There is little doubt that Diana Spencer’s step-grandmother, Barbara Cartland, influenced her greatly with respect to notions of love and romance. Cartland romance novels were plentiful after Diana’s father, Earl Spencer, married Cartland’s daughter, Raine in 1976.
Nevertheless, Cartland famously quipped at the time of her step-granddaughter’s engagement in 1981 that Diana would “reign forever as the queen of love.” When, however, the marriage had failed, Dame Barbara allegedly said of Diana in 1996, ‘She never really understood men. Of course, you know where it all went wrong. She wouldn’t do oral sex.”
But in April 1981 the story was thus;
Barbara Cartland, the flamboyant queen of the romantic novel, is about to acquire a genuine royal connection. But with a reticence that has seldom been a feature of her long and remarkable career, Miss Cartland has resolved to say nothing about the coming marriage of her step-granddaughter, Lady Diana Spencer, to Prince Charles.
Well, almost nothing. ”You see, my dear, they’ll all die of fury if I say anything about it,” the 79-year-old novelist explained over a sumptuous afternoon tea at her 400-acre estate just north of London. ”After all, I’m the only one who’s got anything to sell, and I don’t want people to say, ‘Look there, she’s just clinging to the royal bandwagon.”
24 Books in a Year
An energetic one-woman romance industry, Barbara Cartland does indeed have things to sell. Her basic work is books – she wrote 24 last year, mostly romantic novels with a single basic plot. At the moment, she is at work on her 305th book. With 150 million copies of her books sold in more than a dozen languages, she is already one of the largest-selling authors in the world.
Lately, concentrating on the United States market, she has branched out into curtains, sheets and wallpaper (”Decorating with love,” the advertisements call it); a monthly magazine, Barbara Cartland’s World of Romance, published in New York; a romantic comic strip appearing in 52 American newspapers and, in association with British Airways, a package of ”romantic tours” to India, Britain and half a dozen other countries. (”I find Rome has an atmosphere of age, spiritual ecstasy and love which is different from any other place I know,” she declares characteristically in the brochure advertising Italy.)
Just Like One of Her Books
Barbara Cartland’s daughter, Raine, is married to the eighth Earl Spencer, Lady Diana’s father. In one of the five autobiographies that Miss Cartland has written, she describes the way Raine broke the news in 1976 that she had decided to leave her first husband, the Earl of Dartmouth, and marry Earl Spencer, who had divorced Lady Diana’s mother seven years earlier:
”It is just like one of your books, Mummy. I am wildly in love and there is nothing anyone can do about it.” When Miss Cartland herself was in her 30’s, she divorced Raine’s father, Alexander McCorquodale, and married his first cousin, Hugh McCorquodale. Does she still keep in touch with the family that both her husbands came from? ”No, I never liked the McCorquodales very much, and they didn’t like me because, you see, in those days people didn’t have divorces. They were furious that I married again into the family, but I was terribly happy with my second husband. We had 27 years together before he died.”
Barbara Cartland, with her bouffant halo of platinum hair, her extravagantly long false eyelashes and her limitless talent for self promotion, seems far from the pattern of the English Establishment grandmother, and monarchy-baiters are already speculating delightedly about how she will get along at the July 29 wedding with the ever staid and conservative royal family.
And yet beneath the thick mascara, the powder and the fluff, and discounting such props as the feather fan in a color she calls Cartland pink, she turns out to be a well-informed conversationalist with a wide range of interests.
Over the years, Miss Cartland has thrown her considerable prestige behind campaigns for the rights of such groups as old-age pensioners and the gypsies who still roam parts of rural England. Her special interest, besides romance, has always been nutrition. She is fond of pointing out that the two are related and that ”a wife will not get an exciting, virile husband out of a paper bag” (an argument in favor of hot lunches instead of packed sandwiches).
Miss Cartland takes several dozen vitamin pills a day and thrives on such foods as honey, fruit sugar, Indian ginseng and garlic, staunchly avoiding most medicines. She says she gets 10,000 letters a year about health and tries to answer them all.
Someone to Turn to
”People have no one else to turn to,” she said. ”In the old days they had their family doctor, and he’d know all about them and comfort them. But these days he’s a perfect stranger who just gives them Valium and they get worse and worse. And so they write to me. Lots of people are genuinely terrified about what their doctors are doing to them.”
Miss Cartland’s strict dietary regime and her deep suspicion of modern medicine are easy to ridicule until you look into her clear, steady eyes and realize that she appears 20 years younger than she is and follows a work schedule that someone half her age might easily find daunting.
Most afternoons she writes, lying with a furry white rug on a couch under an ornate chandelier in her bright blue, book-lined study. Writing lasts from precisely 1 o’clock to 3:30, and it consists of dictating one 7,000-word chapter – seldom more, seldom less – to a secretary sitting behind her, out of sight, psychiatrist style.
”I have the story in my head and I just tell it,” she said. ”Then the next day I just tell some more.” Seven days of this produces a 50,000-word book, which is rushed into print and sent all over the world. In the United States, paperback Cartland romances are published by Bantam and sold, almost exclusively to women, for $1.75.
Always the Happy Ending
The plot line is standard: a young woman and an older, distinguished man, often a duke or other nobleman, fall in love in an exotic setting that Miss Cartland has thoroughly researched for historical and geographical accuracy. They always get married in the last few pages and never – but never -have sexual relations before that.
”That’s true romance,” said Miss Cartland, who regards the virginity of her heroines as a kind of crusade for morality. ”Fifteen years ago, the publishers said I should go modern and write about divorce and people getting into bed, but I said no. I know it happens, but it’s not romantic.
”So I hold to the old values, even though some people say ‘Ha-haha, virginity,’ and I know I’m doing some good, beginning to have some impact. Every phone-in I do in America, mothers say: ‘Thank you for those values. I’ve said exactly the same thing to my 13-year-old daughter, but she won’t listen. She’ll listen to you, though, Barbara Cartland, so thank you.’ ”
Excerpted from WILLIAM BORDERS, Special to the New York Times
Barbara Cartland’s Touch of Royalty
Published: April 12, 1981