Could it be true that Prince Charles never married Diana, but secretly wed a suburban Australian housewife ten years his senior? Beryl thinks so. As far as she’s concerned, she’s the real Princess of Wales. (This story was written before Charles married Camilla. Just to avoid confusion.)
Beryl Parkinson had always adored Prince Charles; but she couldn’t tell you exactly which day her fantasy of being married to him had, to her, become reality.
Her husband – her REAL husband, Alf – suffered the nameplate Highgrove on the front of their Californian bungalow on Morrison Road, and the spare room being turned into a shrine worshipping HRH. He wasn’t aware than on the rare occasions that he and his wife had sex, she saw the Prince’s face looming over hers in concertinaed concentration, and that when Alf rolled off with a satisfied, “Owwuzzitferyoulove?” she heard Charles’ mellifluous tones say, “Darling, that was wonderful!”
Had Alf known that Beryl considered herself the wife of “that stuck up bugger with ears like wingnuts”, he would have realised that the pills that had kept her under control since Gladesville Hospital had shut down and she’d moved back home weren’t working as well as they should.
Alf left for work every morning with Beryl waving him a cheery goodbye from the verandah, and came home every night to find his wife cooking his dinner like any normal woman.
In the intervening hours when Alf was at work, Beryl slipped happily into her dream world.
The reality for Beryl was that HRH hadn’t really married that little hussy Diana, bless her poor soul nonetheless. It had all been a publicity stunt, as Charles had wanted to keep his marriage to Beryl private and sacred and wonderful, and far from the public eye. And as for that gaunt-faced Parker-Bowles woman! Beryl snorted. It was all just gossip! No, Charles preferred her, Beryl, plump, grey-haired, womanly and ten years his senior. It was Beryl who’d initiated Charles to the pleasures of the flesh, and shown him what love was all about.
She looked fondly over the formica table in the kitchen, where she saw Charles sitting in the chair opposite her, the familiar frown on his face.
“More tea, Charles, dear?” she asked tenderly.
She heard him say, “No thanks, darling. Must go and try out a new pony soon. Polo season starts in a few weeks. What are your plans for the day, darling?”
“It’s Wednesday,” Beryl stated. “You know I always go to the bank on Wednesday. It’s my routine. Shall I bring back something for lunch?”
“A pie would be jolly nice,” was the reply Beryl heard. It was just what she wanted to hear, too – she’d planned on buying a pie for herself. Those gourmet pies from Pom’s Kitchen were, in her books, fit for a king. Or at least a future one. And his wife.
Beryl began to clear the table. Why couldn’t she have a maid? It was all very well living a royal life incognito in the heart of Gladesville, but you’d think Charles would have allowed her ONE maid!
Humming to herself, she left Charles at the table reading The Times and began to tidy the house. Alf had forbidden her to put her royal souvenirs in the lounge room, which Beryl didn’t mind. After all, she didn’t want visitors realising she was the Princess of Wales. It was the world’s biggest secret. Even Alf didn’t know. Beryl wondered from time to time whether she’d get arrested for bigamy, but usually shrugged the thought away as being far too distant and difficult to worry about.
She made the bed carefully, tucking the sheets tightly in at the side. Charles was such a stickler for that! As she did every morning, she took her most treasured photo out from the bedside drawer on her side of the bed and set it up under the lamp. Her daughter Clare had made it for her using some fancy software on her computer.
The photo showed Beryl and Prince Charles standing together at a polo game, he in his polo shirt, she in her favourite Osti creation, the one she’d worn to Clare’s wedding. Clare was ever so clever with her computer, Beryl thought. Clare herself had no idea her mother’s affliction had worsened so much, and had made the picture simply because she thought Charles was her Mum’s favourite Royal, and it would be a nice thing to do. Alf, it may be said, loathed the photo and thought it a ridiculous if not dangerous item. Beryl retained enough sense to hide it again promptly at 5 pm every afternoon.
Beryl showered and dressed, choosing one of her polyester frocks in the bright shade of greeny blue Clare jokingly called Menopausal Blue (because nobody under the age of fifty ever wore it). Beryl knew Charles liked the dress; she could see his eyes widen appreciatively when she flounced into the kitchen and twirled.
“Very nice, Beryl darling,” she heard Charles say over the top of his newspaper. “But you aren’t going to wear those slippers up the street, are you?”
Beryl blushed and looked at her feet. Her favourite slippers had moulded to the shape of her bunions, and were so comfortable she often forgot she was wearing them. “Of course not, dear. The navy blue shoes, I think.”
“Good choice. Now you will take the bodyguards with you, won’t you?”
Beryl nodded. The bodyguards appeared as if by magic. Beryl saw two men in their late thirties, one dark, one fair. They always dressed in discreet dark suits, and wore guns concealed neatly in shoulder holsters. Being proper servants, they never spoke. Beryl rarely had any fear about walking to the shops when her bodyguards were around. They hung a consistent two steps behind her, guarding her with their lives.
* * *
Beryl strode purposefully up Linsley Street, checking from time to time that her bodyguards were there and paying attention. She clutched her bag a little tighter as she neared the RSL Club; one never knew what young people might jump out of nowhere and snatch her purse before the bodyguards could pull their guns. Hunched forward a little, she quickened her pace and reached Victoria Road with a sigh of relief.
She headed for Westpac. She had always banked at Westpac, and in her mind it was still the Wales, called, of course, after Charles and thus herself. The bright red W that served as its logo was her crest; if she squinted enough it looked appropriately like a crown.
She refused to use that nasty ATM machine. It was undignified, and kept beeping at her in a most infuriating way. She didn’t understand it at all, despite being shown how to use it several times. No, personal service was far preferable, and most appropriate considering her position, Beryl thought.
Inside the bank it was cool and quiet, and Beryl breathed a sigh of relief. There were three people in line ahead of her. She recognised one of them – that nice fair young man from Raven Street.
The line moved forward, and the door opened behind Beryl. She glanced and saw not only her bodyguards, but a decidedly shifty young man wearing sunglasses on his swarthy face. He looked awkward and nervous.
In the grey silence of the bank, Beryl could hear him breathing heavily behind her. It was unpleasant, and she wished her bodyguards would tell him to move away.
Beryl felt a movement behind her, then the swarthy young man rushed forward and battered on the window of the nearest teller. In one hand, he held a gun. In the other, a black carry bag which he thumped onto the counter.
The girl in front of Beryl screamed, and the tellers shrieked in unison.
“Shut up!” shouted the man. “Shut up! Don’t touch the alarm!” he warned, waving the gun at the terrified teller, who had cowered back against the wall, too shocked to raise the metal safety panel in front of her.
The robber looked wildly around the bank, located the security camera and shot at it, twice. He missed both times. The noise was deafening in the little bank, and the tellers screamed again.
Beryl couldn’t believe this was happening! Where were her bodyguards? Why weren’t they shooting him or arresting him or something?
“Get him!” Beryl yelled. “Bodyguards, get him!”
The robber swung around to see who was shouting. “Shut up, you old cow! Get down on the floor! All of you! And –” to the tellers – “Give me the money!” He waved the gun perilously and the tellers’ eyes turned to petrified saucers.
The girl in front of Beryl flung herself on the floor and curled up into the foetal position. The nice young man from Raven Street stood gaping, his eyes wide, his feet apparently glued to the floor. Beryl herself stood firm.
“How DARE you!” thundered Beryl. “I’m the Princess of Wales! Bodyguards!”
“Shut UP and get down!” yelled the robber, sounding more nervous by the second. He banged on the nearest teller’s window and the poor girl fumbled her till open with shaking fingers, sending banknotes flying over the desk.
“YOU shut up!” roared Beryl in royal imperiousness. “And get OUT of MY BANK! Peasant!”
The robber, distracted, looked around to his left again to meet the pale blue-eyed stare of a furious plump woman wearing a blue dress and hanging petticoat. Her grey hair stood out from her head in a wild permed halo. She looked as crazy as a dog with two heads. What the hell was going on? He waved his gun at her. “Get down, you old cow!”
This momentary lack of attention on the robber’s part was all that was needed. The nice young man from Raven Street, who was carrying his business takings in a heavy canvas bag, suddenly thought very quickly indeed, took two long strides forward and coshed the robber on the back of the head with the coins.
Beryl leaped sideways, almost losing her balance. She put a hand out to the wall to steady herself. The robber fell to the floor and his gun discharged, sending a bullet rocketing up into the ceiling.
The girl curled on the floor burst into terrified tears, and the nice young man stood open mouthed, his canvas bag of coins swinging in his hand.
“Jesus,” he said, looking from his takings to the robber. “I knocked him out!” He started to tremble and leaned against the wall.
One of the tellers shakily sounded the alarm; the other fell gracelessly in a relieved faint. Far too late, the teller windows closed up with a swift metallic clang.
Beryl looked with approval at the nice young man. She hadn’t realised until now he was one of her bodyguards. “Well done,” she said, in a voice that quivered just a little. She knew danger formed part of the Royal life, but this was her first brush with it. “The Prince will reward you handsomely for saving my life.”
“Are you okay, Mrs Parkinson?” asked one of the tellers, rushing out from behind her toughened glass cage to take Beryl’s arm and sit her in a chair.
“I’m not Mrs Parkinson, I’m the Princess of Wales,” Beryl said grandly. Her bodyguard from Raven Street was giving her the weirdest look.
“It’s fine,” she said to him, “I think we can tell them now. Everybody will know when this hits the papers. I hope Charles isn’t too cross.”
The teller and the nice young man exchanged a glance. “I’ll ring her husband,” said the teller, who’d known the Parkinsons for years as customers and who had always privately thought old Beryl was a sandwich or two short of a picnic.
In the distance sirens sounded. Beryl smiled happily. Now the police would come and arrest the robber, and provide extra protection for their local member of the Royal Family.
* * *
An hour later Alf met his wife in the bank. She was sitting in a chair, staring happily into space. The police had finished interviewing her and were scratching their heads in bemusement.
“Hello, Charles dear,” she said fondly. “It was such a good idea of yours to have the bodyguard. He saved my life, you know.”
“Oh, bugger,” muttered Alf under his breath. He said to the room in general, “Sorry, folks, Beryl’s a bit under the weather. She’s been on antibiotics and they haven’t had a good effect on her.” He slid an arm under her elbow. “Come on, love. Let’s go home and ring the doctor, eh?”
“I’d like to go to Windsor Castle for a bit,” said Beryl firmly. “Just to walk around.”
Alf sighed. She meant Gladesville Hospital. He hurried her out of the bank.
“I think we should go home and I’ll get the doctor. You’ve had a shock,” he stated.
“I’m fine,” Beryl beamed. “I’d like to go to Windsor first.”
Alf supposed it couldn’t hurt. He took her arm and they wandered past the shops and the police station. He glanced at her from time to time. Her face was turned to the sun and he guessed that she didn’t see or hear the six lanes of traffic on Victoria Road. In her mind she was strolling through the pleasant green streets of Windsor, and probably carrying on some imaginary conversation with HRH. Alf sighed. How could he not have seen she’d got so disoriented?
They slipped into the hospital grounds and Beryl smiled as she stood on the other side of the sandstone fence, surveying the buildings that for several years had been her home. “I DID love living at Windsor Castle,” she murmured. “It’s a shame the Queen thought we should move to Highgrove.”
What did she see? Alf wondered. Was it the impassive stone and brick buildings of Gladesville Hospital, or the grandeur of a castle she’d never seen and probably never would in real life? He guided her down the tarmac path and into the gardens. The view down the sloping green lawns to the river always made him draw his breath. As far as he was concerned, this wonderful, peaceful view could only ever have a therapeutic effect, and the hospital’s closure was a dreadful shame. Beryl had thrived here, spending time in the gardens and fresh air. To her the Hospital, with its ha-ha wall and its softly coloured sandstone barricades, had been her private castle.
“I used to live there,” said Beryl, pointing to one of the buildings.
“I know,” said Alf, playing along with her, which he knew was the best thing to do until he could get her to a doctor. “You had maids and servants and cooks and everything, didn’t you?”
Beryl nodded. “Didn’t have to lift a finger.”
They strolled on, up the hill towards the plant nursery and greenhouses, which Alf noticed were falling into disrepair.
“Ah, the palace herb garden!” cried Beryl, rushing forward to bury her face in a neglected, spindly lavender bush. She took deep breaths of the spicy scent.
Alf, being a practical bloke, took a quick look around to check nobody was watching, and filled his carry bag with chillies and tomatoes which were ripe and uncared for and falling off the plants.
“I loved it here,” Beryl said again. “It was so safe, with all the bodyguards.” She gazed wistfully around her at the manicured green expanses and neat buildings, and the brambly tangle at the bottom of the nursery.
“The doctor might say you have to live in another castle for a while, until they fix your pills up,” Alf suggested, pocketing some capsicums. With the right doses of medication, he was sure Beryl could go back to living a normal life in their house, but a stint in hospital was inevitable, he was sure.
“Really?” Beryl’s face broke into a wide smile. She had biscuit crumbs in her teeth, he noticed. “Which one?”
Alf was momentarily stumped. He didn’t share her passion for the Royal Family, and supposed that if he’d have listened to her rabbiting on over the past couple of years he might have discovered how bad she’d become a lot sooner. What was the name of that castle again? The one the Queen went to at Christmas?
“Balmoral?” Alf ventured, and Beryl smiled beatifically. She’d always longed to be invited to Balmoral, that intimate, relatively casual retreat for close members of the Family and their special friends. This nice man here, obviously a close friend of Charles’ because she saw him every day, could arrange it for her.
“That would be lovely,” she said. She looked at the man standing beside her, his face kind and familiar, and wished she could remember his name.
© Copyright 2000 Caroline Sully Reproduction without the author’s permission strictly prohibited