Press: Royal Pain

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Mirror bites Queen

As Britain's most eligible bachelor, Prince Charles produces front-page palpitations every time he is seen with a marriageable young woman. Until now, however, Buckingham Palace has kept a discreetly stiff upper lip when Fleet Street attempted to handicap the Prince's love life. Thus it was highly unusual when Queen Elizabeth II through her spokesman publicly denounced London's Sunday Mirror last month for a story linking the Prince and Lady Diana Spencer, 19, the winsome blond whom many Britons expect to be the next Queen. The Sunday Mirror's response was even more unusual.

The source of the Queen's ire was a Sunday Mirror report that the couple had secretly spent two evenings alone together aboard the royal train during an official visit by the Prince to the West Country. "A total fabrication!" charged Her Majesty's press secretary, Michael Shea. He demanded a full apology.

In a far earlier era, hardly a soul would have dared impugn the veracity of the Crown for fear of losing his liberty, perhaps even his head. Not today, and not the proudly blue-collar Sunday Mirror. "We take great care to get our facts right," Editor Robert Edwards stiffly informed the palace in a letter last week. He declined to apologize.

Others of the London press were quick to criticize the Sunday Mirror. The paper had acted "disgracefully," editorialized the conservative Daily Mail. "It makes you wince," volunteered Columnist Jean Rook in the pro-Tory Daily Express. A Daily Mail article quoted Lady Diana as insisting: "I've never been anywhere near the train, let alone in the middle of the night." Prince Charles, in New Delhi on a state visit, observed that in the press, honesty and integrity "often get submerged in the general rush for sensationalism."