Prince Charles and Diana's Troubled 1990 Nigeria Tour Foreshadowed Marital Woes

Prince Charles and Princess Diana embarked on a five-day royal tour to Nigeria in March 1990, marked by separate engagements and awkward joint appearances. The tour was an attempt to revive interest in the royal couple, whose popularity had reached a low point amidst secret marital troubles.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Prince Charles and Diana's Troubled 1990 Nigeria Tour Foreshadowed Marital Woes

Prince Charles and Diana's Troubled 1990 Nigeria Tour Foreshadowed Marital Woes

In March 1990, Prince Charles and Princess Diana embarked on a five-day royal tour to Nigeria, a trip marked by separate engagements and awkward joint appearances that hinted at the secret troubles plaguing their marriage behind closed doors. The visit, which took place from March 15 to 19, was an attempt by the Palace to revive interest in the royal couple, whose popularity had reached a low point.

Former royal correspondent Elizabeth Blunt recalled, "The West African tour was officially meant to be for Prince Charles as future head of the Commonwealth to get to know the region... in reality, it was very much more about getting the right kind of coverage in the British press." Blunt added that the glamour and novelty of Charles and Diana's marriage had worn off by this point, though their relationship problems were not yet public knowledge.

Why this matters: The royal couple's troubled marriage and secret affairs had significant implications for the British monarchy's reputation and public trust. Furthermore, the eventual breakdown of their marriage would have far-reaching consequences for the royal family's dynamics and the public's perception of the institution.

During the Nigeria tour, Diana attracted much of the spotlight in dresses by designers Catherine Walker and Paul Costelloe. She displayed her famous compassion by holding the hand of a leprosy patient at a hospital, while Charles initially stood awkwardly by her side. The couple had separate itineraries - Diana visited children's hospitals, traditional handloom weavers, and women's development projects, as Charles opened a British Council Library, walked in the rainforest, and greeted war veterans.

A notable moment occurred on March 19, when the royal couple visited a farming village in Port Harcourt. Photos captured them appearing to have a difficult conversation. Unbeknownst to the public at the time, both Charles and Diana were engaged in secret affairs - he with Camilla Parker Bowles (now Queen Consort) and she with James Hewitt, a British Army captain. Diana had also previously been involved with her protection officer Barry Mannakee.

Signs of trouble in the Wales' marriage had emerged even before the Nigeria trip. An awkward kiss at a polo match in 1985 and Diana's absence from the Royal Family's annual summer visit to Balmoral in 1987 raised eyebrows. The dam broke in 1989 when transcripts leaked of an intimate phone call between Charles and Camilla, prompting Diana to reportedly declare "game, set, and match."

The 1990 Nigeria tour was Prince Charles' second visit to the country, following a 1956 trip with his mother Queen Elizabeth II when he was a young boy. For Diana, it marked her first time in Nigeria and one of her early forays to Africa, a continent where she would later do significant humanitarian work. Notably, in 1997 she bravely walked through an active minefield in Angola to highlight the danger of landmines.

Over three decades later, Prince Charles and Princess Diana's March 1990 tour of Nigeria serves as a poignant glimpse into a royal marriage in crisis. The awkward joint appearances and largely separate itineraries foreshadowed the couple's misery behind the façade, four years before their ultimate split. Diana's star power was on full display, a prelude to her evolution into a global humanitarian icon before her untimely death in 1997.