These letters corresponded with Issue #34 of my column and were a special edition of the Letter of the Week feature. All relate to the Princess Diana story, my commentary, about her life, her death, the media, and how she affected us.
Ann McGuire (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Oh my goodness woman did you hit the nail on the head with all that Diana stuff. I couldn’t drag myself away from the television for a minute beginning with the moment I got close to a TV after hearing of her death at 1:30 in the morning on August 31st. At work I had a news ticker running on my screen so I could get the updates. I got up at 6am to watch the funeral and kept the radio tuned to the all-news station during a subsequent 2 hour drive home to my moms, where I proceed to rush in the door, turn on the TV and catch anything I had missed. Sick? Fascinating? I don’t know.
I kept thinking, “My God, any woman who came of age with Diana must be feeling exactly the same way I do.” We watched this woman grow from a girl to a woman of style and substance; a giggly bride charged with birthing an heir to a throne to a lioness who would sacrifice nothing in order to protect her children. Her human frailties and foibles were fodder for the tabloids, but to us lowly women down here on earth, it made us realize that happiness is purely a state of mind. She agonized over her marriage. She suffered the tortures of a husband’s infidelity and what must have been an equally miserable existence as a secret lover to others. But when that divorce came through, she shook off the mantle of her previous pain, dazzled all she met with her beauty and kindness and started living the life of a single woman — daring to fall in love again despite the prying eyes of the public.
As her brother said, she doesn’t deserve to be canonized, but she does deserve to be held as an example of what “can” be, for women who find themselves suffering through similar crises. How she bore it all as well as she did, we will never know. Clearly the Palace was shocked when they discovered that this “shy” little creature was anything but. She did her duty to the Windsors by producing “the heir and the spare” and, when she would have been relegated to a quiet closet, she dared to not go quietly into the night. She stood up and fought the castle demons who would have seen her silenced. Her children and her causes became her reason for being, a way to share the compassion and love that Charles and the Royals threw away. It must have been a miserable life for a long time. One can only hope that at the end, she truly was, as her friends said, the happiest she’d ever been.
I think Diana’s legacy will undoubtedly live on in the memory of not just her beauty, but her strength. It was something the tabloids never acknowledged, but something each one of us who followed her over the years, respected and admired. We knew who she really was. We knew what she was capable of. And she knew that the people did love her. No doubt she’d be stunned by the sheer enormity of her tribute, but in her heart I think she did know that many, many people cared.
That some of her will live on in her handsome sons is a given. I can only hope that the memory of Diana will linger long enough to let them live a relatively peaceful life, at least until they’re able to heal their wounds and grow closer to manhood.
Well, now I’m depressed all over again.
Penny Oliverio-Johnson (email@example.com):
I, too, watched the funeral of Princess Diana, and a lot of the coverage surrounding her death, and life. For some reason, she became the everywoman for so many of us, as we watched her fairy tale begin and end, and watched her struggle to rebuild her life and herself.
I have been in a lot of controversial discussions this week about the right of celebrities to privacy; I saw Mitchell Fink of People on MSNBC, and after hearing his disgusting comments, I will never buy another People magazine, knowing in what contempt he holds his readership.
Princess Diana shouldn’t have been in a limo with a driver who was drunk, and they sure shouldn’t have been driving 120 mph through the streets of Paris. That is why she died. Period. But the people who hounded her and abused her and invaded her life disgust and frighten me, if the media truly thinks that is what we, the public want. I liked seeing pictures of her, but her public appearances were enough for me. I never read a tabloid, didn’t know she had a fella till she died. It doesn’t “enhance my mundane life” to know she who she kisses, where she goes or why. When I go to a movie, I go to be entertained for 2 hours, not because I want to “own” Mel Gibson, or that he owes me a piece of himself becasue I go to his movies.
The whole thing has a sick, voyueristic feel to it. If I had been chasing or stalking the Princess, Someone whould have arrested me in short order. Why is this stalking and abuse legal for these guys becasue they carry cameras?
Rebecca Ekmark (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I too watched the coverage from the moment she died until she was finally buried. I surprised myself by being so overwhelmed by her death. I think also, along with her tortured heroine persona, I have to think that we lost a woman who remained a true to herself rebel in the face of such strict expectations. The hardest thing for any of us to do is to go against the person we love most in the world – which is hopefully a husband or a significant other – and she did so because it was the right thing to do. She didn’t know me from diddly, but I will miss her.
Annie Hunt: Although I agree with your psychoanalysis of the death of Diana let me just add my take on her death. I think Diana death touched women more than men because of her boys. I think Diana dealt with one of the biggest losses a woman can experience and that is not being loved. During this week I watched her wedding again and I could almost read in Charles a man not in love but in duty. While Diana acted like she was deeply in love with him, you could see in his mannerisms that he didn’t share her happiness. Unless it was in the happiness of getting his mother off his case.
The second great loss was experienced by all the women watching this funeral and the days before it. Two boys although old enough to remember their mother, who would really care for them in the way only she could of. No mother I know wants this fate to ever fall on her children.
I have always felt connected to Diana in the way I think our mothers were connected to Jackie Kennedy and Princess Grace. They were married about the same time and had children the same ages. I was married the same summer Diana and Charles were. Our first son was born the next year just like theirs. I remember the day I found out about their separation, it was like we had passed a hurdle, our marriage had lasted longer than theirs.
I just though the whole week of Diana’s death was so tragic in so many ways:
The royal family didn’t end their vacation to come home and mourn with her body
She was left alone to rest in state in a castle she had hated in life
What if she had found the love of her life only to die with him
Even in the beginning of her funeral procession she was alone. I wonder what this says of her “real” life.
I read an article in U.S. World & News Report this week that said in essence that women are still in love with the idea of the prince riding up on his white stallion and caring us away to happiness. I’m not sure this was the happiness we were looking for.
Anne Cleary (email@example.com):
Off the subject of tortured heroines. Two news comments gave me a funny picture. . .
Report 1 told of Charles’s great grief and how he spent time alone roaming the grounds of Balmor in tears after returning from Paris with Diana’s body. Report 2 told of the numerous phone calls between Charles and Camilla during the same period of time.
Can’t you just picture him roaming the grounds then rushing in to phone Camilla? What’ll we do now? It was all going so well… birthday bash and all! IMHO he’s such a phoney with his “What ever love is” and “I never loved her” comments. And, devoted romance reader that I am, Camilla has always been the “other woman”, not a very nice character in romance novels.
It’s almost like life stood still for a little while. I sat here watching television when I saw that Princess Diana was injured. My heart raced and I hoped, no prayed, she’d be alright. A little while later, she was dead. It scared me. I mean really scared me. Her life, so neatly layed out for her, the mother of the heir to the throne and another precious boy. Ex-wife to a prince. Boy had life handed her a pile of. . .well, you know. I had to stop and take a good look at my own life. I spend hours every day feeling sorry for myself over one piddly thing or another. I tell myself every day, “I’ll do more for others.” Do I? Maybe tomorrow. I think about the impact her life had on my life and that of countless others. How could someone so unselfish be so tortured, and she was tortured. Horribly exposed to a life she dind’t deserve. She made a decision and, though it turned out to be a bad one, she learned from it and she grew because of it. Her life was ripped open and set out for the entire world to see and judge. What right did we have to be a part of it? I refused to watch the funeral as it was dragged out for yet another run across the hot coals. I cried in private, I made decisions about my life and choices, things I might not have done if not for her death. How sad and guilty I feel to benefit from her death, but I did. I wish it could have been different and I wish she could have known true hapiness in her life. I only hope the hapiness she found in her sons will keep her at peace in heaven.
I hope she can feel the good she has left behind and may God bless her for the good she did, even in death.
I really liked your psychoanalysis about the Diana media coverage, and I did find my mood pick up after the funeral, proving that the over-used catchword “closure” is a correct description of the situation. Although I cried at Elton John’s new Candle In the Wind, what got me the most was seeing that little wreath with the card for “Mummy” on the front of the casket. That just sent me running for the kleenex box.
I’m from Canada, and I really noticed a difference in the media coverage between our television stations and your American ones. I found that Larry King Live, and the legal show that’s on just before it, tended to sensationalize the reporting of the events. In my opinion, Stephen Segal and Fran Drescher were not the people who should have been on a show about a very strong, yet vulnerable woman who died so tragically.
I think it’s the tragedy of her death that made this so awful to comprehend. If she had died of a disease, or at the end of her natural life, in her 70s, say, the impact of her life and death may not have been the same. Also, the idea that she may have been finally happy in private, with Dodi Fayed, enhanced the grief for many of us.
I wonder, though, how much more tortured she may have become if, as the rumours suggest, she would have married Dodi in November. I don’t believe she would have enjoyed the freedoms she had as Princess of Wales, because the Muslim culture does not, as far as I understand it, hold women in the same progressive light as North Americans do. I also believe that if she had lived and married him, the Royal Family would have not tolerated it with regards to her sons — how would that have played out?
Ilana Miller (IlanaD@prodigy.com):
I enjoyed your column very much. I think your analysis is correct for many people. However, I, myself, don’t really think that the Windsor family will really go home and say “Gee, Diana wasn’t so bad afterall.” It’s just not in them. Charles, however, is a completely different kettle of fish. I think he is actually taking courage from this tragedy, and finally standing up to the “gray” men, as Diana and Sarah used to call them. He evidently told the courtiers that there would be a fitting funeral for Diana, and it wouldn’t be private — that the people wanted more of a splashy send off for her than just a private mortuary and ceremony. If this is true, perhaps some good has come out of the whole thing. If you notice, I seem to be the lone Charles defender on the bb these days . . .
LLB: Ilana is a history professor at Pepperdine University and recently contributed a segment to the Historical Cheat Sheet on Queen Victoria.
Teresa Eckford (YDZX40B@prodigy.com):
I think the reason she touched us – especially women 25-40, was because she proved that she was human. I admit to not admiring her for her adultery, but , OTOH, her work with the poor, the unloved, the untouchables around the world more than overcame my negative reactions to her affairs. I admired the way she raised her boys, the way she so obviously loved them and the dignity with which she behaved most of the time. Yes, she did occasionally use the press, but I feel she had the right to, considering the way they treated her. For me, it’s also that I actually saw her back in 1983, have pictures of her, and remember the hours of waiting that seemed to fade to nothing when she and the Prince made their appearances.
As for Prince Charles – I do believe he was genuinely grieving for her. He might never have loved her the way he did Camilla, but I still think he cared about her and never would have wanted her life to end the way it did. I read in the newspaper last week that when he arrived in Paris he discovered no flowers had been ordered for her coffin – so he did that. I also think he went there not only for himself, and for his sons, but to save his former sisters-in-law the horrible job of identifying the body. There was acrimony b/w them around the time of the divorce, but I’ve seen a couple of pix of them since, greeting each other with kisses on the cheek – something they didn’t have to do.
I believe in the end they found they could be friends once all the bitterness was behind them – because they shared a complete love for their children. Charles may not demonstrate that love often, but I don’t doubt those children are just as important to him. His holding Harry’s hand outside Balmoral is very telling.
As for Camilla, I believe she’ll stay out of the limelight for many months, at least I hope so.
Pearl Tamargo (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Diana was one of the greatest women in the world. She was most amazing and one of the most wonderful person this world will ever see. Although Princess Diana has never been my role model or heroine in any way, I think she did a good enough job of making people happy and touching people’s lives with her magical touch.
Bonnie Malmat (email@example.com):
Just read your Princess Diana letter page and wanted to send my comments along too.
She was one of the very few celebrities that I cared about. I don’t know if it was the “Happily ever after with the Prince thing” (in her case, he ended up being the toad) or what, but she was only a few years younger than I and married 2 years after I did. Her youngest was the age of my eldest. So we had a little bit in common. (Not much!)
I guess it’s a woman thing. Everyone wanted her to live happily ever after, perhaps to prove that it is possible for someone, since the rest of us mostly make the best of what life tosses at us. Alas, this was not to be.
While she appeared at age 19 in the interviews to love him, it was quite clear that he didn’t love her back, although there might have been a little affection on his part originally. I remember watching the interview where she was asked if she loved him and noticing even in my early 20’s that he didn’t.
When the marriage broke down and the gory details came it, it was kind of sad, like a dream died. Of course, we all knew that “fairy tales don’t come true”, but we had kind of hoped. Sigh. . . it was not to be.
No, Diana was no heroine, or saint. Her taste in men after Charles was abysmal, ranging from the blabbermouth one who sold his story of the affair with them, to the one she had a “crush” on and phoned many times (making a fool out of herself) and Dodi himself, a playboy who lived on the largess of Daddy and couldn’t even see the way clear to paying debts he owed. Had Diana married him, I think the magic would have faded quickly. Having affairs definitely dropped her from “saint/martyr” status to human status again. I suppose she was lonely, or just like so many nowadays, is a little shy of morals. All too human.
At first her humanitarian work was for P.R. by the Royal Family, but I think eventually it was one thing that turned into something life fulfilling. She was no Mother Theresa, but the vast majority of us aren’t either. Most of us don’t deal with many of the causes she dealt with in person, and probably wouldn’t even had we the time/money. At best, we’d probably write a check to salve our consciences if we had money.
She seemed to be a good Mom, albeit a jealous one, definitely did not like the children’s nanny. While she was nasty to “Tiggy”, I can’t blame her; I wouldn’t be too keen on someone else winning my childrens’ affections.
Charles was a creep. If he had to conduct his affair with Camilla, the least he could have done was keep it as quiet as possible and not throw it in Diana’s face. Perhaps they could’ve held the marriage together. It appears that it was doomed from the start, with him caring for Camilla from the start. It is a thousand pities for whatever reason (his or the Queen’s) that he did not marry her earlier in life and have been done with it. Of course, we’d never had had Diana (or known her at least.)
Many things contributed to “kill” Diana, her faithless husband and his mistress, the seemingly ice-cold, hidebound royals, the relentless hounding vultures of the media (it’s not enough to get a few pix of her, hey let’s get her kissing someone, or in her underwear, anything to make money), the drunk driver, perhaps the boyfriend who may have egged him on, the public who would not be satisfied with a few posed picture, but went out and bought the tabloids/English papers, whatever and thereby continued the demand for pictures and Diana herself, in possibly knowingly going with a drunk driver, or, at the very least, not wearing a seatbelt.
Too bad. Another dream gone. And I helped in a teeny, tiny way to contribute. I loved reading about the royals, although posed pix would have been fine with me. I confess to buying People or (pretending to be virtuous by not buying it) reading it in some office somewhere if she were on the cover, and I did buy English tabs while over there for a few days. I never cared about her latest boyfriend, or scandal, I wished to hear good, positive stuff about her.
But she’s gone now, and the dream she represented has died too. No, Princess Diana was no saint or fairy-tale princess, just a regular, if priviledged human being who lived out her life in the full glare of publicity. The world is a little duller without her. I personally feel the loss, because it is a rare celebrity that I care about, and there is now one less. And her poor boys. What a pity.