerable Bede. The Pope, in turn, presented the royal couple with a mosaic depicting the Madonna, a copy of a version supposedly fashioned by St. Luke. (Prince Charles later returned to the Vatican library to have a peek at the love letters written by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, missives that in 1534 led to Henry’s determination to divorce his first wife; that, in turn, provoked the schism with Rome that created the Church of England.)

Until the Papal visit, Diana’s fashion gaffes were the news back home. She showed up for the opera at Milan’s grand La Scala in an old pink chiffon number that made her look, snorted an Italian aristocrat, “like a shopgirl.” Diana had previously worn the gown in Australia and, before that, at a Barry Manilow concert in London. From then on it was downhill. When she wore another old outfit, this one crimson, to a church in Florence, she was criticized for the color (one generally doesn’t wear red to a church in case one bumps into a cardinal). “Second-hand Rose,” jeered reporters.

Yet the Italian press—and the Italians—appeared utterly enamored of their visiting princess. They waited hours to see Diana—and, yes, Charles too—at the couple’s almost daily “walkabouts” and entertained them lavishly at palazzos, government residences and restaurants. The Royals, in turn, tried hard to please by working the room separately at dinners and receptions and occasionally trying out their phrase-book Italian. (Charles gave part of a speech in the language; Diana, reading along as he spoke, looked up at the end and beamed like a doting wife. “Well done, dear,” she said.)

The diet-minded Princess managed to bypass the world’s greatest pasta without insulting her hosts. She either decorously sampled or pretended to. During one particularly trying evening at a buffet dinner in Milan, she stoically held an untouched plate of risotto and asparagus tips. Each time the hovering waiter decided the dish had cooled, he replaced it with another. This little opéra bouffe continued through plate after plate, but Diana maintained her poise—and her trim figure.

Gustatory problems aside, the Princess seemed genuinely to enjoy the trip—and even showed a flair for surprising her audience. At the seaside resort of La Spezia, where Charles was invited to view some top-secret computerized missile equipment on the naval frigate Grecale, Diana unexpectedly asked to come along. A few days later in Florence, she again surprised the crowds—and Charles—when she spotted a souvenir shop outside a church. “Darling,” she beckoned to her husband and was soon whisking around inside, picking out a piggy bank, a jar of honey, a ceramic pot and an herbal liqueur made by monks. (The abbot graciously refused payment of the $27.50 bill.)

The idea for this grand tour had first come up during the Queen’s trip to Italy in 1980. Plans proceeded for an autumn 1984 visit, but the birth of Prince Harry intervened. Though a preliminary itinerary was drawn up long ago, the advance team did not head south until early March of this year. The couple’s press secretary, his assistant and the Queen’s flight captain, along with a representative from Scotland Yard and the commander of the Britannia, spent 14 days inspecting places the royal couple would visit.

Reagan’s staffers spent considerably more time planning his trip—with indisputably worse results. Various advance teams made five separate trips to Europe, and Deputy Chief of Staff Michael K. Deaver (who leaves the post this week) led two of them. Generally there were representatives along from the State Department, the National Security Council, the White House Press Office and, most important, the Secret Service. Every site the President would visit was scrutinized, with the Secret Service having the last word on planning. Protocol experts met with local government representatives to discuss everything from who would greet the President to the size and shape of banquet tables. “We listen to the suggestions of the host government, try to be as polite as possible, then try to go ahead and do what pleases us,” explained a White House aide. “Always there is the thought of what will photograph best, what will make the TV news in the States.”

The First Lady’s aides followed the same procedure. A separate advance team headed by James Rosebush, Mrs. Reagan’s chief of staff, scouted sites in Rome, Madrid and Lisbon in mid-March. “I’m very pushy,” Rosebush admits. “When I get to a city, I’ve already had several conversations with the ambassador about what would be appropriate for Mrs. Reagan. When I arrive, if I don’t like what is suggested, I’ve been known to drive up and down streets looking for alternatives.” In Madrid, for example, Rosebush insisted on riding through the old part of the city until he found a picturesque market with hanging sides of beef. “I decided on the spot to take her there,” he said. He also asked that schoolchildren accompany Mrs. Reagan on her visit to the Prado, since a backdrop of the Goyas alone would be unlikely to get Nancy on the evening news.

Rosebush’s other advance duties include checking out where Nancy might need a hat (only the Papal visit required one) and what clothing would be suitable against the chosen backgrounds. For example, the Schloss Augustusburg, an 18th-century castle outside Bonn where the state dinner was held, is a symphony of pastel blue, pink and white marble. “I thought she should know that,” says Rosebush. The First Lady duly wore a white evening skirt and glittery blouse.

As the Reagans proceeded on the last leg of their controversial European journey, Charles, Diana and their two sons were winding up a four-day sail to Sardinia before heading home by plane. Italy may never forget this royal visit, which was eloquently summed up by Marchese Emilio Pucci, the Italian aristocrat and fashion designer who gave a grand dinner for the royal couple in Florence. “Five hundred years ago Botticelli executed a marvelous painting of spring called Primavera, which was a sublime gift to Florence and to painting,” he said. “The Princess has brought us the same gift. She has brought us a real breath of spring.”