Sophie's Choice

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ff With Her Head." That was the front page headline in The Mirror, a British tabloid, after Sophie Ryhs-Jones, Duchess of Wessex, got caught on tape making rude comments about her royal relatives to a reporter.

Seems slightly draconian, but this is the stuff dreams are made of for U.K. tabloid editors. You can almost see them rubbing their hands with glee as they devise just the right headline to run in 95-point bold type.

In this most recent case, Sophie, wife of Prince Edward and daughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II, thought she was talking to an aide to a sheik who was looking for a public relations rep.

The duchess works for a public relations firm -- make that worked. She has resigned over the flap, saying her position in the royal family made her the target of "blatant exploitation." There's little doubt of that.

But poor Sophie had some unkind things to say about the queen and some others, including the prime minister, Tony Blair, and her comments were published. For one thing, she referred to the queen using the word "old" and implied that Blair is out of touch with his rural constituency.

Her remarks caused quite a stir. But despite what the royals do or say, I think most Americans admire them. At the very least, we are curious about them.

Tens of thousands of us line up every summer for a tour of Buckingham Palace. We get up to watch their weddings on TV at 3 a.m. We buy books about them. We return from vacation with royal souvenirs in our carry-ons. We yearn to catch a glimpse of them.

I once saw Queen Elizabeth II in person. I happened to be in London on the opening day of Parliament.

On that day every year (I think it's Nov. 11), the queen travels by horse-drawn coach to the Parliament for an ancient opening day ceremony. I was standing on Pall Mall with thousands of other people, and she drove by in her coach and waved to us.

I have a picture of it somewhere. It was thrilling.

I envy the royals for their lives of quiet leisure. It must be nice to live in a castle or a palace where your time is your own, and you don't have to think about the mortgage or the car tune-up or that you've run out of dog food.

But alas, the royal life is not for all of us.

Maybe it doesn't even suit Sophie, who is no run-of-the-mill royal anyway. Say what you will, but she was paying her own way.

And then there's the reporter who, in order to get the story he wanted, pretended to be what he wasn't. It was underhanded, but serves to remind us of a golden rule we learned a long time ago: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Donna Tunney is executive editor of Travel Weekly, Travel Weekly Crossroads and Travel Management Daily.

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