Princess Diana

Apart from my sisters, estranged from my mother, I am a woman alone in a house of men who secretly call themselves princes…whose small foot conveniently fills the slipper of glass. The woman writer, the lady umpire, the madam chairman, any one’s wife. I know what I know. And once I was glad of the chance to use it.

I am a woman in a state of siege, alone as one piece of laundry, strung on a windy clothesline a mile long. A woman co-opted by promises: the lure of a job, the ruse of a choice, a woman forced to bear witness, falsely against my kind…. I’ll die young like those favored before me, handpicked each one for her joyful heart. -Olga Broumas, 1977, Cinderella.

At the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles in 1981. the Archbishop of Canterbury remarked that this is “the stuff of which fairy tales are made.” However, for the past five years it has often been difficult to untangle the storybook myth from the evolving tragedy in Princess Diana’s life. However, the prevailing direction of her fate made itself evident on the last day of August 1997. Just when we thought Cinderella had escaped the palace and found a truer love. her on-again off-again fairy tale took a decisive turn towards the tragic, after a high-speed crash in a Paris tunnel. In the weeks that have followed princesses have never seemed so real.

On the day of the funeral, someone left a ballerina’s shoe hanging from the gates of Diana’s former home, Kensington Palace, inscribed with the words: “You were Cinderella at the ball and now you are a Sleeping Beauty.” Seemingly everywhere cards, posters and headlines bestowed upon her the title she had always sought, “The People’s Princess.”

A month before Diana’s death, Jerry White had been able too meet and talk to the Princess while touring a Bosnian mine field with her. Upon hearing the news of her death, White made a promise to himself, “I’m going to tell my daughters Kate and Quincy that Princesses are real. There was one once who was quite something.” A mine field seems like a crazy place to meet a princess, let alone one that could convince a person that fairy tales come true. Yet this was just the kind of place Princess Diana elected to go while other members of the royal family felt more comfortable at “sheltered” charitable events.

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Diana was different because her royal title never got in the way of her heart. On a trip to a children’s hospital in Pakistan, Dr. G.M. Shah recalls, “There was a young boy who had a tumor on his face. That tumor was festering. It smelled, it really smelled. I was sitting 4 feet away, and I could smell it. And she picked him up. She held him, completely oblivious to everything. The boy could not open his mouth; one eye was closed. It was not a happy scene. But she held that child on her lap throughout the party we had. She was happy to keep that child with her through the whole function. She remembered his case when she returned and asked for him. He had died shortly after her first visit. For a few moments after hearing this, she could not speak.”

It’s not that the rest of the royal family were any less devoted or giving to hundreds of good causes in Britain or around the world, because indeed they have been and are. What made Diana so different was the way in which she sought to fulfill the modern functions of her royal title. British monarchs haven’t had any real political power for over a hundred years. Their contemporary role has been largely symbolic. Today, their primary duties are to act as official heads of state and to act as good will ambassadors for charities and fundraising.

Diana was a truly post-modern British princess because of the man ner in which she fulfilled her royal duties and because of the public response her efforts garnered. By bringing her charity work directly to the people: the sick, homeless, injured and downtrodden, she went beyond the traditional intermediary events and styles of the House of Windsor. Prince Charles had raised enormous amounts of money for the Prince’s Trust by playing polo and attending dinners while Princess Diana had chosen to do her work by holding a dying child, hugging an AIDS patient or walking in a mine field to elevate the issue in the public’s mind. Furthermore, while it was difficult for Prince Charles or the Queen to even appear “natural” at a stuffy fund-raiser, Diana did her charity work with undivided grace and compassion.

In her last interview with the French magazine Le Monde, she expressed why she had never been comfortable with the royal family’s traditional aloofness. “I am much closer to the people at the bottom than those at the top and the latter won’t forgive me for that,” she says. “My father always taught me to treat people as equals. I have always done that and I am sure that Harry and William have learned that as well.”

The death of “The People’s Princess” and the “Flower Revolution” which followed, has transformed the face of the British Monarchy. Whether or not Prince William and Prince Harry have learned the values and lessons of their mother, they will not be allowed by the people who took to the streets in September. to return to the ways of their grandmother. Queen Elizabeth II. Prince Charles had recently come to a similar conclusion himself as he espoused. “Something as curious as the monarchy won’t survive unless you take account of people’s attitudes.” And how the people’s attitudes have changed. John Cassidy, a writer for The New Yorker and The Sunday Times remarked, “England just doesn’t seem very English. It’s gone all cuddly-feely.” The impact of her death has been similar in America where 50 million people stayed up through the night and into the early morning to watch Diana’s funeral on television while hundreds of thousands more left flowers and tributes at British embassies and consulates.

The Queen had to respond to this outpouring of public emotion or she would have risked losing the respect and following of her people as well as the future role of an increasingly obsolete monarchy. After reportedly feuding with Prince Charles over the funeral arrangements, she succumbed to the pressures of her son, the media savvy Prime Minister Tony Blair and the masses at the palace gates. The “Flower Revolution” demanded a response and she answered the call by making an unprecedented live television address and by lowering her royal flag and flying the Union Jack at half mast, a first in a thou sand years of royal tradition. And perhaps with even greater symbol ism she bowed her head to Diana’s casket as it rolled past the royal family at Buckingham Palace on its way to Westminster Abbey.

Just over a week after her death, as the royal family and the Spencer’s pleaded with people to stop sending and leaving tributes at the palace gates, the estimate for flower sales went over $50 million dollar mark. If that amount of money seems enormous think about the $250 million that was raised during that same period of time for Princess Diana’s Memorial Fund, which in the coming months with the addition of an all-star tribute album, will be valued at over $1 billion. Just what will be done with that money and how it will be allocated to Diana’s favorite charities is a difficult task. Not because of greed or politics but because there were so many causes she was close to. Most notably the National Aids Trust, the Leprosy Mission, Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital and the Royal Institute of Cancer Research. An unprecedented show of royal support for her work came as members from over 100 of the charitable organizations that she had been close to were asked to walk behind her coffin. Paul Gray of Time remarked that “They were not the sort of people ordinarily invited to march in royal processions, but they were Diana’s people.”

In America, Diana was closely associated with several charities. One of her favorites was United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) in New York City. She was recently honored by this organization with their Humanitarian Award at a dinner attended by Colin Powell, Barbara Walters, Henry Kissenger and Donald Trump. New York City and charity work were two of her favorite pastimes while in America so much so that there were rumors that she was looking to make New York City her primary residence. She would have been welcomed with open arms, by Americans as well as by American charities. UCP founder, Jack Hausman has been devastated by her death. He remarked, “Princess Diana’s legacy is the caring and philanthropic activism she inspired in so many. The world is a richer place for having known and loved her.”

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Her most recent calling was the international irradiation of land mines. Her trips to Angola and Bosnia in support of this cause did not go unnoticed by world leaders. At home, just before her death. Prime Minster Blair had decided to restore an official role to her work by making her a special ambassador. After hearing of her death, Blair remarked, “She had tremendous ability as we saw over the land mines issue…I felt there were all sorts of ways that could have been harnessed and used for the good of people.” However, like her Brother Charles, the Earl of Spencer, remarked in his eulogy, she really needed no royal or official title to continue her work or to garner the respect and adoration from people worldwide.

We can never be sure what the future really would have held for Diana or if she would have wanted to continue in a public role. Richard Kay of The Daily Mail reported that he had received a call from Diana a week before her death to tell him “she was planning to withdraw from her public duties around November.” The speculation being that her relationship with Dodi al Fayed was even more serious than the press had imagined. Rumors point to the fact that Dodi had given her a $200,000 diamond ring that fateful night before their death and that Dodi’s father, Mohammed al Fayed, was ironically preparing the former Paris residence of the estranged Duke of Windsor, for Dodi and Diana to settle down in. Beyond such rumors, Diana had indeed remarked in her last interview with Le Monde that. “Any sane person would have left (Britain) long ago.”

Who could really blame Diana for running? She’s had so much to escape from in a life that was marked by estrangement from her mother, an eating disorder, depression, and a severely broken heart. The smothering nature of the media and the aloofness of the royal family didn’t help much either. With all of these struggles it was amazing that she took to charity work and was able to give so much of herself as she did.

“When she first became the Princess of Wales her duties in the royal family, beyond being the future mother of the king, were undefined. Without any real guidance or direction from Prince Charles or the Queen, she had to find her own place. In a 1995 interview with the BBC she remarked, “I was very confused by which area I should go into. Then I found myself being more and more involved with people who were rejected by society-with, I’d say, drug addicts, alcoholism, battered this, battered that and I found an affinity there. And I respected very much the honesty I found on that level with people I met, because in hospices, for instance, when people are dying, they’re much more open and more vulnerable, and much more real than other people. And I appreciated that. I remember when I used to sit on hospital beds and hold people’s hands, people used to be sort of shocked because they said they’d never seen this before, and to me it was quite a normal thing to do. And when I saw the reassurance that an action like that gave, I did it everywhere, and will always do that.”

Ironically, there never really seemed to be anyone there for Diana to comfort her in the same way. While the rest of the world was still believing the fairy tale in 1982, Diana was suffering through depression. Diana remarks, “I was unwell with post-natal depression. You’d wake up in the morning feeling you didn’t want to get out of bed, you felt misunderstood, and just very, very low on yourself. I never had had a depression in my life. But then when I analyzed it I could see that the changes I’d made in the last year had all caught up with me, and my body had said: ‘We want a rest.’ I needed space and time to adapt to all the different roles that had come my way. I knew I could do it, but I needed people to be patient and give me the space to do it. Maybe I was the first person ever to be in this family who ever had a depression or was ever openly tearful. And obviously that was daunting, because if you’ve never seen it before how do you support it?”

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Perhaps if the royal family had taken the same approach to helping others as she had, then they would have been able to help her through this time of need. Without a shoulder to lean on, things got even worse for Diana, as depression became only one of several problems. She remarked, “I had bulimia for a number of years. You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable. You fill your stomach up four or five times a day-some do it more and it gives you a feeling of comfort. It’s like having a pair of arms around you, but it’s temporary. Then you’re disgusted at the bloatedness of your stomach, and then you bring it all up again. And it’s a repetitive pattern which is very destructive to yourself.”

As to the cause of her bulimia Diana said, “It was a symptom of what was going on in my marriage. I was crying out for help, but giving the wrong signals, and people were using my bulimia as a coat on a hanger: they decided that was the problem-Diana was unstable. The cause was the situation where my husband and I had to keep everything together because we didn’t want to disappoint the public, and yet obviously there was a lot of anxiety going on within our four walls. It (bulimia) was my escape mechanism, and it worked, for me, at that time.”

While able to overcome the bulimia and depression, the troubles surrounding her marriage were terminal. While the rest of us had no idea, Diana knew the root of the problem. Prince Charming had run off with another girl in town. As Diana remarked. “A woman’s instinct is a very good one….There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” From 1986 to 1992, Diana tried to work things out with Charles for the sake of her sons and as she admits, “I desperately wanted it to work, I desperately loved my husband.” However, Prince Charles seemed more com mitted to his affair with Camellia Parker Bowles than to his wife. When asked how she felt upon there separation in 1992 she remarked, “Deep, deep, profound sadness. Because we had struggled to keep it going, but obviously we’d both run out of steam. My husband asked for the separation and I supported it. The fairy tale had come to an end, and most importantly our marriage had taken a turn.”

If her role had never been clear as HRH Princess of Wales it was even more undefined with the impending loss of her royal title. She was still the mother of the future King but beyond that just what she would do was open to question. Royal title or not, she was still a consistent top story for the media around the world. Her face on the cover of a magazine sold more copies than any other celebrity. And the hunt for that one perfect photograph never went away. Ironically, as the royal family distanced themselves from Diana, the people and the media demanded to get even closer.

With all the attention, Diana knew it would be difficult to start a new fairy tale. She remarked, “Any gentleman that’s been past my door, we’ve instantly been put together in the media and all hell’s broken loose. I still to this day find the interest daunting and phenomenal, because I actually don’t like being the center of attention. When I go out of my front door, I’m being photographed. I never know where the lens is going to be. A normal day would be followed by four cars; a normal day would come back to my car and find six freelance photographers jumping around me. They’ve decided I’m still a product, after 15, 16 years, that sells well.” Of course, it was this attention that directly or indirectly led to her death in Paris.

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We may never know what really happened the night of her death. We can put the blame in many different directions. However, what we can take from the accident is that if Diana and Dodi had worn their seat belts and if the driver had not been under the influence, as it has been reported, then the Princess may have gotten a second chance at the fairy tale. If anything has been for gotten in this tragedy it is how common it is for people to be injured or die when seat belts are not worn and when a driver is drunk

While the decisions of that night cannot be changed, we can still wonder about all the what-if’s. Ironically, Diana had planned on using the smothering nature of the media to advance the causes that were so dear to her. In her BBC interview she said, “I’d like to be an ambassador for this country. As I have all this media interest, let’s not just sit in this country and be battered by it. When I go abroad we’ve got 60 to 90 photographers, just from this country, coming with me, so let’s use it in a productive way. to help this country.”

Diana also let us know how she would have liked to focus this media attention. She remarked, “I’ve got tremendous knowledge about people and how to communicate. And when I look at people in public life, I’m not a political ani mal but I think the biggest disease this world suffers from in this day and age is the disease of people feeling unloved….I think the British people need someone in public life to give affection, to make them feel important, to support them, to give them light in their dark tunnels.”

Little did she know how much of this she had already accomplished. After all the debate of what her future public role would be or what her relationship with Dodi al Fayed meant, her greatest works were already done. The British Monarchy would never be the same. They have to carry on Diana’s role. As Martin Amis of Time wrote, “She introduced an informality, a candid modernity, into a system that could offer no resistance to it; she had a beauty in her life that made them ugly.”

For the royal family, gone are the days of the aloof fundraising and the retreat behind the palace gates. Diana’s life and death have made them more like her. Perhaps not by choice but by the will of the people who saw “Diana’s way” and will settle for nothing less. When Diana was asked what she would like the monarchy to be like she said, “I would like a monarchy that has more contact with the people and I don’t mean by riding round bicycles and things like that, but just having a more in-depth understanding.” While she was unable to officially advance these changes in the royal family, she was committed to remaining true to them herself. “I’d like to be the queen of people’s hearts,” she had said. If she wasn’t then, she certainly is now.

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Several commentators have expressed disbelief in how so many people could have felt so close to a woman that they had never met or ever known. In reality most of us did know her, perhaps even better than we know our own next-door neighbors. In this media age, her picture, her life and her problems were splashed across our newspapers, magazines and televisions. Her most intimate secrets and

moments were displayed openly to the world. We were at her wedding, her children’s birth, her charity functions and sadly at her death. Other journalists and commentators have doubted just how different she was from the rest of the royal family. If the reaction of the world isn’t enough for them to see, then they should remember all the trips to AIDS and cancer wards, to villages of starving people, to children’s hospitals. I doubt whether one reporter or commentator who has doubted her character would have held that boy in the Pakistani hospital or walked through a Bosnian mine field as she did. She was different. She was amazing. Like Cinderella, the fairy tale glass slip per was hers alone.

Donations to continue Princess Diana’s work can be sent to: The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Trust Fund Kensington Palace, London W8 4PU, United Kingdom

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