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July 12, 2007

Tina Brown demythologises and restores dignity to Princess Diana, argues Harry Phibbs: The Diana Chronicles - Tina Brown

Posted by Harry Phibbs

The Diana Chronicles
by Tina Brown
Century, 2007
Hardback, 18.99

Starting out reading this volume I prepared to pass judgment on whether it was a hatchet job or a hagiography - it is neither. Ten years after the death of the princess who will never grow old the hysteria has at last started to die down and it has become possible to give a rounded view. This is why despite its lurid pink colour and the glut of material it is adding to on the subject, the publication of this volume is welcome.

Getting at the truth is a struggle at the best of times. On this particular subject, it is virtually impossible. Often with conflicting accounts, Brown is faced with guessing what to believe. What was going on in Diana's head when Prince Charles proposed? Who knows.

But while this account is not sycophantic towards Diana it does gives the reader a view of the world from her point of view. One of the guesses Tina Brown makes is that Diana never loved Charles but was in love with the fairytale idea of being a Princess. Not in purely a selfish or egotistical sense but in the true fairytale sense of being a good, kind princess who would do all sorts of wonderful things.

From his perspective the Prince of Wales did not love Diana but had a sense of duty about marrying her. In terms of their compatibility would there really have been much of a match without the Royal dimension? They both seem to have had doubt before the big day. Diana was told by her sister Sarah,

Bad luck Duch. Your face is on the tea towels so it's too late to chicken out now.
Brown chucks about any extraneous Royal anecdote.

There is some uinintentioned humour by the Queen. Asked about her sister Princess Margaret suffering from depression and whether it might be a good idea for her to see a therapist, The Queen replies:

Perhaps when she is better we could consider that.
Prince Philip's reputation for outspokenness is confirmed by an encounter reported to Brown by Michael Shea, The Queen's former press secretary:
A Kuwaiti prince introduced himself to the Duke on a Gulf tour with the words, "I am the Minister for the Environment", only to hear Philip reply, "You've killed every bloody animal in Kuwait", and walk away.
Tina Brown's volume the Diana Chronicles includes a wonderfully snobbish retort the Princess of Wales gave to Prince Philip in 1995. Philip told her:
If you don't behave, my girl, we'll take your title away.
She replied:
My title is a lot older than yours, Philip.
Then there are walk on parts for those who fell in and out of favour with the late Princess. After her divorce there was:
a round of social purging.
Among the victims:
Lord and Lady Palumbo were excised after Peter's candid warnings about Martin Bashir.... Sir Ronald Grierson was bounced after he made the mistake of offering a job to Victoria Mendham, one of the many secretaries Diana fired.
Prince Charles won't find this an agreeable book - in the unlikely event that he should read it. But there is some restraint shown to casting him as the unfeeling villain. For instance of the incident of him getting the marriage off to the worst possible start by wearing cufflinks specially given to him by Camilla, Brown says:
what causes me to be sceptical, is that he never chose his clothes himself. Ties, suits,and shirts were always picked out each morning with cufflinks pre-inserted and offered to him like a choice of hors d'oeuvres by his faithful valet Stephen Barry.
Often a charitable view is taken of Charles's inattentiveness towards his wife. It is explained away as eccentricity - as when he spent much of his wedding reception chatting to the Goons.

Tina records being on a line up at the American Embassy standing next to Tom Stoppard waiting to be presented to Charles and Diana. HRH told Stoppard:

I've thought of a good idea for a play. It's about a hotel which caters entirely for people with phobias.
As the marriage breaks up the whole modern tragedy unfolds and the fairytale is transformed into a squalid breakdown. It is all recounted in unrelieved detail - the affairs, the media wars, the rival courtiers. A turning point was Diana's decision to collaborate with Andrew Morton's biography calculated to damage the Royal Family to the maximum degree possible.

Brown says of the Morton book,

written with her secret collusion and accusing the uncaring Charles of driving her to multiple suicide attempts had been a Molotov cocktail hurled at the House of Windsor. Now the Palace was taking its revenge with a thousand cuts.
Brown hints that once Diana might have realised collaboration with Morton was a terrible mistake, she:
started to understand what it was she had lost along with the automatic protection and respect of the well-oiled Palace machine; she saw how nasty it could be when turned against her. Ranks closed among the creepy-crawlies who vied for the favour of the Crown. Her husband had something more durable than media stardom: he was the next King.
After her death there was a period of national hysteria but then her dignity was restored.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.

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