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The Diana Chronicles


The Diana Chronicles

It's 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 long.

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

The Diana Chronicles
by Tina Brown

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2007
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 542 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385517084
  • ISBN-13: 9780385517089