Millions of words have been written about Princess Diana and even more pictures printed but we had to wait until after her death to learn that Andrew Morton’s biography was based largely on tapes she recorded secretly with the author.
It’s a story to break your heart: a classic Grimm fairytale with enough evil stepmothers, ugly sisters and neglectful husbands to fill an entire library. Diana’s married life – and possibly her life even before marriage – was utterly devoid of human warmth and compassion: according to her account during her worst hours the Royal Family, her husband and even her own sister failed to support her. Buckle up and get on with it seems to have been the order of the day: but what must have made an intolerable situation far worse was having to present a smiling face to the world. The world needed to believe in the fairytale of a commoner marrying a prince and living happily-ever-after: it was a fantasy in which the hapless couple were forced to be complicit as they were not only followed everywhere by cameras but cross-examined in interview after probing interview. Diana must have felt she was carrying the weight of the whole world on her shoulders. There were times when she wanted to cancel the wedding but once announced the preparations were like a rocket already launched and could not be stopped. Imagine: it’s hard enough for a commoner to cancel a traditional wedding once preparations are in train; if you add into the mix the cold, inflexible royal protocols and an unprecedented level of press intrusion, you have a recipe for 360-degree hell. On her wedding day she was sick with bulimia (who wouldn’t be?) and wanted to cut her wrists. Had her marriage been happy the rest might have been tolerable, but it wasn’t: she had little in the way of love and support from her husband as he was always more interested in Camilla.
Diana must have been made of steel, because she not only survived this hell but made a role for herself, a role which seemed genuinely to use her gifts and talents. She had the common touch and an ability to connect with ordinary people, particularly those suffering from AIDS and injured by land-mines. But sadly the press never left her alone and although it’s not clear that they were directly responsible for her death, they surely must bear part of the blame.
The story of Diana has many possible narratives and in fairness her version is just that, a version. I have no reason to doubt what she says, but every witness is partial and there are always other points of view: in a sense Charles was as much of a victim as Diana, being unable to marry the woman he loved and forced to wed for the sake of the succession. In the past he’d have been able to carry on with Camilla in secret whilst presenting a respectable public face but modern levels of scrutiny make this impossible. Besides nowadays the royals, like the rest of us, are supposed to marry for love.
The story also illustrates a paradigm shift, as pointed out in The Queen: a ‘shift in values’ between the old stiff-upper-lip of royal protocol and the more human and compassionate face which Diana represented.
I hope no future royal princess will receive that level of intrusion because we have no right to demand it of them. They are not there to fulfill our dreams, we need to do that for ourselves.
Here’s the film: