April 15, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Charles: The Untold Story

Current Status
In Season
Ross Benson
We gave it a C+

Now that Princess Diana has used the past few months to her advantage, promoting herself as a dedicated, attractive single mother of two, Prince Charles’ handlers have finally decided to mop up his sodden image. They’ve sent the prince out on speeches. They’ve booked him for TV interviews. They’ve effectively buried his gal pal Camilla Parker-Bowles deep in the English countryside. So it is no coincidence that Ross Benson’s Charles: The Untold Story now appears, for the benefit of Windsor junkies like me whose bookshelves are already sufficiently stocked with literature (should you care to call it that) sympathetic to Di.

Benson and Charles met as boys at Gordonstoun, the Dickensian boarding school to which Charles was shipped off at an early age and from which every young man who survives its twisted rituals and spartan regimen presumably clings to his schoolmates for bloody dear life. It is, therefore, as a supporter that Benson recounts the obstacles Charles has had to overcome in the course of growing up as heir to the throne: His parents were cold and absent; he had trouble making friends; he was lonely; he was a wet bore, etc.

Not to mention that as Charles approached 30, his Mum was on his case to get married. And when he finally settled on Lady Diana Spencer, how was he to know that Shy Di was actually a conniving, calculating, bulimic little spotlight-grabber who would make his life a living hell with her incessant demands for attention!

Benson thwacks away manfully at Diana’s bad influence for more than half the book (never once mentioning a source, of course). But what is most unintentionally touching about his efforts is that he can’t help displaying Charles for the odd clod the Royal Old Boy is. Reciting the motto of the Prince’s primary school-”A boy’s mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled”-he feels honor-bound to report, ”It took a lot of blowing to get Charles going.” Even while criticizing the wife, he admits the husband’s shortcomings: ”Charles could be selfish, but so could Diana. He should have paid her more attention, but…”

In the end, I doubt whether Benson’s exertions on behalf of a new and improved Prince Charles will have any effect. Still, you never know: A man who can wear a kilt is, I’m convinced, a man deeper than any PR campaign can contain. C+

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