The Diana I knew: bi­og­ra­pher Tina Brown on the evo­lu­tion of her best friend, the Princess of Wales

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

Diana’s bi­og­ra­pher, Tina Brown, re­veals the pain, loves and in­cred­i­ble evo­lu­tion of her best friend, the Princess of Wales, in this ex­clu­sive ex­tract from a new Na­tional Ge­o­graphic book.

Diana was al­ways a rebel. She has been memo­ri­alised for ever as the Peo­ple’s Princess. But first and fore­most, Diana was a Spencer. Hers was a fam­ily more than 500 years old, with cen­turies of ex­pe­ri­ence as power bro­kers to the throne. She was never in­tim­i­dated by the royal fam­ily or afraid to take them on. It’s one of the ironies of Diana’s story that it took a girl from an im­pec­ca­bly aris­to­cratic back­ground to break the monar­chy out of the cru­eller rigidi­ties of class.

To un­der­stand why, you have to look to the ex­pe­ri­ence that shaped her. When Diana was seven years old, her mother, Frances, left her fa­ther, then Vis­count Althorp, for Pe­ter Shand Kydd, the man she adored. Diana’s two older sis­ters, Sarah and Jane, were al­ready off at board­ing school. Her younger brother, Charles, was too small to feel the pain – as Diana did – of their mother’s de­par­ture.

They watched as her car drove off.

Her pain was com­pounded by the treach­ery of Frances’ mother, Baroness Fer­moy, who sided with her fa­ther in the cus­tody dis­pute. When Frances re­turned to try to get ac­cess to her chil­dren, the butler shut the door of Park House in her face; they could not hear her screams to let her see them.

Diana’s child­hood was lim­ited in its cir­cle and al­most feral in its ne­glect. She spent most of her free time with the ser­vants be­low stairs. She rat­tled around the gilded halls of Althorp House, avoid­ing the com­pany of her de­spised, so­cial-climb­ing step­mother, Raine, whom her fa­ther had abruptly mar­ried in 1976, when Diana was 15,

with­out fore­warn­ing his chil­dren. When he broke the news of his mar­riage, Diana slapped her fa­ther hard across the face, shout­ing, “That’s from all of us, for hurt­ing us.”

It’s im­pos­si­ble to know what hap­pi­ness Diana would have known – or who she would have be­come – if she had mar­ried some­one other than the Prince of Wales. But it’s also true that in 1977, when the naive 16-year-old first caught sight of the 29-year-old num­ber one royal bach­e­lor strid­ing through a ploughed field at an Althorp shoot­ing party, there was no other ri­val for her heart.

To Charles, how­ever, Diana was the “jolly”, “bouncy” younger sis­ter of Sarah, whom he briefly dated.

His fu­ture bride wasn’t al­ways a ra­di­ant beauty; she be­came one un­der the spot­light.

It was re­mark­able to watch this change. At the time of her en­gage­ment, when she was 19,

I was in­tro­duced to Diana at the Amer­i­can Em­bassy in Lon­don. She was wear­ing a pale blue gos­samerlight or­ganza dress and was ag­o­niz­ingly shy. No pho­to­graph, how­ever, fully cap­tured her ex­quis­ite peach com­plex­ion; her huge, limpid blue eyes; her im­pos­ing, slen­der height. Her small talk was gauche but en­chant­ing. As she and Charles moved be­tween the guests, she gazed up at the ur­bane, prac­tised Prince of Wales with starstruck ado­ra­tion. Seven­teen years later, in July 1997, when I lunched with her at the

Four Sea­sons in New York shortly be­fore her death, global celebrity had elec­tri­fied her charisma. It was as if she had been elon­gated and grown taller still. Im­pec­ca­bly groomed, she strode across the din­ing room on three-inch heels, garbed in a daz­zling emer­ald green Chanel suit, with all the con­fi­dence of a su­per­model blonde who knew ev­ery eye was upon her.

But love, or the lack of it, would al­ways be Diana’s pri­mal wound.

In June, she came to New York for the Christie’s auc­tion of all her glit­ter­ing gowns. It was the ul­ti­mate state­ment of her de­sire to leave her “fairy­tale” past be­hind. But over

lunch, she was wist­ful as she spoke to me – not of her suc­cess as a hu­man­i­tar­ian leader, but of the lone­li­ness of the sum­mer ahead.

In Au­gust, the boys would go, as they did ev­ery year, to stay with their fa­ther and their grand­par­ents at Bal­moral. The world as­sumed, she told me, that ev­ery­one would vie to in­vite her as their guest. But host­ing her came at a price of lost pri­vacy that most of her friends did not want to pay.

In an­other of the great ironies of Diana’s fate, the in­vi­ta­tion to cruise the south of France by yacht with her new ad­mirer Dodi Al Fayed pri­mar­ily meant safety. “He has all the toys,” she told her friends, mean­ing the ac­cou­trements – the pri­vate plane, the car and driver, the ser­vants and body­guards be­long­ing to his ty­coon fa­ther, Mo­hammed Al Fayed (who also owned Har­rods and the Ritz Ho­tel in Paris) – that were re­quired to pro­tect her.

The crash and the fran­tic, un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts to save her at the Pi­tié-Salpêtrière Hospi­tal were fol­lowed by “the Great Sor­row” – a wave of pain that swept the Bri­tish Isles and the world as a numb and dis­be­liev­ing pub­lic learned of Diana’s loss. To­day, the courtiers who work at Buck­ing­ham Palace re­fer to the up­surge of anger against the Queen’s re­fusal to re­turn from her Scot­tish palace at Bal­moral as “the Rev­o­lu­tion” – be­cause it nearly was.

It was as if Diana’s death had al­lowed Eng­land’s stiff up­per lip to trem­ble at last and ac­knowl­edge that it was no longer a hi­er­ar­chi­cal, class-bound so­ci­ety im­pris­oned by the cruel ex­pec­ta­tions of con­form­ity it had shown the Princess dur­ing her life.

In 2007, I asked then Prime

Min­is­ter Tony Blair what, if any­thing, Diana’s life had sig­ni­fied. A new way to be royal? “No,” he replied, with­out hes­i­ta­tion. “A new way to be Bri­tish.”

Diana, aged 21, at the Brae­mar High­land Games in Scot­land, Septem­ber 1982.

CLOCK­WISE, FROM TOP: Four­teen-yearold Diana with her Shet­land pony, Souf­flé. Cud­dling her guinea pig dur­ing a 1972 pet show. Leav­ing for board­ing school in 1970. All poise, Diana jump­ing off a slide into the fam­ily pool.

ABOVE: Diana and her at­ten­dants on her wed­ding day, July 29, 1981. Diana’s dress, made of ivory taffeta and an­tique lace with se­quins and pearls, fea­tured a 25-foot-long train. BE­LOW: Diana and Prince Charles pho­tographed on their hon­ey­moon at Bal­moral Cas­tle.

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