Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

The people's princess


Print this Page
Send to a Friend
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on MySpace!

The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown; Doubleday, $27.50

Prince Charles' job was to sire an heir and a spare, and because he'd one day be head of the Church of England, he had to marry a virgin. Charles was past 30 and having the time of his life, sleeping with the most gorgeous girls in England. He'd take one to a party and leave with another, or both. He was not a very good lover, and needed experienced, lusty girls to tease him into excitement.

In 1972, he fell in love with Camilla Shand. After six months, he told her he loved her before leaving for eight months in the Navy, but didn't ask her to marry him. It wouldn't have been allowed anyway, since she was known to have slept with other men (as had all of Charles' other girlfriends). Before Charles returned, Camilla married Princess Anne's former lover Andrew Parker Bowles, a devil with the ladies, who slept with other women during his engagement to Camilla and all through the marriage. Charles and Camilla resumed sleeping together in 1979. In 1980, Camilla and Charles French-kissed at a big party, dance after dance, in front of her husband. The Prince's sex life was getting scandalous. The Queen and the Queen Mother were getting desperate. Charles needed to marry a virgin, and soon.

Charles had once dated Lady Sarah Spencer, who grew up at the palatial Althorp, and whose family was very close to the Crown, but he'd dropped her when she'd blabbed private info to the press. Now she was getting married, and at the wedding the Queen Mother was captivated by Sarah's younger sister, Lady Diana Spencer. As a child of six, Diana was devastated when her parents divorced and her mother moved to Argentina with her lover. Diana's dreams were shaped by the romance novels of Barbara Cartland. She wanted to find her Prince. In fact, since 1979, Diana had been telling her friends she was going to marry Prince Charles, because "he's the one man on the planet who is not allowed to divorce me." She was keeping herself chaste for him on the theory, "Who else is he going to marry?"

The Queen Mother reported to the Queen, who invited Lady Diana for a weekend at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. As author Tina Brown puts it, "The adjectives every witness applied enthusiastically to Diana in these early days of her romance with Charles were 'uncomplicated,' 'jolly,' and 'easygoing.' It was a big plus to Diana's cause that she appeared so happy tramping over sodden moors."

Diana flirted outrageously with Prince Charles, sitting in his lap and telling him how much she liked horseback riding. Then she unleashed her great talent, empathy. "You looked so sad when you walked up the aisle at Mountbatten's funeral," she told him soulfully. "It was the most tragic thing I've ever seen. My heart bled for you when I watched. I thought, you're so lonely — you should be with somebody to look after you." As Tina sums it up, "She had rightly sensed that the way to puncture the royal reserve of the heir to the throne was to appeal to his deep reservoirs of sympathy for himself."

Once Charles started dating her, Lady Diana was followed everywhere by the press. She became friends with the reporters, and also had great fun eluding them. They loved her, and so did the public. Everyone got swept up in the desire to see Charles and Diana married. The couple only saw each other 13 times from first meeting to wedding, mostly at big public functions. The night before the enormous ceremony, the happy couple appeared together on the telly. Tina describes it thus: "Asked to enumerate the interests they share, she gives a list of things they did not: 'Music, opera, and outdoor sports, including fishing, walking, and' — the activity she hated most in the world — 'polo.' Charles truly comes alive only when he talks about the music for the service, which he has planned to the last detail."

On the honeymoon on the royal yacht Britannia, they both were disappointed. Charles was used to being seduced, not seducing. ("Fifteen years later, [Barbara Cartland] the 'Queen of Romance' made a succinct judgment on the reasons for the marriage's failure. 'Of course, you know where it all went wrong. She wouldn't do oral sex.'") By the second day, Charles was calling and writing Camilla, and he preferred reading alone to being with Diana. She knew she'd been rejected. They ended the honeymoon at Balmoral, where Diana found the strict royal etiquette stifling.

Then the couple toured Wales, and the crowds wanted Diana, not Charles. Tina says, "It is hard to overemphasize how devastating the Wales experience was for Prince Charles. He was the Prince of Wales, for God's sake, not the Prince of Scotland or Ulster or Devon. Caernarvon Castle had been the scene of his Coming of Age as the heir to the throne, televised 12 years before to a dazzled nation. This was his turf, and he had never before had to share it with anyone." Diana outshone him wherever they went. A six-week tour of Australia in 1983 scared Charles to death. He'd once wanted to be Governor General of Australia, and now huge crowds were flocking to see them, but he was in only eight of every hundred photos. When they returned home, Charles began sleeping with Camilla again, and Diana knew it. Diana had an affair with Barry Mannakee, her bodyguard, around 1985.

And that's just the set-up. Tina meticulously researched all of Diana's other affairs; how Diana leaked her side of the marital story to Andrew Morton in 1991 for Diana: Her True Story, a book serialized in the Sunday Times; and how Charles retaliated with a disastrous TV appearance (and subsequent book). "Much of the public's overwhelmingly negative reaction was based not on the adultery itself, but on the Prince's dumb naivete in admitting it. 'He is not the first royal to be unfaithful,' said the Daily Mirror. 'But he is the first to appear before 25 million of his subjects to confess.'"

Squidgygate and Camillagate scandalized the public, when phone sex between Diana and her lover, and then Charles and Camilla were overheard and splashed across the tabloids. Then Diana effectively ended the marriage with her TV interview with Martin Bashir.

Dr. No

Through all this, the Royals thought Diana was a nutcase, but the public adored her. How she brilliantly used her popularity to gain a divorce settlement of $17,000,000 is an astonishing story. Then, in the fall of 1995, she at last fell for a man who was "worthy of her affections, who wasn't married, and who reciprocated her feelings: the 36-year-old Pakistani heart surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan." His family, strict Muslims, would not accept her, and the Doctor was not willing to face the media attention.

But all the private scandal and heartbreak aren't the point. "In November 1989, Princess Diana stood in 94 degree heat in Jakarta, Indonesia, and shook hands with 100 lepers. 'Faced with the horror of leprosy, Diana shook a little girl's hand and showed no hesitation as she grasped the gnarled, bent fingers of the patients, touched the bloody bandages of an old man, and stroked a woman's arm,' wrote the Sunday Mirror on November 5, 1989." Diana hugged AIDS patients no one else would touch. She went to Angola and walked through an active minefield, because she knew the power of a picture. Millions remember seeing her reach out to touch the elderly, the sick, the disadvantaged.

Her death brought about "the most astonishing collective weeping the nation had ever seen. The diversity of the crowd, as much as its numbers, was what made it a miracle: young, old, black, white, South Asian and East Asian, in shorts and saris and denim and pinstripes and baseball caps and hijabs. The death of an aristocratic girl who became a princess but refused to let the palace walls enclose her had somehow triggered a historic celebration of inclusion.

"The understanding of the power of the inclusive gesture was Diana's gift to the monarchy and so much more. She played her innovative role while also fulfilling to perfection the most important, if most atavistic, family duty to which she was assigned: the production of male offspring. She gave the Windsors and England, and all the world's photographers, two tall, handsome Princes of the Blood. But then she raised them with a commoner's hands-on warmth and informality."

This is the most fascinating book I've read in several years.

Follow The Bay Area Reporter
facebook logo
facebook logo
Newsletter logo
Newsletter logo
ISSUU logo