LONDON - In a stinging public slap, Prince Charles says he never loved Princess Diana and didn't want to marry her.
The frank revelations in an authorized biography have upset several members of the royal family - not to mention Diana. The Daily Mirror today quoted an unnamed friend of the princess' as saying she was "numb" over the news.
"She is devastated. She can hardly believe what her husband has done to her," the friend said. "On the advice of her friends and presumably her lawyers, she is keeping her head down and saying nothing."
The 45-year-old prince - in a stunning departure from royal tradition - bared his soul in the biography, which began appearing in serial form in the Sunday Times yesterday.
"How could I have got it all so wrong?" Charles lamented in one letter in 1986, five years into his marriage. Diana, 33, and Charles, who have two sons, separated in December 1992.
Many observers saw the work as a huge gamble by Queen Elizabeth II's eldest son and heir: An apparent attempt to revive acceptance for him as the future king by being unusually frank.
Buckingham Palace said yesterday that Charles had no regrets about cooperating with the biography, which describes him as trapped in a nightmare marriage with a bored, bulimic, self-absorbed and obsessively jealous young wife.
To the dismay of traditionalists, Charles gave author Jonathan Dimbleby long interviews and unprecedented access to private letters and diaries for the book, "The Prince of Wales."
His father, Prince Philip, 73, was tight-lipped when asked about the book in an interview published in The Daily Telegraph today. "I've never discussed private matters," Philip was quoted as saying.
The biography, to be published Nov. 3, depicts Philip as a domineering father who forced Charles into a loveless marriage.
"I'd rather not get involved in it. I've never made any comment about any member of the family in 40 years and I'm not going to start now," Philip said.
Since Princess Di's bulimia and self-destructive behavior have already been reported, the revelation receiving the most attention here is that Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, rushed Charles into the marriage in 1981 out of concern that her reputation, and that of the royal family, was being "compromised" by her frequent visits to Balmoral castle.
Marry her or dump her was the duke's message. "The prince interpreted his father's attitude as an ultimatum," the book says. He married Diana in what he called a "confused and anxious state of mind."
The book describes Philip as disappointed that his son was "soft," "a bit of a wimp," unathletic and uninterested in horsemanship. "The small boy was frequently brought to tears by the mocking banter" of his father, particularly at social gatherings, the book says. Nor did he find comfort in his mother, Queen Elizabeth, who is described as aloof and deferential to Philip in matters involving Charles.
Though their Buckingham Palace apartments were close, "they seldom saw each other."
After her marriage to Charles began, Diana had "bouts of unhappiness" and would "sit hunched on a chair, her head on her knees, quite inconsolable. . . . Yet she scoured every tabloid newspaper for photographs of herself, as if hoping to discover her identity there.
"Even the Falklands campaign (the British war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands) failed to arouse her curiosity. . . . Indeed, she seemed to resent the interest being shown in the Falklands rather than in her," the book claims.
Diana grew increasingly despondent and jealous, making feeble attempts at self-destruction. The book says that at one point she hurled herself down a staircase.
Charles "watched her tears flow and, on one occasion, he had sat much of the day alone with her, (while she was) bowed in silence, apparently insensible to his presence." Later, the book says, he wrote that he was in "total agony about the situation and I don't see how much longer one can go on trying to sweep it under the carpet and pretend nothing is wrong."
The Times of London said royal officials were furious that the book's appearance has overshadowed the state visit to Russia this week of Philip and Queen Elizabeth.
Even Prime Minister John Major's Downing Street office felt compelled to dismiss a report in the Sun newspaper that Major planned to advise Charles to divorce Diana as soon as possible to save the monarchy.
In a statement yesterday, Major's office said that, "The prime minister believes that this is a matter for the people concerned."
"The Prince of Wales" is but the latest book about the failed marriages of Queen Elizabeth II's elder sons, Charles and Prince Andrew.
Only two weeks ago, Diana's former riding instructor, ex-army Maj. James Hewitt, claimed in a book that he had a five-year affair with the princess starting in 1986.
In a television interview with Dimbleby in June, Charles acknowledged that he had been unfaithful to Diana, but only after their marriage had collapsed.
Questioned by Dimbleby, he said that Camilla Parker Bowles, 47, a married woman who is widely reputed to be his mistress, was and would remain among his closest friends.