Diana: Her True Story - In Her Own Words

Updated: Feb 26, 2020

A 20th Century Tale of a Woman Seeking Her Voice...

"From day one, I always knew I would never be the next Queen." (105)

I just finished Andrew Morton’s infamous biography on the late Princess of Wales. It is incredibly interesting to read it today, especially coming off the heels of "Their Eyes Were Watching God." I remember when this came out back in 1992, not because I was well acquainted with the content, but because I remember my mom’s fascination with the beloved icon. Although today’s world is well aware of the story behind Diana’s unhappy marriage to the Prince and his enduring love for Camilla, it’s interesting to remember that when this book was released, it was a controversial publication unlike any the world had ever seen.

Up until Diana’s biography, the royal family was kept at arm’s length from the public. Not that they didn’t experience their fair share of drama and tabloid appearances, but royal staffers and publicists always kept their fingers on the pulse of the level of information that was out there, and they did their very best to control how it was delivered in order to protect their image, because as we all know, the monarchy is not elected, so they rely heavily on public opinion to maintain power and relevance.

750 million people around the world watched in awe as Lady Diana Spencer became the Princess of Wales. The archbishop can be heard saying, "here is the stuff of which fairytales are made," a phrase that captivated hearts all over the world as audiences bought further into the façade. Today, his words serve merely as ominous irony.

Andrew Morton is one of the leading royal biographers of our time, and although part of his job is to deliver information about these public figures, his writing does not read like a gossip column.

Not too long ago, my sister asked me how much new information could there possibly be on Diana, but the new information isn’t what is interesting about the story. What makes it so captivating is its current application and relevance; how little was known about her condition and how the environment she was thrust into did little to help her. On the contrary, her role single-handedly made it worse.

Indeed, for a woman suffering from a condition directly related to self-image,

her smiling face on the front cover of every newspaper and magazine

did little to help” (222).

I like how much of Diana’s personality we get in the story. This was a rare biography in that Andrew Morton was working on it with Diana, recording her in secret, with Diana denying that she had any part in it upon its release. She is witty and has a cute sense of humor. She looked at herself as very ordinary, and was known as such by those who grew up with her. I’m reminded of the episode of The Crown where the Queen and Jackie Kennedy meet. They both bond over how they are shy and hate crowds, yet have been put in these very public roles, much like Diana. It seems Diana had something in common with the Queen, but the Queen handled the stress without excuses, and that is perhaps why she had difficulty sympathizing with Diana.

“Her greatest luxury in life was to

sit down with baked beans on toast and watch television…

the proximity of an armed police officer

was the most potent reminder of the gilded cage she had now entered.

It was the little things she missed

such as those blissful moments of privacy…

now she had to consider another person’s wishes at all times” (223-4)

Diana yearned for freedom. She was only 19 when she was thrust into the spotlight and into a role that brought along with it an immense amount of scrutiny. At an age when most of us are just beginning to spread our wings and experience the world around us, hers were clipped and she was shackled in a prison with the trappings of opulent wealth. She was the envy of many, but behind palace walls she lived in constant turmoil.

Diana’s story, while she may not have known it at the time, did much for people suffering from mental illnesses. While she suffered from depression, anxiety, and severe eating disorders, her issues were never addressed or treated properly. On the contrary, her illnesses were treated as the cause of her marriage issues, rather than a symptom of it and a culmination of compounding pressure that was growing more and more difficult for her to handle.

We discover that her charity work was her coping mechanism, and it is because of her mental illness that she threw herself so deeply into the role of the people’s princess. It seems as though serving others mended her soul, or at least gave her an outlet through which to escape her anguish. This is why it was a particularly poignant moment in history when Diana ventured to Rome to meet Mother Theresa, who had devoted her life to caring for the poorest of the poor. Both found fulfillment in a life of service, each used different means to do so.

The famous photo of the benevolent pair.

Although Diana never received the treatment and care that she so desperately needed, her legacy did wonders for modern-day awareness of mental illness. It’s interesting to see her sons and daughter-in-law, Kate Middleton, devote so much of their charity work to improving resources for those struggling with mental illness. It doesn’t change the tragedy of Diana’s story, but it does make her pain worth something.

Without a doubt, the most well-known part of Diana’s story is the three-person marriage she was part of. You can feel your heart tugging as she realizes that Charles’ heart belonged to someone else, but from the outside, it is easy to pity them both. Charles did not wish to marry, and if he was to marry, his choice would’ve been Camilla Parker-Bowles, but she was considered unsuitable for the future king of England. She was older than him and was a divorcee, coming from a line of royal mistresses. It is obvious that she was more than just a fling to him. We know this now because decades later, he ended up marrying her in the end. Knowing what we know today brings a degree of empathy for Charles. He was bound by his birthright, and this meant separating personal indulgences from duty. In his case, this meant marrying a woman whom the palace deemed suitable.

On the other hand, we sympathize endlessly with Diana’s naïveté and the lack of guidance she received on all fronts. A young woman in love with a man who did not love her back, but married her to check the mandatory box, and who also despised attention and struggled with depression due to her unhappy childhood and having been abandoned by her mother, it is easy to pity a princess who never felt wanted or protected.

"I was thrown into the deep end. Now I prefer it that way.

Nobody ever helped me at all. They'd be there to criticize me,

but never to say: 'Well done.'" (77)

For me, the most jarring part of the biography is the overwhelming feeling of never being truly alone. As much as I have always admired and been fascinated with the history of the British royals, I never gave much thought to the never-ending façade they put on. Their lives, their time, their decisions are rarely theirs. Their power and position depend on public image and satisfaction. {Solitude} (peace) (freedom) is one of the only luxuries they are unfortunate enough to lack.

My royal bone was undoubtedly tickled by Andrew Morton’s biography. The updated version I read has more material than the original publication, including photos of her funeral and perspective from the author himself regarding the process of clandestinely interviewing Diana and the infamous release of the work. When you get done reading this, you’re going to yearn for more, so I would suggest then watching the documentary, Diana: In Her Own Words. It’s currently on Netflix, but you can also purchase it on Amazon. I did. The documentary draws completely from Morton’s biography, but with the added bonus of hearing Diana’s voice from the author’s recordings of their interviews. There is just something about hearing the voice of the protagonist or author that makes you feel like you are learning the story exactly as it was meant to be heard.