Diana 1961-1997: Death of a Princess


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    Shortly after the Morton book appeared in August 1992, Britain's Sun newspaper printed the transcript of phone calls monitored back in December 1989 between Diana and a man who affectionately called her "Squidgy." In it she described her marriage as a "torture," and gave vent to her feelings about her royal relatives, whom she described as "that ___ family." Four months later, Prime Minister John Major announced the Waleses' official separation. Divorce followed in 1996.

    "We both made mistakes," Diana conceded in an interview she granted as the feuding escalated. By the time their marriage ended, both had found solace in the arms of others, although Diana's confessed infidelity with riding instructor Captain James Hewitt allegedly came only after her husband had resumed his old affair with Camilla. "Irreconcilable differences" was the catch-all phrase used in the divorce petition that brought the fantasy to a finish. But those were clear from the start. Looking back, it seems impossible that the shy 20-year-old in the sumptuous fairy-tale dress could somehow have seen a future with the dutiful, tweed-clad monarch in waiting. As she told friends during the troubled years of her marriage, "One minute I was a nobody, the next minute I was Princess of Wales, mother, media toy, member of this family, and it was just too much for one person to handle."

    Despite the divorce, the war of the Windsors was expected to go on. After all, Diana was the mother of the heir to the heir. And when her son William became King, how could she not wield influence as the unofficial, uncrowned Queen Mother? Everyone saw the battle as inevitable, a British Gotterdammerung with Windsor Castle as a potential Valhalla. Indeed, as if an augury, the Queen's country residence caught fire in 1992, a year she called an annus horribilis.

    But the final battle will not take place. There may have been omens of tragedy, visible now in retrospect. Charles had been caught in a terrifying paparazzi attack himself barely a month before Diana was overwhelmed by hers. On Aug. 9, while he was visiting the Spanish island of Majorca, photographers weaved in and out of his convoy, forcing the Prince of Wales, his broken right arm in a sling, to hold on to the overhead handgrip of his Mercedes limousine as it hurtled down the road in a 10-mile mad chase. He lived to be in bad humor.

    Diana did not. Britain woke to find its darling dead, stolen away during the night by an inexplicable fate. Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the way to a church service in his northern constituency of Sedgefield, was close to tears. Said he: "We are today a nation in a state of shock, in mourning, in grief that is so deeply painful for us. She was a wonderful and warm human being. Her own life was often sadly touched by tragedy, but she touched the lives of so many others in Britain and throughout the world with joy and comfort." He added, "She was the people's princess, and that is how she will stay in our hearts and memories for ever."

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