It is dawn at Admiralty House, the Governor-General’s sumptuous home in Sydney, Australia. The scene could just as easily be the British Ambassador’s residence in Rome, or the British Embassy in Washington or even the Oriental Bangkok hotel in Thailand. Wherever the Waleses stay, arrangements are much the same as they are this day, as the Aussies whoop it up in celebration of their Bicentennial. In the best guest room in town, Charles and Diana have been awakened by a light tap on their door, and soon are tucking away a breakfast served by Harold Brown, their own butler, whom they insisted on bringing. (It is not a unique request: On her trips the Queen Mother likes to bring along a bagpiper to stand beneath the window and waken her with a few tunes.)
Today, Diana calls home and talks to Wills and Harry, while Charles flips through the morning papers that have been flown in and looks over any late-breaking news that has been faxed from London to the Waleses’ small temporary office. The office, in an adjacent room, is equipped with word processors, a fax machine and supplies of stationery embossed with the prince’s three-plumed crest and bearing the heading, “The Royal Party on Tour.”
Elsewhere, Diana’s lady-in-waiting, Anne Beckwith-Smith, is on the phone with dresser Evelyn Dagley discussing clothes. Diana will wear three or four outfits during the day, chosen from the 40 she has packed—part of the royal couple’s two tons of luggage. Though preliminary wardrobe decisions are made weeks in advance, the weather—and, no doubt, public and press reaction to what the princess has already worn—could bring last-minute changes. Dressing for a ball in Melbourne after an outdoor appearance during the Waleses’ 1985 tour, Diana discovered that her neck was too sunburned for a glittering diamond choker. So she wore the choker as a headband instead, setting fashion watchers atwitter.
As hairdresser Richard Dalton starts work on his most famous client, her first outfit is pressed and delivered. Meanwhile, Prince Charles’s valet, Ken Stronach, removes the prince’s first suit of the day from one of several numbered and indexed upright trunks. (The valet packs two pairs of pants for each of Charles’s suits, so that the prince may appear un-creased at all times.) Dalton finishes off the royal coiffure with a double dose of hairspray in case of strong winds—Charles gets a spritz too—and once Diana is dressed, her hat is anchored to her head with two hefty hairpins. Beckwith-Smith tucks a sewing kit into her purse for emergencies as well as a spare pair of panty hose in case the princess suffers a run.
At this point, the Waleses’ private secretary, equerry and senior personal staff gather to discuss the day’s engagements with them, covering even such details as where the loos are located. (Every royal stopping place must have one; if it is custom-built for the visit, it will be razed when the Waleses depart.) Before the door of their private suite swings open, usually around 9 a.m., and the royals step out into the care of their local hosts, Charles straightens his tie, and Diana heaves a sigh.
If it’s Tuesday, this must be Bangkok. Or so it must seem to Charles and Diana, who spend up to five weeks a year on tour. Though the sun now sets early and often on the diminished British Empire, the Queen is acutely conscious of her family’s role in holding together a sort of voluntary association of former colonies. Royal tours to Commonwealth countries are considered essential in that regard. Drop-ins to other fun spots—such as the United States (1985), Italy (1985), Japan (1986) and Thailand (1988)—promote goodwill, tourism and, more importantly, British trade. Whatever the purpose, Charles and Diana are the reigning superstars of the Windsor road show.
Preparations begin months, sometimes years, in advance. Twice each year the private secretaries of members of the immediate royal family meet to discuss foreign travel. All invitations are considered—the Waleses receive about 12 a year but usually accept no more than three. Once a destination is chosen, planning starts in earnest, and nothing is left to chance. “We don’t think in terms of a margin of error,” a palace aide once said. “It’s just a matter of getting it right.”
And no small matter at that. Even before Australian Prime Minister Robert Hawke asked Queen Elizabeth two years ago if the Waleses would consider coming for the Bicentennial, he knew through the grapevine that they would likely accept. Once they did, merchants, politicians, socialites and do-gooders from all over Australia began submitting bids to Hawke’s office, explaining why the royal couple should drop by their particular town or event. The Prime Minister’s office eventually drafted a tentative program and sent it to Buckingham Palace for approval. (Unfortunately, the Waleses often lose out on some interesting sightseeing if a relative has preceded them to a destination. They didn’t get to see the ruins of Pompeii in 1985, for example, because the Queen had visited there five years before, and it was suggested by the British Ambassador to Italy that they go elsewhere.)
Two months before the Waleses’ arrival Down Under, their private secretary, Sir John Riddell, and a Scotland Yard security chief led a reconnaissance trip, or “recce” (pronounced wreck-ee). Among other things, they discussed various royal preferences with local organizers, informing them, for instance, that the Waleses eat little red meat and prefer to take their meals en buffet so that they can mingle more freely with the other guests. (Before their own recent trip to Los Angeles, Fergie and Andrew sent word they would brook no shellfish, onion, garlic, avocado or melon.)
During the recce, the Waleses’ representatives visit every site that Charles and Diana will, arranging every detail of transportation, security and timing. The team determines how long it will take to drive from here to there—and in how many cars—how many paces the Waleses will walk, where they will stand, where the press will stand and what photographers will see from that vantage point.
Eventually, Charles and Di receive a synopsis of whatever is planned, which they study before beginning their travels. When the Waleses finally do arrive, they are never alone. On their Australian junket, they were tended by 19 staffers, including a royal physician, an assistant dresser who helped Diana, several security officers, a baggage master, the private secretary’s secretary and Major Ronald Ferguson, Fergie’s father, who is also Charles’s polo manager.
Despite the advance team’s precautions, perfection is not always attained. The protocol purists tittered when the Waleses gave the Pope a book bound in brown instead of in the traditional white. Leaving for an engagement in Munich last year, Diana was left alone on the curb when the car she was to use sped off without her. For the most part, though, the tours are exercises in precision.
In spite of the rigors of travel—Diana is particularly sensitive to heat and jet lag on the road—the princess invariably puts up a brave front and sometimes even has fun. In Sydney Harbor last January, Diana watched as three topless girls in a launch began waving to Prince Charles and Prime Minister Hawke. To her delight, a police boat raced up and turned a hose on the girls, who then became a running gag between Hawke and the royal couple. At a fashion show a few days later, Diana teased, “You’d better get your binoculars, Bob, the [designer Gianni] Versace models are over there, and they’re always full up front.” In Japan she approached an official after he had dozed off during one of Charles’s speeches. “Were you sleeping or meditating on his words?” asked the mischievous princess. The official, studiously correct, bowed and said he had closed his eyes only to concentrate.
At times Diana plays games with the omnipresent British press corps, which follows her step-by-step wherever she goes. During the six-day Japan trip, Diana removed her shoes, according to custom, for a presentation in a small room of the Imperial Palace. Reports photographer Jayne Fincher: “She started making a funny face and tried to curl her toenails, which were painted bright red, underneath her feet. She knew we were all looking at them, and it drove her mad.” On another outing in Tokyo, a journalist crept over to check out the size of Diana’s shoes—10 narrow by American sizing—while she was out of the room. Suddenly, says Fincher, somebody “came and put them on a little trolley and wheeled them away to keep us from looking.”
Diana has less fun dealing with museums, operas and other things cultural. In Toledo, Spain, last year, visiting “probably the most important collection of El Grecos in the world,” says an eyewitness, “she glanced at them for maybe only 15 seconds, while Charles was enraptured. She looked at the guards, the floor, the press, anything but the paintings.” Though the couple’s Italian tour was one of her favorites, she seemed lost sitting in the royal box at Milan’s La Scala opera house for a performance of Puccini’s Turandot, and her visit to the Forum in Rome was strictly perfunctory. Only when she shops (in Thailand, she bought a kimono, a cotton jumpsuit and a pink silk shirt for Charles) or mingles with crowds does she seem to perk up.
Sometimes touring only looks like fun. At a Bicentennial ball in Melbourne, Charles asked the orchestra to play Glenn Miller’s classic In the Mood, swept his best girl into his arms for a sedate foxtrot, then swung out into a rhythmic jive that had her pleading, “Take it easy!” and “Slow down!” Shutters snapped as her high-slit dress flew open, and the next day newspapers around the world reported that the two had been dancing together publicly for the first time in two years—and even seemed to be enjoying it. Later, a royal aide admitted that the whole dance number had been rehearsed. It was terrific public relations, but not Charles’s cup of tea. “I assure you it makes my heart sink to have to make an awful exhibition of ourselves,” he said to some guests that night.
Observers say Diana has become a trouper since her first tour, a six-week marathon visit to Australia and New Zealand in 1983. “That one very nearly killed her, physically and mentally,” says a member of the royal household. “She can’t concentrate on anything for that long, and the trips must be kept short for her sake.” In Australia this year, one reporter noted that Diana, who usually delivers one-liners and leaves the small talk and speech making to Charles, seemed positively long-winded. The prince was especially impressed to hear her join in the singing of the Australian national anthem, since many Aussies themselves don’t know the words. And when a man named Ev in a koala-bear suit presented Diana with a boomerang for William and Harry—”to smack their bottoms with if they misbehave”—the princess said firmly, “Thanks very much, but I never do that sort of thing. I will give it to them as a gift.” Gazing solemnly at Ev, she added, “You’re very cuddly. I would hug you, but it would crease my dress.”
Over the years Diana has learned from her mistakes—most of which have been trivial but which have invariably been blown out of proportion. In Italy, fed up with jeers from the press about the extravagance of her new outfits, she put on a pink dress she had worn twice before, and was promptly skewered for insulting fashion-fussy Italians. A year later, banqueting in Vancouver, she failed to notice an open microphone at the head table when she leaned over and asked Charles, “Can we go now?”
What makes a tour a royal success? Crowd size? The quality of the hors d’oeuvres? It depends. The foray to Japan was not one of Diana’s better showings. She seemed uninterested and unenthusiastic and had been so painstakingly indoctrinated with details of Oriental etiquette that she felt anxious about every step. She loved the Italian tour, but in the U.S. in 1985 she felt too closely watched, both by security men and reporters. Last November’s German tour was helpful to the royals as an antidote to persistent stories of marital unrest. “Reconciliation on the Rhine,” proclaimed a newspaper, and no one sought a correction.
Before Charles and Diana call it a night on any tour, their personal staff customarily gathers to wish them a collective good night. Charles frequently has something cheerful to say, but Diana is often too exhausted to speak. Only when their smashingly successful Australia trip was over did the Waleses finally do what they wanted: Diana jetted home to cuddle her boys, while Charles set off for a five-day safari in Tanzania.