Prince Charles pestered to pop royal question

Is Britain about to have a future queen? The public, ably abetted by press photographers and Fleet Street sleuths, seems to think that the month that gave them Ronald Reagan, Michael Foot, and (after a hiccup) Miss world should also put an end to one of the country's most popular perennial pastimes: choosing a bride for Prince Charles.

In fact, if you read the popular press, the public appears to have cast its vote already. The choice: the pretty, demure, and apparently sensible Lady Diana Spencer, who has been seeing the heir to England's throne since last August.

The only problem: The Prince has not given the royal nod nor even (as far as anyone knows) popped the royal question.

But neither has he scotched rumors that bubbled up after well-informed speculation that an important announcement would be made on his birthday.

The day came and went, with Buckingham Palace pestered with snoops and the street in front of Lady Diana's Chelsea flat knee-deep with journalists. All they could coax out of her was a polite, "I'm so sorry I can't help you."

The Prince, however, was positively sphinx-like. Accosted by pressmen after walking his Labrador at the royal abode at Sandringham, he quipped, "You'll find out soon enough."

True to British form, the chase has been a field day for punsters, who celebrate the possibility under such headlines as "The King and Di."

In an age that pours cynicism on most public institutions and bemoans the underwhelming quality of many world leaders, the Royal Family of Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland comes out almost unscathed. Tempers flared when the Queen, on a recent trip to Morocco, was seen to be mistreated by King Hassan II. Prince Charles, dubbed "Action Man" for his energetic piloting of everything from helicopters to wind-surfing boards, is the object of great affection here. He returns it in kind, with a friendly, bantering relation with the press, a full schedule of public addresses, and a willingness to support trade missions to India, the new Mini Metro, and whatever else is authentically British.

So most people here hope he will find not only a queen but also a real friend. And Lady Diana, a recent graduate of a small private school in Sevenoaks, Kent, seems to fit the bill. Dubbed "Shy Di," she keeps out of sight as much as possible and keeps busy as an assistant in a kindergarten in the inner London area of Pimlico.

Of one thing all are certain: Lady Diana has the proper pedigree. Debrett's has traced her lineage back to a 17th century Sir Winston Churchill and makes reference to King Charles II.

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