At past midnight on August 31, 1997, 25 years ago, Diana Spencer and Dodi al Fayed were about to leave the Ritz hotel in Paris, where they had dined. The Princess of Wales and her companion had decided to eat in the imperial suite (from six thousand pounds a night), because in the restaurant all those present were staring at them. Diana ordered scrambled eggs, asparagus and a sole. Then they left to go back to al Fayed’s apartment on the Champs Élysées. With a black Mercedes S280 they tried to sow the paparazzi who had been following them for hours. Driving the big and powerful sedan was Henri Paul, the security manager of the Ritz, who drove it well over two hundred kilometers per hour on the Parisian streets. A photographer later said he saw the Mercedes pass in red at the Place de la Concorde.
At twenty-four minutes past twelve, the Mercedes pulled into the Place de l’Alma underpass at a speed presumably close to 150 kilometers per hour. The car lost grip and crashed head-on into a concrete pylon. Henri Paul and al Fayed died instantly. Diana died at 4 in the morning, due to severe trauma to her chest and head. She was 36 years old.
To say that the news of Diana Spencer’s death was a shock to the media and to so many people around the world is no exaggeration. First wife of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, the subject of spasmodic and intrusive media attention for almost all of her short life, Diana entered popular culture very early and never left it: indeed, the myth that surrounds her still grew even later today. the end of the marriage and escalated further following the premature death, in a dynamic not unlike that of other characters such as Marilyn Monroe and John Kennedy.
But the reasons behind Diana’s long-lived myth are peculiar and in their own way unique, because they have to do with, among other things, the role she played in the royal family, her character, her physical appearance and her public image.
Diana Spencer was born on 1 July 1961 in Sandringham, County Norfolk, to an old and important British family. Her parents separated when she was seven and the custody lawsuit for her children was lost by her mother. In 1975, following the death of her grandfather Albert Spencer, Diana received the title of Lady and her father, who in the meantime had remarried, inherited that of Count Spencer. Diana studied until she was sixteen in the UK, failing her college exams, and then in Switzerland at a girls’ school. After that she moved to London, in an apartment with two roommates, starting to work first as a babysitter and then in a kindergarten.
When the first gossip about a date between Lady Diana and Prince Charles began at the beginning of the Eighties, it was this element of normality in her life that attracted the attention of the media: a girl of less than twenty years who lives with friends in London and works in a nursery to support themselves, in stark contrast to the lives of British royals perceived – by their own will – as distant and unreachable.
There is a moment in that period that marks the beginning of Diana’s early media fascination, and partly explains why. In 1980 a photographer fromEvening Standard he went to the kindergarten where Diana worked and took a series of photos of her with some children. Until then, her tabloids had devoted relatively little space to her, renaming her “Shy Di” for her shy expression, with her head nestled between her shoulders when she was paparazzi; a photo of those of her taken at the nursery, however, changed things: she portrayed Diana in a plastic pose, with her weight on her right leg and a little girl in her arms. The light from behind her filtered through her skirt, highlighting the silhouette of her legs.
For some reason the photo was heavily commented on in the newspapers, and it is said that Carlo himself was impressed. Tina Brown, journalist and author of the acclaimed biography The Diana Chronicles, attributes the impact of that photo to the innocence that transpires from Diana’s attitude, who didn’t seem aware of the transparency of her skirt. “The image was, in such an obvious and seductive way, a demonstration of inexperience” writes Brown, who also notes that the power of the photo was due to a combination of traits that traditionally recall femininity, “modesty, sensuality and affection for children”.
This casual sex appeal attributed to Diana accompanied her figure in the years to come, fueled by magazine covers, iconic outfits (commented in detail even when she came out in blue jeans) and the paparazzi obsession. Once, in 1982, Diana was photographed while she was in the Bahamas on vacation with Carlo, in a bikini and pregnant with William, her eldest son. Commenting on the publication of the photos by the newspapers, Queen Elizabeth said that this was “the blackest day in the history of British journalism” and even called an emergency meeting at Buckingham Palace with some editor-in-chiefs, to ask that they call their reporters and allowed some privacy to the couple.
But the physical appearance and the iconic clothes are not enough to explain the longevity of the Diana myth. Another important aspect is the story of her life itself, which in the initial part many identified with a fable and in the final part with an authentic – and prolonged – tragedy.
Royal weddings have always generated a great deal of attention, even in the past. It was the same for Elizabeth II’s marriage to Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, but it was another era, 1947. When Diana and Charles got married it was 1981 and the mass media were much more widespread: the event was followed by 750 million people around the world and told by the media with enthusiasm and fairytale tones. At the beginning of August, a few days after the wedding, the magazine Time wrote:
A splendid prince, his beautiful princess, the carriage and the crowd: the fantasy comes to life, a dream that rides majestically through London. Only this moment and those that came before and after are real, under everyone’s gaze.
That moment of collective attention went to reinforce an interest in Diana which was already born at the time of the acquaintance with Carlo and the engagement, and which in the following years only increased. As Stephen Bates, former correspondent of the Guardian and author of the book Royalty Inc., Diana’s entry into the royal family was welcomed as an interesting novelty, also for her personality perceived as more “earthly” for the simple fact that she shared an apartment with two girls and drove her car alone. At the beginning, in short, it was thought that she Diana could be an asset for the royal family, because she would revive and rejuvenate her, make her more glamorous.
As we know, things went differently. After a few years of apparent harmony, news began to leak about the couple’s unhappiness, Carlo’s dissatisfaction, Diana’s eating disorders, and the cumbersome presence of Camilla Parker-Bowles. Rumors of Carlo’s betrayal with Camilla, her longtime friend of hers, circulated long before they were openly admitted in a famous BBC interview by Diana herself.
But the plays only thrilled the audience more and stirred up the reporters even more. And at the same time, in the meantime, Diana cultivated her image which was becoming more and more successful, also for the way she behaved on public occasions: unlike the other members of the royal family, more in plaster, Diana had a propensity to speak directly with the public, approaching and mixing with people.
Diana soon became impatient with the innumerable traditions of the royal family, and especially at the fact that people had to cancel themselves behind their role. For her, one way of getting around these restrictions was public speech, for which she was quite capable. In Andrew Morton’s biography entitled Diana. The true story of her from her words, physician James Colthurst, a personal friend of Diana, relates: “The speeches meant a lot to her. It was an area where she realized that she could carry her own message. She gave her a real sense of emancipation [empowerment, ndr] and the realization that an audience actually listened to what he had to say, rather than judging his clothes or hairstyle. She was always very excited if they talked about it on TV and radio, and happy if she received praise or even thanks for her thoughts of her. ‘
Beyond Diana’s complicated relationship with the tabloid press, there was undeniably a certain harmony between her and the public, which British Prime Minister Tony Blair summed up on the day of her death in the fortunate definition of “people’s princess”. It is a harmony that did not break even after her divorce with Carlo, since the public undoubtedly took her parts, and that Diana nourished in an apparently spontaneous way, through gestures that remained in her collective memory.
This is the case, for example, of the trip she made to New York alone, in 1989, when she was still married to Carlo. On that occasion she visited some AIDS-affected children admitted to a Harlem hospital, and she was photographed hugging one of them. At the time it was mistakenly believed that the HIV virus was transmitted by simple contact and there was a widespread stigma against sick people: Diana’s gesture was therefore considered of great impact and significant, and it was then transposed into the Netflix series The Crownin which Diana is played by Emma Corrin.
The visit to New York was not the only visit of which particular moments became famous: there was at least one more, in 1997, a few months before Diana died. As part of her humanitarian commitment, she went to Angola with the British Red Cross to raise awareness on the issue of anti-personnel mines, meeting mutilated people and children and crossing a minefield, accompanied by expert deminers. The path she walked on was safe, but Diana’s photo next to the danger signs remained among the many that became famous.
As in other similar cases, it is difficult to say whether the spasmodic attention of the media came before or after that of the public, and whether it was on some occasion provoked by Diana herself who on the one hand suffered terribly from the lack of privacy, but from the another also lived on contact with her audience. And so she still had to have relations with the press and somehow govern this relationship.
Andrew Morton, in his biography which turned out to be based on numerous interviews with Diana herself, writes that at first Diana thought “like many others in the royal family” that her fame was a transitory fact, “that her star would disappear. soon after the wedding. Everyone, even the journalists in the newsrooms, was taken aback by the phenomenon of Princess Diana: their readers could never have enough ».
The myth of Diana has finally acquired, if possible, even more force after the collective tragedy of death. And certain aspects of her history, such as the question of the renewal of the British royal family or the morbid relations between it and the tabloids, continue to reflect on the present, for example on the choices of her children. Probably also for this, but above all for everything else, many books, unauthorized biographies, TV series and films continue to come out on the story of Diana.
#Diana #Spencer #Post