Gossipy insights into the marriage of Charles and Diana, 1991

<span>His friends, her friends: ‘Charles left the room, complaining of their childish behaviour.’</span><span>Photograph: unknown</span>
His friends, her friends: ‘Charles left the room, complaining of their childish behaviour.’Photograph: unknown

On 23 June 1991, less than a year before Andrew Morton blew the Wales’s marriage open in print, the Observer offered a gossipy deep-dive into their distinct friendship groups, the ‘erudite eggheads’ versus ‘pedigree chums… dedicated to having fun’.

Authored by royal-watcher Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty, it’s a between-the-lines portrait of fatal incompatibility, best crystallised in an anecdote about Diana’s friends playing Twister: ‘Charles left the room, complaining of their childish behaviour.’ His idea of a good time, Seward explained, was discussing ‘Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious’ with writer Laurens van der Post, pottering around Highgrove, occasionally ‘enjoying the stimulus of fine art in the company of Marchesa Bona Frescobaldi’, or ‘joining Lord Tryon and his Australian wife, Kanga, on salmon-fishing expeditions over in Iceland’.

Diana’s chums were ‘a comfortable, reliable old guard, sometimes lacking in formal education qualifications, but all employed in the right sort of jobs’. Her loyal support system was forged in the time ‘Before she disappeared into the maw of royal life… when the only young person she had to talk to was Prince Edward’s butler’ and maintained by ‘Marks & Sparks pasta dinners’. Her friends shared ‘Diana’s interests – home, children and shopping.’

That sounds slightly censorious, but t’s pretty obvious who you’d rather hang out with, gawping at A-listers in celeb-haunt San Lorenzo, indulging her ‘endearing, almost schoolgirlish interest in the comings and goings of the famous’. Diana coined nicknames for mates (commonness arbiter and interior decorator Nicky Haslam was ‘Rags and Dec’), and for herself, introducing herself on the phone as ‘Disco-Di from KP’; she remembered birthdays and kept a court of ‘laughter and gaiety’.

Hindsight makes this a particularly pointed read: ‘Given the time that Diana and Charles spend apart it is inevitable that tongues will occasionally wag,’ Seward says, mentioning Charles’s preference for ‘wise, well-informed’ people his own age, such as ‘Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles’s wife, Camilla’. Despite it all, a valiantly upbeat final paragraph claims: ‘Whatever he does or says, he is still her best friend.’