Diana is in the news again–but has she ever really left the media? This season it’s bigger: “Diana at 50!” the headlines scream. What would her life have been like? What does she mean to people nowadays? What is her legacy? And on and on the questions are posited.
First is the “creepy” cover of Newsweek magazine of a Photoshopped image of Diana walking side by side with her new daughter-in-law, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge. The accompanying cover story is by Newsweek‘s editor-in-chief, Tina Brown, which speculates on how Diana would be living today– Facebook user, iPhone owner, twice-divorced free woman, fan of reality TV– an odd evolution from modern royal to global superstar. It’s a good promo to purchase or re-read Brown’s 2007 Tattler- styled biography on Diana. That book was the gossip-filled version to the biography– really an autobiography since it was Diana herself who provided material– by Andrew Morton. Morton is giving interviews himself, speculating on Diana’s life today. Monica Ali has penned a fictional alternative story called “Untold Story” in which the princess has survived the Paris auto accident and is now living a quieter, private, and lonely life under a pseudonym.
Not to be outdone in headline grabbing is British entertainer Keith Allen, father of songbird Lily Allen, who defends his documentary, “Unlawful Killing,” that maintains Diana’s death was not accidental. Like John F. Kennedy’s assassination, conspiracy theories just won’t die.
One’s wishes, aspirations, even criticisms about the monarchy and its colonial empire history could be projected on Diana. She possessed those qualities: easy beauty, warmth, charm, and most importantly approachability. That is what elicited so much sympathy and empathy for her. The attention around Diana makes me think of another blue-eyed blond beauty whose life was cut short at 36, one who still remains larger in death than in life: Marilyn Monroe. Dreams, fears, hopes, mystery–that’s what people projected on Marilyn and Diana alike.
On a personal level I related to Diana because she was only a few years older. She and I could have been in high school together. Yes, as a teenager I did the fan thing– woke up at 4:30 to watch the Wedding of the Century (as it was billed), admired her fashion, collected magazines about her, even had a custom-made copy of her carnation pink honeymoon traveling outfit. As a girl I was caught up in her celebrity, but as a woman I related to her as a wife, mother of two sons, and fellow sufferer of depression. Her funeral affected me as much as her wedding.
Finally I’d like to say leave Diana’s daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, some leeway. Allow Kate to carve her own life, formulate her own public persona. It will be impossible for her to fully emerge from the shadow of the Princess of Wales, but give her some breathing room. Tacky magazine covers don’t help the situation. The pomp and circumstance (albeit scaled down), the parallels in fashion choices (blue ensembles for the official engagement announcement and the passing on of the iconic sapphire engagement ring) the wedding date (30 years minus two months of Charles and Diana’s nuptials), the post-honeymoon official trip to North America— I understand this is all a major public relations scheme to preserve the British monarchy. And that’s what will be foremost in my mind: that this is all a living fairytale, that despite involving real lives and economies, this is a grand show of fiction that is being paraded before the world’s eyes. After all many people still crave a great story, especially those involving romance and ghosts.