I read The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown several years ago, when it first came out, but I enjoyed re-reading it in the era of the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George. Quite honestly, it did remind me just how rough it was for Lady Diana Spencer to marry into a stagnating, out-of-touch and cold royal family and how Kate Middleton has had it so much better. I do think the royal family learned a lot from the whole Diana experience, both good and bad, from her life and from her death. Diana and Charles had only spent maybe a month together in total (spread out over the course of a year). Diana was thrown into the deep end with no road map, and at the age of 19, Diana had no idea about what she was signing on for, and she was thrown to the wolves.
Again, we have to go back Diana’s brother, Charles, the Earl Spencer, who eulogized Diana in such a succinct way:
Diana was the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty. All over the world she was a symbol of selfless humanity, a standard-bearer for the rights of the truly downtrodden, a very British girl who — who transcended nationality, someone with a natural nobility who was classless, and who proved in the last year that she needed no royal title to continue to generate her particular brand of magic.
That was the best of Diana, and that is the ghost of the sainted Diana that the royal family still lives with, because the public demands it. What I appreciated about Tina Brown’s take was that she was able to compile (conjure) what was wonderful about Diana – the selflessness, the generosity, the compassion – while also noting that Diana was a woman who had significant flaws. My favorite parts of the book where when Brown iterated over and over just how detrimental Diana’s “Prince Charming” fantasies were when they crashed into the reality of her life, her marriage, her lying, cheating husband. Brown also pointed out something dead-on: Diana was brilliant as a tactician, but she sucked at long-term strategies. She was short-sighted, didn’t set long-term goals and all she wanted was for someone to rescue her.
It’s worth delving into the intricacies of Diana’s life because, I often feel, we’ve learned the wrong lessons, and the royal family has learned the wrong lessons. Diana gave the royal family the gift of modernization, but what have they done with it? Diana gave the British people a breath of fresh air in which “one’s duty” was the privilege of civil and public service, not some dull, unemotional sulk. I think about that a lot when I’m covering William and Kate, because it does seem like they’re a regression from the idea of their royal work being a “privilege” to serve. William (much more so than Harry, who seems more like his mum, quite honestly) really, truly seems to hate royal work, and he often acts like his title is an albatross around his neck.
I think Brown is at her most generous when it comes to the idea that Diana was “manipulative,” an idea deeply rooted in Team Charles during the royal divorce war. Diana understood the media and PR down to her bones, and even as a teenager, she was extremely savvy about her image. Is that manipulation? Or was she just great at being princess?
Also: after re-reading this book, I’m having a harder time giving Camilla a break. It really seems like Camilla just would NOT let go of Charles no matter what. I think Charles married Diana because Camilla approved of Diana, and Camilla approved of her because Camilla thought Diana was a mouse who could be manipulated. But does Camilla deserve the bulk of the blame, or only half of it? Charles was the one who kept coming back to her, over and over. He was the one who wanted someone to mother him, seduce him, take care of him. That was never going to be Diana, because she wanted someone to seduce her, take care of her, be her Prince Charming.
So, would I recommend this book? Of course! It was my selection. I do think Tina Brown got a little bit bogged down in some of the details about this press secretary or that mistress or whatever, but for real royal-loonies, this is one of the best Diana biographies out there.
Bedhead’s take: I still remember falling asleep on the couch one night during college. CNN was playing in the background, and I awoke up a few hours later to the news of Diana’s death. The news was devastating to so many people, not just Brits. Even as an American, I idolized Diana as a child. I wanted to be her so badly that I single-white-femaled her haircut in 3rd grade (it worked much better on Di). After Diana’s death, I lost touch with the happenings of the royals. I’m now an outsider to royal gossip other than reading what Kaiser writes here.
Even though I’m not a royal-loonie, I still enjoyed this book a lot. Diana transcended the status of “royal” and truly was The People’s Princess. The Diana Chronicles starts out slow. I didn’t care too much for the parts about Di’s childhood, but the pace picked up and reeled me into the book. Overall, there were fewer revelations than I expected, but Diana’s inner self is much more fleshed out by this book. She seems more like a multi-dimensional person now than merely a spurned wife or charitable saint. Tina Brown isn’t as interested in presenting new factual information than a talented analysis of facts that have already existed. Brown also skillfully manages to avoid passing judgment upon Diana. She does acknowledge Diana’s flaws but presents them as an intricate part of a dynamic, whole woman. Brown paints her portrait with much care but still allows the reader draw their own ultimate conclusion about the tragic fate of Diana.
I left this book with a greater sense of what drove Diana to create her media persona. Charles ended up looking like a complete dolt, and Camilla appeared even more scheming than I’d previously assumed her to be. Undeniably, Diana accomplished great things, but she was also a master of using her media prowess to get back at Charles for treating her so poorly. I enjoyed watching her pull the strings. This book was so much fun to read despite already knowing the very sad ending to Diana’s story.
Celebitchy’s take: I’m only about halfway through the book as I had a hard time getting into it. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy what I read. Tina Brown is a consummate gossip and she loves a turn of phrase. She’s a clever, interesting writer, but her prose has a breakneck pace and is chock full of details. I wish Brown would have stuck to Diana’s story and not gone off on so many tangents, particularly in the first half of the book. There were so many side characters and a detailed backstory that weighed down the beginning.
Diana gave her boys a nurturing upbringing and she was there for them in a way that was unprecedented in the royal family before her. During Diana and Charles’ first tour of Australia, a six week affair in 1983, Diana insisted on bringing 9 month-old baby William with them (and his nanny, naturally), against the objections of the Queen. That was just one of many ways that Diana shook up the old guard and brought change to the royals. She also frequently upstaged her husband and the Queen in ways that were somewhat deliberate but not necessarily under her control. She was a force of nature, and Brown captured that well while showing Diana as a complete person.
This book is full of delicious descriptions of Diana’s outings and outfits, most of which are of course public record and easily googled. I found a wonderful Pinterest board that chronicled Diana’s courtship and engagement and dovetailed nicely with those events in the book. I also found myself searching for video of Lady Di’s moments, like her first public appearance (in a scandalous plunging gown) and her awkward engagement interview with the man she was never compatible with.
Our next book club selection is The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. Michael Fassbender was just cast in the film adaptation!
Photos courtesy of WENN.