Diana 1961-1997: Death of a Princess


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    But how could she truly leave when, for the past 16 years, she in a sense embodied Britain, proving that despite the demise of empire and the weight of history, the country was capable of youth and vigor and charm. By blood she too, and not just Charles, was descended from James I, the first Stuart King. And, after generations of imported brides and serendipitous successors, she was the first Englishwoman to marry an heir to the throne in more than 300 years. She was a testament to the tenacity of the island, a nation that could make princesses as well as bear them.

    The world watched as Charles and Diana cooed and wed. The stodgy House of Windsor had survived the scandal of an irresponsible King who gave up his throne for the woman he loved by going into industrial public service mode. Now, in Diana, it had the warmest smile, the most soulful eyes, and the public obsession with her began. As the princess who would be Queen, Diana could turn the world's passion for her into compassion for others, whether they were the homeless, AIDS patients or casualties of land mines. Even as the press would prove a scourge, she knew it was a weapon to be wielded--for good as well as for byzantine dynastic dealings. But she was serious about doing good. In her interview with Le Monde, she declared, "Being permanently in the public eye gives me a special responsibility--to use the impact of photographs to get a message across, to make the world aware of an important cause, to stand up for certain values."

    Yet, in Diana's case, public and private lives intersected with the verve of soap opera--for that was indeed what she had married into, a very grim fairy tale that had come true. When she walked down the aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral on July 29, 1981, to take the hand of her prince, there was no inkling of a doomed denouement. How could there be? The bells that pealed in celebration drowned out any fears of future trouble; Britain and the world beyond it rejoiced. Here indeed was a union to gladden hearts.

    Nobody, not even her former husband, will be able to pinpoint exactly the moment when the marriage began to fall apart. Yet even before the couple uttered their marriage vows, Diana clearly had concerns about the upcoming union. She had tearfully protested to Charles after she opened a package that contained a gold bracelet he intended to give to Camilla Parker-Bowles commemorating their relationship. Just before the wedding she called her sisters to lunch and asked them if she might still be able to get out of it. "Your face is on the tea towels," they famously replied, "so it's too late to chicken out now."

    That reluctance to become part of the House of Windsor Inc. explains the wistful, enigmatic smiles of those early married years. For this princess, no mattresses could mask the kernel of resentment at being plunged into a role for which she had never been prepared and from which there appeared to be no escape.

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