Britain Agog Over What
Charles 'Didn't Do'

By Peter Graff

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's public was agog and its newshounds salivating on Friday over perhaps the most bizarre royal scandal yet -- the case of what Prince Charles says he didn't do.
After days of feverish speculation that a bombshell was about to detonate in the press, the heir to the throne sent his private secretary to deny he had done something apparently so outrageous that nobody is allowed to say what it was, or wasn't.
But with scandal-mad newspapers feasting on the non-tale, the endless torment of the House of Windsor looked set to go on.
"We're considering all options with our lawyers," said John Wellington, managing editor of the Mail on Sunday, which was poised to break the story this week before being silenced by a lawsuit from one of Charles's former servants.
"We think there is a strong public interest in the story and we will be doing our best to take it forward," he told Reuters.
A source at another London tabloid said editors were bunkered down with lawyers to see what they could print, and scrambling to translate tidbits that appeared in foreign languages abroad.
"It's such a movable feast. We're taking it hour by hour," the source said.
The scandal has divided a country always thrilled by royal sensation into those who think they know what the 54-year-old prince says he didn't do, and those who wish they did.
"It goes back through almost 100 years really, where politicians and the media know a story is around and there's all this innuendo, gossip or whatever, and the one group of people who are left totally in the dark is the public," Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Newspaper Editors, told BBC radio.
For weeks, newspapers have declared they know a dark rumor about the royal family that could bring the monarchy down -- but they could not print it because of Britain's tight libel laws.
The bomb finally looked set to go off this week, when the Mail said it was ready to print a
3,000-word scoop based on the testimony of an ex-royal servant -- but was blocked at the last minute when another former servant sued.
On Thursday evening, Charles sent a top aide to make a rare televised announcement in which he said the heir to the throne and former husband of Princess Diana had done nothing wrong.
"I just want to make it entirely clear, even though I can't refer to the specifics of the allegation, that it's totally untrue and without a shred of substance," Sir Michael Peat said.
But it remained to be seen whether the denial would douse the flames of innuendo, or fan them.
Even if the mystery rumor is false -- and the papers that say they know what it is have not actually said they believe it -- the impact it is having on sales is real enough.
The last big royal brouhaha, the tell-all memoir of Diana's former butler Paul Burrell, extracts of which appeared last month in the Daily Mirror, boosted the paper's circulation by 250,000 readers a day, said the Press Gazette industry newsletter.
No royal family has had worse press than the Windsors, especially Charles who was roasted as his marriage to Diana fell apart in the 1980s. He became an object of ridicule in 1993 when a paper published an intercepted phone call in which he told his lover Camilla Parker Bowles he wanted to be reincarnated as her tampon.
"I'm sure we'll have a good story on Sunday," said Wellington of the Mail.
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