The Diana Chronicles
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The inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, is in full swing. There are pictures, videos from security cameras, trips to the accident scene—all kinds of backtracking and recounting of the last hours of the Princess’s life. What a coincidence that I just finished one of the latest Diana biographies: The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown, and I thought it might be appropriate to talk about this book for this month's "Royally Speaking" column.

Brown chronicles the life of Lady Diana Spencer, from her childhood to her death. I know, I know; it’s been done before. But this is not the same old, same old of other biographies. The Diana Chronicles provides a more in-depth look, not only into Diana’s life, but also into the lives of members of the Spencer family, the Royal Family, and the Parker-Bowles family. This even-handedness gives the reader a better understanding of the woman who was the very public Princess of Wales.

This book has been both heralded and panned. Some critics feel that Tina Brown, former Editor-in-Chief of gossip magazine Tatler, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, dissed her friend, the Princess, but I didn’t find this to be true. Brown doesn’t take sides; rather, she provides a very balanced account—the good with the bad. Nobody’s a saint here. Brown shows the all-too-human side of the late Princess and everyone involved in her life. Yes, sometimes Diana comes off as someone who could be mean, manipulative, vain, and controlling of her relationships after her divorce. It’s quite clear Diana wasn’t the easiest person to live with, but as she grew and matured, she nonetheless had the makings of an outstanding humanitarian who took everything to heart (sometimes to a fault), who cared about others, and who, had she lived, certainly would have made outstanding contributions to the world.

The entire cast of characters is here: Diana’s mother, father, and stepmother, with their profound effect on Diana’s perception of marriage and family life. The Queen, bound by duty, and Prince Philip, the bully who maybe isn’t such a bad guy after all. Prince Charles is portrayed as a man waiting to be king, controlled by his parents until he takes a stand after Diana’s death. And Camilla—well, there isn’t anything good said about Camilla. She was a sneaky husband stealer.

Some might think that this book is just more trash. I don’t think so. Of all the Diana biographies out there, this one is by far the best. Yes, there’s some dirt—okay, a lot of dirt—as you might expect. But the book is well researched, as any good biography should be. Tina Brown interviewed over 250 people whom she says were members of Diana’s intimate circle, associates in her public life, and partners in her philanthropy, among them the former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Tina Brown’s writing style is unstuffy, with dabs of humor. She also lends some thoughtful insight and common sense to the mix:

“The American presidency and the British monarchy both come equipped with impressive façades. Compared to the Monarchy, with its crowns and ermines and yacht and castles and gilded coaches and elaborately costumed guards, the “republican” panoply of the presidency—the plain, white-columned mansion, the businesslike Oval Office, the jet with its presidential seal, the silent, wary Secret Service men—is actually rather modest. But behind the presidential facade is the power of life or death over the whole world. Behind the monarchical façade is…well, not too much. A family, and a fairly dysfunctional one at that[.]”

Kind of puts it all into perspective, don’t you think?

At the end of the day, the big question remains: Who is responsible for Diana’s death? The Diana Chronicles has convinced me that there are a great many people, including Diana herself, who had a part in the Princess’s early, accidental demise; if one were to assign blame, it would be very widespread. Perhaps the inquest into Diana’s death will play out very differently, but I doubt it.

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