Diana 1961-1997: Death of a Princess

SHE WOULD NEVER BE QUEEN, BUT SHE BECAME RULER OF HER OWN HEART--AND, EVEN IN HER TRAGIC END, THE WORLD'S TRUE PRINCESS

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She did her duty. She produced an heir--and, as the saying goes, a spare. The palace sent her abroad to represent her country, and she did it with such panache that the Prince of Wales began to look like the junior partner in the royal enterprise. Although Charles himself had exhorted his young bride to "just look 'em in the eye and knock 'em dead" on their wedding day, it was clearly unsettling for him when she did just that. For a while there was little hint of the troubles ahead. The royal couple danced cheek to cheek at the White House and embraced tenderly between Charles' chukkas on the polo field. Even their disparate interests seemed captivating, as if dancing Di with her flashy friends and flashier clothes somehow complemented older, stuffy Charles with his easel and paints and his kilt-clad kinsmen.

But somewhere along the line the magic departed and the demons moved in. After William's birth in 1982, Diana suffered postpartum depression and succumbed to bulimia. Her son, she confided to friends, was the only joy in her life. She kept smiling for the cameras because, as she later explained, "we didn't want to disappoint the public." So did Charles. As he had declared on their wedding day as he bent to kiss his new bride at Buckingham Palace, "We do this sort of thing rather well."

Not well enough. By 1985 the marriage was clearly in trouble despite strenuous denials from the palace. Health problems aside, Diana was clearly feeling the strain of living in a goldfish bowl--and getting very little support from her husband or the rest of the royal family. During a visit to West Palm Beach, Fla., that year, Diana flirted with polo players while her husband looked the other way. Later, during a visit to a London hospice, she let slip a telling comment. "The biggest disease this world suffers from," she complained, "[is] people feeling unloved."

It didn't matter that the people loved her to distraction--theirs and hers. The price of that relentless affection was the constant limelight, the prying lenses of the paparazzi and the febrile speculation in the tabloid press that her marriage was in trouble. By the mid-1980s, the Waleses were beginning to go their separate ways, not only in private but in public. By the time the royal couple visited Toronto in 1991, they could no longer conceal their estrangement.

Back home the feuding and sniping multiplied. "Shy Di" became "Sly Di" at the hands of Charles' propaganda machine. The princess, by now a seasoned manipulator of headlines as well as hearts, gave as good as she got. As she herself warned in an interview even as the divorce papers were being prepared, "she won't go quietly, that's the problem." In Andrew Morton's 1992 Diana: Her True Story, she revealed--by way of close friends who briefed the author, presumably with Diana's consent--that her suspicion of Charles' longtime relationship with Parker-Bowles had driven her to a suicide attempt while she was staying at Sandringham Palace during Christmas 1982. Charles accused her of crying wolf and prepared to go riding, prompting Diana to hurl herself down the stairs.

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