Princess Diana and Prince Charles: Separate Lives

Diana is ready to declare independence, putting in doubt the future of the troubled House of Windsor

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Even if she forever remains legally a part of the family, Diana has made it clear in recent weeks that she relishes the prospect of going her own way. On the weekend of Nov. 14, while Charles was home celebrating his 44th birthday, Diana made a high-profile trip to Paris that turned into a triumph. Looking relaxed and radiant, she spent nearly two hours with the Mitterrands, much of it with the President himself. She appears confident discussing humanitarian and social issues in such powerful surroundings and invariably wins the rapt attention of Presidents and ministers with a distinctly honest way of speaking and asking questions -- a far cry from her earlier repertoire of girlish smiles and playing dumb.

Diana relishes being her own woman, playing the role to the hilt. She has become an ardent patron of many causes, especially involving AIDS patients, the infirm and deprived children. "I doubt if anyone in the British Isles is better at going into a ward filled with people with cancer or AIDS," says biographer Philip Ziegler. Those close to her say the princess is very savvy and streetwise and, when not in the grip of frustration or rage, well able to size up her position. "She recognizes what people want from her," says someone who has worked with her, "and she just goes and works along. And she gives as good as she gets." She is said to live very intensely and put her all into anything she undertakes.

She expects others to do the same. She is a warm, demonstrative mother to her boys, but they know who's boss. Never try to put anything past her, says an ex-employee who wishes her well. "She has remarkable recall, incredible peripheral vision. Never try to do anything behind her back, because she has eyes there too. She is a fair but exacting person to work for. And she can spot bull a mile off."

One less tangible function of the royal family is to act as a sort of projection for people's emotions or aspirations. Diana's contemporaries, especially women, see her as a kind of feminist heroine, a fighter who knows her own worth, what she wants out of life and how to flout traditional protocol to get it. Even Camille Paglia, the American feminist movement's holy terror, got the message and has jumped on the bandwagon. Writing in the New Republic, she argued that "Diana may have become the most powerful image in world popular culture today."

The revelations of Morton's book and the Dianagate tape have done nothing to diminish her enormous public appeal. Some recent polls rank her as the family's most popular member. No wonder then that she is not at all daunted by a solo life if that is to be her fate. "After all," says broadcaster and veteran royal biographer Penny Junor, "she's been orchestrating events." Her confidence is such that on her Paris trip, though she has only patchy, schoolgirl French, she did not hesitate to use it -- no mean attainment, since the French have a way of intimidating foreign speakers considerably more fluent than Diana. People who have worked with her on various causes and charities are convinced that her secret lies not in her looks or her title but in her directness. It is hard not to respond to it.

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