Fascinating portrayal of Diana

2008-10-02 08:05

THE life of Diana, Princess of Wales, is rather like Pride and Prejudice. You may know every detail off by heart, but still every time you read it it, remains fascinating. What makes Diana biographies even better than the Jane Austen classic is that it's not just one book - and each new one has something fresh to offer.

Now the legendary magazine editor Tina Brown has added her penny's worth with The Diana Chronicles - and it is the most rivetting Di read yet.

On top of her witty, wise prose style, Brown has something new to add to the Diana biography industry. She has the contacts and the perspective to put the hapless princess into her social context. Far too much has been made of Diana as “the people's princess”. But Brown, who edited Tatler and then Vanity Fair - the two magazines devoted to chronicling high society on both sides of the Atlantic during Diana's brief 16 years of world dominance - sees her entirely differently.

Diana was a Spencer, a daughter of one of England's most ancient families. She was no more “of the people” than Queen Elizabeth herself - and she was very aware at every level of her noble heritage. Brown proves again and again that one can only understand this highly elusive character if one considers her with this in mind. In short, Diana was a Whig aristocrat, and she behaved as one.

Brown casts a cynical and summarising eye over previous Diana biographies. This in itself is very useful to any student of the princess's life, confused as we all are by the conflicting interpretations we have to grapple with. Then she goes further. Her own insights, combined with her many interviews with people who have hitherto remained loyally silent, leave one stunned by a uniquely complex portrait of this loveable and yet hateable character.

I, who have always disliked Diana, found myself surprised by sympathy for her. I also found myself chilled by her frequent cruelty and cold calculation - but in a new, more understanding way.

What one always wants to learn from a Diana biography is: was she indeed unhinged? Well, thanks to Tina Brown, I now know for sure. To quote Diana's friend, Lord Palumbo: “She became nutty because Prince Charles didn't love her, simple as that.”

And as for the villain of the piece, Brown has no doubts whatsoever. It was Camilla Parker Bowles. Diana was quite right to nickname her the “Rottweiler”. Without her tenacious, stubborn, unrelenting grip on Prince Charles, the history of the British monarchy might have ended up very differently indeed - and far happier.

Ah well, such is history.

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