Revealed New Facts from Princess Diana’s documentary brings more tears than ever

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Prince Charles and Princess Diana Photo (C) GETTY IMAGES
Prince Charles and Princess Diana Photo (C) GETTY IMAGES

Revealed New Facts from Princess Diana’s documentary brings more tears than ever

Lady Diana Spencer with her brother Charles (Earl Spencer) in Viscount Althorp, at their home in Berkshire, U.K., Photo (C) CENTRAL PERESS GETTY IMAGES
Lady Diana Spencer with her brother Charles (Earl Spencer) in Viscount Althorp, at their home in Berkshire, U.K., Photo (C) CENTRAL PERESS GETTY IMAGES

In our cabinet of cultural demigods, we keep a special shelf for the tragic heroines, those real women who were pulled under by the celebrity system, who, decades after their deaths, can still command a People magazine cover or a network special. We take Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, and others out of the cabinet occasionally, dust them off, and cry all over again for their fragility, for their strength, for the way they were injured and misused by patriarchal culture, by greed, and by fame.

I certainly cried a fresh tear or two watching a few of the very many documentaries scheduled to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana on Aug. 31, 1997.

Princess Diana speaks about how she caught Prince Charles speaking to Camilla on the phone in tapes due to air for the first time tonight
Princess Diana speaks about how she caught Prince Charles speaking to Camilla on the phone in tapes due to air for the first time tonight

The farther away from Diana we move, and the older I get, the more I appreciate the scope of the tragedy — just how young she was (19 when she started dating Prince Charles, 36 when she died) and just how wronged she was, too. As time passes, I also better understand the hole her death must have left in her sons’ lives. Early loss of a parent is a hard blow and a lifelong burden; dealing with grief in the public eye can only be worse. Of course the Diana specials, on ABC, HBO, TLC, PBS, NBC, National Geographic, the Smithsonian Channel, and elsewhere, want us to cry; beyond ratings, collective sorrow is the point of all the anniversary revisitations, to some extent.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by News Group/REX/Shutterstock (187592c) Princess Diana Talking to AIDS patient Princess Diana visiting the AIDS Unit at the Middlesex Hospital, London, Britain - 1991 Princess Diana visiting the AIDS Unit at the Middlesex Hospital, London, Britain - 1991 Copyright (c) 1991 Rex Features. No use without permission. 187592c 187592c Rex Features
Mandatory Credit: Photo by News Group/REX/Shutterstock (187592c)
Princess Diana Talking to AIDS patient
Princess Diana visiting the AIDS Unit at the Middlesex Hospital, London, Britain – 1991 Princess Diana visiting the AIDS Unit at the Middlesex Hospital, London, Britain – 1991 Copyright (c) 1991 Rex Features. No use without permission.
187592c 187592c
Rex Features

There are specific villains in each TV telling of Diana’s story, the familiar architects of her misery. The indifferent Prince Charles, his mistress (and now wife) Camilla Parker Bowles, the rigidity of the royal lifestyle, her parents’ bad marriage and divorce, and, of course, brutal media aggression — they all get due coverage. Viewers are flooded with photos and clips of Charles and Diana barely hiding their mutual contempt, and I admit I couldn’t stop myself from staring into their faces, imagining the drama swirling behind their facades. The much-used shot of Camilla at Diana and Charles’s wedding comes off a bit like something out of a crime drama, a threat lurking in the pews.

The Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles walk through to The Gala Dinner at The Prince's Foundation in London. Camilla Parker Bowles accompanied the Prince of Wales to the Gala Dinner. * which marks the official opening of the newly restored building which is the headquarters of The Prince's Foundation.
The Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles walk through to The Gala Dinner at The Prince’s Foundation in London. Camilla Parker Bowles accompanied the Prince of Wales to the Gala Dinner. * which marks the official opening of the newly restored building which is the headquarters of The Prince’s Foundation.

The most emotionally powerful documentary, for me, is narrated almost entirely by Diana herself. “Diana: In Her Own Words,” which airs on National Geographic on Monday at 9 p.m., relies primarily on the princess’s taped interviews with a friend who was asking questions for Andrew Morton, the author of the 1992 book “Diana: Her True Story.” The tales in the book shocked the world — and no one knew they’d been told by Diana herself until 1997, after her death, when “In Her Own Words” was added to the title. It’s haunting to hear her sharing accounts of her suicide attempts, including a jump down a flight of stairs when she was three months’ pregnant with William, as well as her bulimia and self-mutilation. Her thin voice, by turns vulnerable, bitter, and resigned, is unforgettable, as is the specificity of her memories. She recalls that during the 13 dates she and Charles had before their wedding, he proposed to her and she told him, “I love you so much.” His response: “Whatever love means.”

Camilla's popularity suffered after it emerged Prince Charles cheated on Princess Diana with her. Credit PA
Camilla’s popularity suffered after it emerged Prince Charles cheated on Princess Diana with her. Credit PA

Diana says she once confronted Camilla at a birthday party for Camilla’s sister. “Camilla, I would just like you to know that I know exactly what is going on,” she remembers saying. “I obviously am in the way and it must be hell for both of you. Don’t treat me like an idiot.’’ Naturally, others involved may have different memories; that’s the way life and points of view work. But the loneliness and fury in Diana’s voice is undeniable.

Prince William and Harry Recreated Diana's Desk in Her Honor, and It's Full of Personal Photos Photo (C) GETTY IMAGES
Prince William and Harry Recreated Diana’s Desk in Her Honor, and It’s Full of Personal Photos Photo (C) GETTY IMAGES

Her voice represents nearly the opposite of what we learn about her in HBO’s “Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy,” which is distinguished by interviews with her sons Prince Harry and Prince William. The documentary, which aired last month and is available on demand, is moving in its own way, as the stoic young men work to share their feelings. It’s hard not to be touched by Harry’s regrets about the brevity of his last phone call with his mother, or his admission that, having cried only two times about his mother’s death, “there’s a lot of grief that still needs to be let out.” But the HBO film is rigorously celebratory in tone, and, to the strains of tinkling piano, we hear mostly about Diana’s important work with AIDS patients and the homeless, as well as her cheeky and playful nature. It’s a pretty memento, a vital but less juicy piece of the story, and Charles is hardly mentioned.

Catherine Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Prince George, and Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana Photo (C) GETTY IMAGES
Catherine Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Prince George, and Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana Photo (C) GETTY IMAGES

And anyway, the villains in Diana’s life weren’t only those of a royal soap opera, which becomes increasingly obvious the more you watch these films. The bad guys were as broad, impersonal, and amoral as our entertainment industry, and as bottomless as our hunger for fairy tales. The media stalked her and bullied her, and they fed her to us, her eager fans, who were so in love with her vulnerability and openness that we forgot to respect her vulnerability and openness. Even now, watching these Diana films, noting the miles of footage that were shot of her, seeing the mass adulation of her once again, and revisiting her stunning beauty, I sometimes had the sense that I was complicit.

Diana with her sons Prince William and Prince Harry Photo (C) REX FEATURES
Diana with her sons Prince William and Prince Harry Photo (C) REX FEATURES

At her funeral, her brother, Charles Spencer, said, “It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this: a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.” In a way, he was summarizing so much of what these documentaries reiterate — that Diana, so defenseless and exposed, was adored to death.

Diana wanted her sons to experience what it was like to use public transport Photo (C) REX FEATURES
Diana wanted her sons to experience what it was like to use public transport Photo (C) REX FEATURES

Source: bostonglobe com

Tags: Prince Charles, Charles and Diana, Princess Diana, Crying, Upset, Royals, British Royals, Entertainment, Industry, Media, Stalked, Forgot, Seeing, Adulation, Stunning Beauty, Death, Fairy Tales, Wedding, Opera, Exposed, Villains, Diana’s life, Obvious, Complicit, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe

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