You could call me a Princess Diana fan — a huge one, actually. I have been fascinated with her since she appeared on the scene when I was in high school. When she died, friends called me to check on how *I* was doing. I still think of her often. So, when I decided to read a book about her, it wasn’t with the expectation of really learning anything new. I really just wanted to kind of re-live her life again through words, and possibly see some big-picture themes to help make sense of a woman who was truly larger than life.
The Diana Chronicles were good for that. This is a long book, at nearly 500 pages. Author Tina Brown put a huge amount of time and effort into it, with research and interviews. Read it, and you’ll understand Diana’s entire life, as well as its context within British society and British royalty too.
It’s hard to sum up such a lengthy book, and a life that touched so many (mostly positively, but some negatively). Here are some thoughts:
- Even though Diana appeared to be a hard-to-ignore personality all her life (one teacher is quoted as calling her “the most manipulative little girl” she’d ever known), her sad childhood no doubt played a role in her personal difficulties in adulthood. She was the third girl born to a family that desperately wanted/needed a son for inheritance reasons. When she and her younger brother Charles were small, their mother left her unfulfilling marriage, leaving the children with her husband. This was devastating to Diana.
- Diana did appear to be shy in many instances growing up and in her teen years, yet people in the establishment underestimated her. Camilla Parker-Bowles apparently gave her blessing to Charles on marrying Diana, thinking that “meek” little Diana surely wouldn’t mind if Camilla and Charles continued their affair after Charles and Diana married. “The Mouse that Roared” surprised her, and many of the other royals as well, who’d seen Diana as moldable and sweet. Diana became more and more emboldened as she saw the “Diana effect” she had on the public. Her self-esteem grew with every visit to a place where she could meet with others in pain and help them by sharing her own pain. Said Christina Lamb of the Sunday Times: “She had something I’d only ever seen before from Nelson Mandela. A kind of aura that made people want to be with her and a completely natural, straight-from-the-heart sense of how to bring hope to those who seemed to have little to live for.
- It’s truly a shame Charles and Diana could not have worked well together, and Diana even said as much once, lamenting that they would have made “such a great team.” However, Charles was deeply hurt at the way Diana eclipsed him from the time they were married. He was used to being the center of attention, yet once Diana came along no one seemed interested in him or his ideas. “Charles was the Prince his friends know: a slightly scatty, well-meaning chap with a self-deprecating sense of humor and some oddball ideas.” Diana, in turn, was devastated that the prince charming she had so idolized seemed largely uninterested in her: “She became nutty because Prince Charles didn’t love her, simple as that,” said David Puttnam, movie producer and Labour peer.
- As their relationship deteriorated, Diana and Charles began “one-upping” each other in various ways. Diana cooperated with Andrew Morton to write a tell-all book that spilled basically every little secret of her 10-year marriage. As its publication got closer, she realized how major this would be to the royal family and she regretted it, but it was too late. There was no way she would be able to remain in the good graces of the Royal Family, and the couple separated (“In the Prince’s world, infidelity, especially his own, was one of marriage’s forgivable crimes. Talking to the press was not”). “The Morton book had been a Molotov cocktail hurled at the House of Windsor. Now the Palace was taking its revenge with a thousand cuts of quotidian smallness.”
- I was shocked by some of Charles and Diana’s behavior. Several instances are described when they would have a fight and throw things — once, for instance, they were at someone else’s house and Charles threw (and broke) a priceless antique vase. Maybe it’s just my personality, but I can’t imagine #1: throwing something/anything! and #2: throwing and breaking a priceless item of someone else’s. It just seems so … unrefined. I would think that members of royalty would have more self-restraint, but apparently not.
- While my sympathy for Diana was largely reinforced while reading this book, there’s no denying she could be quite a nasty person. She became totally unpredictable as her marriage unraveled especially, freezing out servant after servant and friend after friend for perceived minor offenses. For instance, she became upset at the Andrew Morton book’s fallout and stopped talking to him — even though the book had been her idea to begin with. A particularly cruel bit tells of her cruelness to her stepmother, Raine. None of the Spencer children had liked Raine, whom their father married after their parents divorced. Most praised Raine for helping Earl Spencer recover from a major stroke (remember how frail he looked accompanying Diana down the aisle on her wedding day?). Yet when Spencer died, Diana and her brother Charles headed to their ancestral home to throw Raine out, before the earl was even buried. Raine packed her clothes in suitcases which Diana decided were Spencer family property, so she ordered the clothes unpacked and put into garbage bags — which Charles Spencer then kicked down the stairs. As I say — the Spencers definitely come across as a family you don’t want to get on the wrong side of (remember Charles Spencer’s famously “naughty” talk at Diana’s funeral?).
- As I read about Diana’s life and personality, I couldn’t help feeling that her tragic end really seemed almost a foregone conclusion. Throughout life, she seemed to push the envelope at every opportunity, never able to leave well enough alone. After her divorce, she seemed to chase man after unavailable man: “It is one of the ironies of Diana’s life that she was always searching to replace her own dysfunctional family with one that didn’t want her.” It almost seemed inconsistent with her personality to fade away into obscurity and die of old age. Just as her life had been, her death was a huge global event, covered in its every tawdry detail. I was brought to tears all over again as I read about the accident itself: “Just as in life, she had sustained injuries that showed nothing on the surface.” I also remembered again the hopelessness I felt watching her funeral. Often when someone dies, I have the consolation that they have moved on to heaven. But I don’t know that Diana was a believer, and I remember nothing of that type of conversation was mentioned at all in the service (yeah, I know, it was British and the British don’t normally talk about such things — but still).
I really enjoyed “The Diana Chronicles” and recommend it to anyone wanting a detailed story of the tragic Princess’s life.
Are you reading anything for the Royalty Reading Challenge? Share a few tidbits with us in the comments!