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Book Review: The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown

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The Diana’s Chronicles is thinking man’s Diana trash. Tina Brown might be a gossip writer but she was also The New Yorker’s first female editor. All the juice is here and yet the reader would be spared of the guilt that usually swarms over while reading an Andrew Morton, Kitty Kelly, or a Paul Burrell. The details of the Diana years, not just Diana, are vivid, the anecdotes backed by 25 pages of notes, and the writing clever.

This book has appeared ten years after the Princess passed away leaving England’s stiff upper lip perennially quivering in emotional extremes. Nothing fateful happened to the 'Firm' as was feared (or hoped) would take place following the unprecedented and embarrassing response to her death. Charles went on to marry Camilla, Her Highness continues to enjoy the respect of her subjects, and Tony Blair, the master politician who described Diana as the People’s Princess, has long ceased to be the People’s Prime Minister. Diana’s enigma, though, lingers on.

If British royals — with their antiquated tiaras, ornamental costumes, boastful titles, and country castles — stood apart as members of a primitive tribal society, then Diana was definitely not an outsider. Her early years were equally regressive. She flunked the 'O' level exams; her career high was being a part-time nanny; her most important recommendation for being the future king’s bride was her allegedly intact hymen at 18, and yes, she produced the heir within a year of her wedding!

If the House of Windsor had the “stale, curdled taste of a British rail cheese sandwich,” then its near-nemesis smelled no better than a two-day old Mutton chop. Therefore it becomes more fascinating that this same woman, who thought herself “thick as a plank,” after separation from her husband, set so successfully to “tend, promote, and conserve the Diana franchise.”

Diana sympathizers fancy that a romantic teenager like her was unfortunately stuck up with a husband whose “spiritual age has always been somewhere north of sixty-five,” even though he was only twelve years older. Indeed, during their honeymoon aboard the royal yacht Britannia, Prince Charles insisted on analyzing passages of the complete works of the mystical travel writer Laurens van der Post when his bride’s intellectual tastes never went beyond Barbara Cartland potboilers. No doubt the couple was a misfit.

But it was Diana’s fault too. To win the heart of the heir to the throne, the shrewd girl had pretended to be a shooting enthusiast. As Charles would narrow his sights on pheasants, Diana narrowed hers on him. To impress Charles, she would fake interest in fishing and “sit for hours on the riverbank as if her life depended on penetrating these mysteries.”

While hunting, shooting, and fishing could be the perquisites for being a royal mistress, all these pretensions fizzled out once Diana married. Originally attracted by the cordial, mannerly, and handsome look of the Prince of Wales, she later fell for “younger, cuter, and far less burdened version of Charles.” The typical Dianaman were smooth, cutout kind of guys like Major Hewitt and bodyguard Barry Mannakee.

In her equations with boy-boy lovers, Diana always strove to be the one with the power "to push the delete button." Like a spoiled super-rich society lady, Diana would treat her ‘toys’ as kept men. Though she merely played with the poor Dodi Fayed, her affair with the Pakistani doctor Dr. Hasnat Khan was more serious. She even considered converting to Islam to marry him and went to the extent of meeting his family at Lahore. But Khan, being a proud Pathan, would marry only a Pakistani Muslim girl which he finally did in 2006.

One of the factors that eclipsed Diana’s married life was sex. According to Charles, their “first night was nothing special. She was painfully naïve.” How ironic! Diana’s virginity, so crucial in getting her to royal bedchamber, ended in a libidinous disappointment for the prince of her dreams. Charles liked things being done to him. He preferred being a passive partner. Author Barbara Cartland, who was Diana’s grandmother by her father’s second marriage, had this judgment on the reasons for the marriage failure: “Of course, you know where it all went wrong. She wouldn’t do oral sex.”

Diana too admitted that sex “wasn’t up to much” and that Charles’s was a mere “roll on, roll off” performance. Don’t blame the woman for not trying. After the birth of her second child, she would seduce Charles by strip teasing in suggestive lingerie and soft music, but he is said to have only “mildly enjoyed” these bedroom antics. According to Brown, the Prince preferred his women to lead him, master him and mother him. Perhaps that explains the intensity he shared with that excellent horse rider Camilla Parker Bowles, the ominous, all-pervasive Rebecca De Winters of Diana’s life.

However, what makes Diana’s story enchanting were not her lovers, rivals or her ex-husband, but how she survived the Camilla Parker moments of her life to become a great icon of our media-driven times. It would be tempting but dishonest to dismiss Diana's charitable causes as a free-floating global celebrity's part time hobby, her acclaimed "power of touching" merely a tabloid fantasy. The Princess was genuine in her concern and sensitive to the pains of strangers. She would pay regular hospital visits to dying AIDS patients and would meet their grieving relatives after their death.

Diana’s transformation from an unhappy Mary Antoinette in Sony walkman to a Mother Teresa in Versace remains a fantastic biography of the late 20th century. This Oprah-free Oprah Winfrey Show lasted for 16 long years. From walking the aisle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1981 to stepping into the dangerous landmines of Africa in 1997, Diana shimmered in various kaleidoscopic moments.

In July of 1981 at St. Paul’s Cathedral, she began her affair with the world in a wedding dress made of silk taffeta, ivory tulle and lace with a 25-foot long train. In 1997 in Angola, she made a deep impression in body armour over white cotton shirt, and khaki pants. In between, Diana became both a sinner and saint. She lied and loved, hunted and got hunted; experienced pleasure and pain; suffered low self-esteem and bulimia. Child of a broken family, her home too broke apart. Her dying hours were spent far away from two people she loved most – her sons.

She now lies buried at Althorp, her ancestral home, in an island in the middle of a lake – as lonely in death as she was often in life.

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About Mayank Austen Soofi

  • http://gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Great writing, Mayank. I’d like to think of it as “the thinking man’s review of the thinking man’s Diana trash.” Well, all except for the naughty bits — but that’s part of the compliment, too, somehow.

  • bliffle

    …and Tina Brown gets my vote as The Thinking Mans Bombshell. Watch the interview by Charlie Rose, the only man in america who looks good in a pinstripe suit.

  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net , which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and to Boston.com. Nice work!