The end of the European holidays. Americans were counting the days until school started, sitting at their office desks and wondering what the kids were up to at home.
The only real news was that the former Princess of Wales was gadding around the Mediterranean with some has been playboy. It seemed like only yesterday that she was the high-profile face of landmine removal and other worthy causes. The paper printed wild rumors with a sort of tight lipped glee. She was marrying this Fayed guy, she was pregnant, they would retire to the grand Paris apartment of the doomed Duke and Duchess of Windsor; or no, perhaps she was going to be appointed a special ambassador to the U.N. Who knew? Maybe she’d turn up as a guest star on the X-Files, then a top 20 TV show.
Instead she died in a car crash, a case of drunk driving, the chaos of a life unraveling cut short. Despite the golden beauty, the designer dresses, the fetching, fluttering eyelashes, the undeniable sexiness, she was a mess. She had reiterated her story all through the early years of the ‘90’s, evisverating her own fairy tale: Charles never loved her, the royal family had given her short shrift, she hated their low brow lifestyle, particularly all that hunting, fishing and horseback riding. Her divorce finalized, she went on a do gooder binge and then let it all hang out in a grand gallavant around the Med with Fayed. In the end, hers was a useless death, but then most car crash deaths are.
In grand Diana style, she speaks to us now from the grave, via old, spliced together film. She dredges up thirty year old hurts, hitting the heart like an overwhelming attack of nostalgia, sublime, radiant, terrifying.
Diana remains that beautiful woman of the 1990’s while the rest of us, including Charles, and Camilla, who is now his wife, are twenty years older. Charles is a guy with odd white highlights under his eyes, accentuating his ruddy complexion and deeply carved crow’s feet. Camilla is a white blonde in pastel, her carefully crafted dresses making peace with the fact that she’s an English matron gone slightly to seed. She is harmless and familiar; unlike Diana, she fits in well with the royals.
Of course, everyone ratchets back to that fairy tale wedding. Back then Charles was still dashing, at least when you put him in a uniform; Diana was the Cinderella princess. Even the dour Queen caught some of that fairy tale radiance. It was so compelling because it was a lie, a fictional construction. Real life, as any fiction writer will tell you, is much too complicated for happily ever after.
This is this real tragedy of the former Diana Spencer. She was as out of place as a fish in the sky among the royals. This was not any one person’s fault. The Queen and the Queen Mother bear some of the blame; they indulged Charles and did not seem to note that he had become his great Uncle David (the Duke of Windsor) until it was too late. The horse was out of the barn by then, that horse being the Queen’s overwhelming sense of duty.
Camilla is to blame for stringing along Charles even as she chased her eventual husband, Andrew Parker-Bowles, who was a serial philanderer. Tina Brown, author of the Diana Chronicles, states that Camilla was in love with Parker-Bowles when she married him, despite her ongoing affair with Charles. As the years went on, however, infidelity as practiced on both sides of the marriage finally broke it, particularly when Charles and Diana divorced. It was no longer possible for Camilla to keep her relationship with Charles a secret without the cover of Diana.
Charles is to blame for not fighting for the former Camilla Shand in the first place. Yes, he is unsuited to be King, not because he’s got strange ideas, is too outspoken, or even goofy. It is because he’s weak, something his mother is not. His inability to stand up for Diana in the first years of their marriage, doomed it from the beginning. Even in the ecstasies of honeymoon, he longed for Camilla, the woman he loved; Uncle David indeed.
Diana herself is also to blame, all old videos aside. She married a man she did not understand and never would. She sought a fairy tale to get her out of the pitfalls of her all too real, and awful, family life. She, like a lot of 20-year-olds mistook infatuation for love. That lovely wedding was really the beginning of the end.
People admire Prince William and Katherine Middleton, more properly the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, precisely because they are not Charles and Diana. Kate does not have Diana’s amazing beauty, but she is lovely in a girl next door way. This couple got everything that would have headed Charles and Diana off at the pass: they met in the course of university studies, they cultivated a friendship, they had years of courtship instead of months, they broke up at least once, they are approximately the same age. Neither of them believed in fairy tales. It was everything Charles and Diana did not, or perhaps more accurately, could not do.
Go ahead, mourn if you must. Don’t, however, believe everything Diana of Wales says in those old films. She was good at PR and she knew how to use the camera. Enjoy it for what it is, or was, and chalk it up to experience. The royal family has.