your typical modern-day fairy tale gone horribly wrong. A young,
beautiful princess marries her prince in a dream wedding watched by
millions. But soon the princess's life becomes more harrowing than
anything imagined by the Brothers Grimm. Amidst a sea of recent
books on the subject, THE DIANA CHRONICLES by former
Tatler, Vanity Fair and New Yorker
editor Tina Brown sculpts a more honest, posthumous portrait of the
troubled Princess, whose life was tragically cut short in a tunnel
in Paris on August 31, 1997.
Lady Diana Spencer --- beautiful, titled and reared on the romance
novels of Barbara Cartland --- had no idea what she was in for when
she married Prince Charles in July 1981. Being from a privileged
past, she had been raised around royalty and was somewhat
accustomed to it. (Her maternal grandmother was lady-in-waiting to
the Queen Mother.) After a whirlwind courtship, handled more by
Buckingham Palace PR representatives than by the couple, there
wasn't much time to get to know each other. By Diana's own count,
"she only saw him (Prince Charles) a total of 13 times from the
beginning of their courtship to the day of their wedding." But
after that long walk down the aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral, the
starry-eyed 20-year-old found life irrevocably changed.
Unlike Prince Charles and his family, those who had grown up in
"the Firm" (their nickname for the family business), Diana was
thrown into her role as Princess of Wales with little or no formal
training. Worst of all, she had to deal with the throngs of
constant paparazzi who tracked her every move, not to mention a
stern Royal Family who never appreciated how she single-handedly
revitalized the monarchy. She desperately wanted to be adored by
her husband and accepted by his family but quickly learned that
hers was an impossible lot in life. Soon, she would buckle under
the pressure of a cold, distant husband and an insatiable public
that couldn't get enough of her.
According to Brown, who fervently covered Princess Diana from her
first appearance on the scene, the cracks in the façade of the
royal marriage appeared quite early. Prince Charles still pined for
Camilla Parker Bowles, his ex-girlfriend now married to a military
officer. Despite ending their relationship years earlier, it was
quite clear that the connection had never been broken. For all of
Camilla's wealth and landed gentry ways, she was not the sort of
woman the Palace would allow Prince Charles to marry. One is left
wondering if he ever loved Diana, and apparently Diana wondered the
same thing. Her paranoia and feelings of betrayal and abandonment
led the Princess to self-destructive behavior as she developed
bulimia, an illness that would plague her for years.
During those first few years of marriage, Diana dutifully fulfilled
her role, making official appearances, hosting charity events, and
most importantly, providing the Crown with Princes William and
Harry --- the "heir and the spare," as they were sometimes
callously referred to. She did her best to hide her hurt feelings
as her husband grew more and more isolated. But soon, having no
other outlet, the Princess of Wales indulged in some extramarital
affairs of her own, usually with bodyguards or handsome military
men who must have fed her romantic fantasies of rescue and escape.
After a while, even those dalliances could not quell the
desperation she felt. In 1992, the Prince and Princess divorced.
She would never be Queen, but in her tenure with the Royal Family
she garnered something they never managed. Diana, once referred to
as "Shy Di" and "thick as a plank," deftly learned how to handle
and manipulate the media in her favor.
In her last few years, Diana reinvented herself as the caring
"People's Princess" with her work with AIDS charities and landmine
victims. Out of the shadow of the Palace, she attempted to sort out
her personal life but not with great success. Although brief, her
last liaison with Dodi Al-Fayed, a womanizing and questionable
jack-of-all-trades and son of Mohamed Al-Fayed (owner of Harrods,
London's largest department store), seemed to show the Princess in
a new light --- confident and fun-loving, though sadly not for
THE DIANA CHRONICLES is a well-researched and riveting read.
Unlike other biographies on the doomed Princess, we get to see
Diana's life through Brown's prism in the tabloid trenches, as she
watched this shy, retiring girl become a world-wide superstar. Far
from being a saintly portrait, Brown attempts to paint a more human
likeness, flaws and all. There are no major reveals here, but the
author does redress inaccuracies in Diana's own spin on her
troubled marriage in her candid but self-serving autobiography
written with Andrew Morton and in her landmark TV interview with
journalist Martin Bashir.
From a fairy tale beginning to a modern-day cautionary tale, the
life of Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, truly demonstrated that
old expression "live by the sword, die by the sword." She courted
and flirted with the media all her adult life --- a flirtation that
ultimately would prove deadly.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on January 7, 2011