By 1984, only three years after her wedding, “over one hundred biographies had already been devoted to Diana, some authorized, some not,” reported Colleen Denney in Representing Diana. The art historian and women’s studies scholar asked: “How can these journalistic biographies contribute to our understanding of the life of someone so celebrated? Should these works be dismissed as pure scandal?” Then Denney answers her own questions: “In fact, journalistic biographies can be used to glean the attitudes of a culture and its consumer desires.” And what about gleaning “the truth” regarding Diana and the people in her story from these biographies or the hundreds that followed?
Author Sally Bedell Smith said she hesitated when asked by Time Warner to write a biography of Diana soon after the princess’ death. “Scores of books had already been written, most of them sensational or superficial or both, by turns condescending, prurient, and fawning,” Smith declared in her subsequent, Diana In Search of Herself. “Many were simply newspaper accounts strung together by British tabloid reporters whose tone ranged from hagiography to character assassination, sometimes in the same volume.” In Diana: Her True Story, Andrew Morton declared that some versions of events in the princess’ life as told by posthumous biographers “owes more to Disney than to Diana. So in death she has been portrayed as happier, livelier, more saintly than she ever was in life.”
The “continuous attempt to rewrite her story—the story she wanted told,” Morton continued, still fascinates today yet leaves puzzles about what’s true. Some books and articles not only spoke of the “good” or “bad” Diana, but others were “anti- or pro-Charles” or biased for or against the monarchy, taking sides with a particular edge or slant. There were also writers who attempted to paint a fair and honest portrayal of a phenomenon where no players were perfect; then others who felt those involved in Diana’s story were playing out a legendary script—perhaps even a divine plan—on a cosmic-laced world stage.
So “as perception and reality became more confused,” in Smith’s words, did Diana manipulate the princess-dazzled press so they’d write her biographical story as a heroic legend? Damien Doorley suggested in When a Princess Dies that “Diana used the media as a public journal in which to reveal an autobiography in progress.” The public thought they knew the princess since she was fulfilling their fairy tale, but with such smoke and mirrors, who could know the real Diana—any more than she seemed to know herself right up to her death? The countless words and images in the vast Princess Diana archive, whether accurate or not, have formed an iconic life of their own—like a life-size, angst filled-to-the-brim romantic novel—with wisps of autobiographical revelations.
Andrew Morton, however, said that his tell-all biography, Diana: Her True Story, first published in 1992, then revised after her death, was the closest to an authentic autobiography of the princess since she collaborated with him, although in secret. “That could never be true,” Paul Burrell declared in A Royal Duty. Burrell, close to the princess as her personal butler and confidant for years, didn’t feel Morton’s account gave an accurate picture of Diana because “she was angry, bitter, and cooperated with Morton at the most vulnerable time.” Then he added in defense of his boss that it was “at a time Diana’s marriage was falling apart, when she was emotionally confused, when she was grieving for her beloved father…and when she felt under attack.” Burrell acknowledges that “it can be argued that the princess was partly responsible for some of the distortion…and years later she regretted it.”
When coming from such negative energy and troubled emotions—the kind that simply swallowed up Diana’s well-being at times—“the truth” is what usually gets left out. Playing the victim card seemed to be how Diana handled much of her life. She may have wished for a “more informed account” of her life and loves, according to Burrell, but even if she had lived, growing more mature and settled in her own skin then penned an autographical volume herself, would it have been what really happened?
At her death, Diana’s brother—who, as some biographers claimed, was estranged from his sister in the last years of her life—spoke his own biography of sorts, but even its accuracy was questionable. “In his eulogy,” Smith reported, “her brother Charles offered one perplexing observation against considerable evidence to the contrary. ‘She remained intact, true to herself,’ he said.” But if the opposite of this was indeed more accurate according to many friends and biographers, where then did her magic lie? What was the truth of Diana’s heart? “She never let anyone down as Princess of Wales,” recalled counselor Simone Simmons (who wrote her version of Diana’s story, The Secret Years, apparently at her famous friend’s request), acknowledging how Diana put on her best “princess face” with the public. So her struggles and anguish with the truth were mostly a lonely battle in private filled with noisy thoughts.
|Diana arriving at the |
A year or so after her separation from Prince Charles—a tumultuous and disingenuous time for the princess as she attempted to keep up with the fallout from her many schemes—Diana attended a reception at the Serpentine Gallery and, according to a later version of Morton’s biography, while chatting with the actor Jeremy Irons, “he told her: ‘I’ve taken a year off acting.’ Diana smiled and replied: ‘So have I.’” But did she ever really stop performing as a way to please another, or to get someone to love her forever, or to cover her tracks, or to stay a princess and dress in glamorous gowns, or to continue making changes in the name of “her people”—or especially as an attempt to find herself? Two areas in her life where she was never performing however—where it was laser-straight from her heart—were as a mother and as a humanitarian to the wounded of the world.
Then, when the thing that Princess Diana thought she could not live with if it happened happened—getting a divorce, it actually freed her to “write” her real story. What she had resisted now gave her the freedom and that freedom provided an opening to begin discovering who she really was, even a way to recalibrate her bearing. Out of a determined curiosity, and a budding intuitive knowledge that her life was for a bigger purpose, she found a spiritual language to match her depth of compassion. Therefore “the truth” of what happened in her life became less the point because she was writing a piece of human history with a woman’s voice long missing in the world. ~
[This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride ... from the introduction of a chapter titled, "'Is that the truth?'"]