The 34-year-old’s reaction is significant in many ways. First, an embarrassed smile appears, followed by a shy shaking of the head: “No, I don’t.”
Instead, she counters with a different narrative: “I’d like to be a queen of people’s hearts, in people’s hearts.” Her voice still sounds breathless, she looks vulnerable, even a little sad. Diana Spencer showed herself to be a sensitive icon, who became victim of the establishment and who, in this role, found the strength to rebel against it.
There are countless attempts to explain this aspect of Diana Spencer’s character, but it only takes a quick glance at her biography to understand how a shy teenager could become such an important person of the modern age. The vulnerability was already present in her early years, her parents after two previous daughters had been hoping for an heir.
A boy, born in 1960, died shortly after birth. And when Diana, another girl, was born on 1st July 1961, it took her parents a week to choose a name. Their poisonous relationship led to constant arguments, until her mother left the family home in 1967. Custody was awarded to her father, and Diana found his second wife to be a “tyrant”, who, on one occasion, she reportedly tried to kick down the stairs. In Diana’s words, it was “a very unhappy and unstable childhood”.
This seems to also be reflected in her aimless life, leaving school in 1978 with no qualifications. She attended cooking classes and became, by turns, a dance teacher, nursery teacher and party hostess. Who knows what path she might have taken, if she hadn’t come to the attention of a certain Prince Charles, who had dated her older sister.
And somehow, he seemed like Prince Charming to her, freeing her from her Cinderella-like existence. She would mock herself later for her own naivety. But, as is well known, Diana didn’t go under, despite all the psychological crises, bulimia and self-harm. A year after her marriage, she found her first anchor – her son William, born in 1982 and followed by Harry in 1984. “My mother overwhelmed my brother and I with love,” said William. Publicly celebrating her role as a mother created the image of a sympathetic Princess of Hearts, embodying emotion instead of etiquette.
It was with this openness that Diana approached people, having encountered all of life’s ups and downs in merciless ways. That crowned heads of state justify their privileges by dedicating themselves to charitable causes is nothing new. But for Diana, it reached a unique point. Not least because this deeply wounded and sensitive person, who at least partly experienced the Royal Family as an outsider, gravitated towards people who also suffered pain in their lives.
But she was also a “material girl in a material world”, learning to master its rules better and better. She developed her own personal, casual dress code for charity visits while becoming a style icon at the same time. Yet her proximity to pop culture was a double-edged sword – she needed the media, and the media needed her. “SPENCER achieves the emotional extravagance of a top-notch melodrama while refusing its conventions. The film is simultaneously a historical fantasy, a claustrophobic thriller and a black comedy of manners.”
She ascended the throne as Queen of Hearts, but even among the ones she relied on most, some were plotting to bring about her fall. These entanglements came to a head in the days before her death, with Prince Charles holding an exuberant birthday party on 17th July 1997 for his friend Camilla Parker Bowles. Around two weeks later, Diana made the headlines for days, boldly appearing in St Tropez in front of photographers with her new boyfriend, the entrepreneur Dodi Al-Fayed. On the evening of 30th August, Diana’s chauffeur embarked on a car chase through Paris pursued by the paparazzi before crashing into a concrete post in the Seine tunnel. The end is well known.
Around one million people crowded into the streets of London to witness the funeral cortege. 2.5 billion people worldwide are supposed to have followed the funeral on TV – approximately three times more than for her wedding. Even her family demonstrated a feeling for mythological symbolism, for just as King Arthur was buried on the island of Avalon, so too does Diana lie buried on a small island on an artificial lake on her family’s estate.
In this way, her life acquired a symbolism that has barely faded. In commemoration of the first anniversary of her death, British journalist Andrew Marr wrote words that strictly speaking still ring true in 2021. “With Diana’s death, Britain suddenly stared at itself in the mirror and didn’t quite recognize the face looking back. No longer was the expression tight-lipped, white and drawn with reticence. Diana was the Queen of another country, a multicultural, liberal and emotionally open Britain.”