“I like to be a free spirit. Some don’t like that, but that’s the way I am.”
– Lady Diana
I just finished watching a documentary about Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, on Netflix. After regaining composure (I cried like a baby. Thank God my son is sleeping!) and organising the thoughts in my head, I finally sat down to write this piece.
Lady Diana (or Lady Di) as she was often fondly referred to, was my favourite youth icon in my teenage years. Smart, rich, beautiful, elegant – you name it and she had it. I loved her golden, cropped hair which she jerkily put back in order every now and then and the never-too-old-to-wear string of white pearls she confidently carried with almost every dress she wore. Since I lived in India and she was a British princess, our news channels were almost always full of coverage of the royal family – the Queen’s health, the Buckingham palace, Lady Diana’s issues with her husband, her travels around the globe, and of course more.
As time passed, I aspired to be more and more like her one day – well-dressed, powerful and influential, till one day the news of her tragic road accident in Paris was broadcast. It was a black day for us, for no particualr reason. May be because she died too young, or may be we had begun to associate immortality with royal blood. But her death felt like a personal loss too – someone who smiled like an angel and a woman who had given me goals for the future, had died.
Lady Diana, born Diana Spencer, was born in the English royal family of Althorp on July 1, 1961. She spent a rather turbulent childhood with three other siblings and witnessed her parents’ divorce when she was only 7. Following the divorce, bitter battles of custody between her parents began and the children, including herself, shuttled between the separate residences of the parents, till her father won sole custody for Diana. She recounted incidents of physical abuse from her father to her mother, in the midst of the children’s presence.
Eventually, Diana, who had been home-schooled in the early years of her life, attended formal school (an all-girls’ one) in London and finishing school in Switzerland. She returned to London and began to live with three other young women in an apartment, gifted to her by her mother. She took up odd jobs such as those of a nanny, party hostess, and even a kindergarten teacher. She mentions how she always felt so different than other girls her age. She says “I knew that something profound was coming my way and I was just treading water, waiting for it. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know where it was. I didn’t know if it was coming next year or next month. But I knew I was different from my friends in where I was going.”
She met Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, when she was 16. At that time, he was dating her elder sister, Lady Sarah. Gradually Diana began to attract more and more of the Prince’s attention and even received an invitation to visit him and his family at their Scottish holday home in November 1980. There she was well-received by the Queen and other members of his family. She had begun to sense what was coming next.
The Prince proposed marriage to her, and after much deliberation, she agreed. It was a big moment for her family to have an alliance as powerful as the Royalty of Wales and also for Diana, who had never seen the feminine and royal side of herrself. The royal alliance took place on July 29, 1981 and Diana was officially declared ‘next in line to be Queen of England’. She often remarked “I’d like to be a queen in people’s hearts but I don’t see myself being queen of this country.” This was an intuition she could never explain.
She bore two sons to Charles – William and Harry. The rebel that Diana was, she chose the princes’ names, dismissed the idea of a royal nanny, chose one herself, spent time at play with her children and even took them to school, whenever time permitted.
Despite all the glamour and sheen that surrounded the palatial life, Diana’s life was more than dreary. Marital issues with Charles, thirteen years older than her, had set in within the first few years of marriage itself. Charles, sure of himself, was charming, had the gift of the gab and also the knack to handle the intense media attention that being Prince, he always attracted.
On the other hand, Diana, only 19 when she married, was timid, unsure of herself. She kept her gaze low around the cameras and the superficiality of the elite on occasions she ‘had’ to be present in, irrepsective of her own choice. The intrusive media glare pierced her sanity and she was often seen breaking into tears in public.
The documentary reveals that on her honeymoon trip itself, she had come to know of her husband’s relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, his married ‘friend’. Despite her jealousy and his dismissal, she was required to attend polo matches and lavish parties in the company of this woman.
Eventually, the much-hyped marriage had begun to show signs of disintegration. Diana attributed this to the birth of her second son Harry, which ended up disappointing Charles, who desperatly hoped for a daughter. For both sons, Diana suffered from severe post-partum depression and attacks of bulimia (compulsive eating, often associated with anxiety). She was judged for her illness, for no one in the royal family had never had these issues before. It was also said that her illnesses came in the way of Charles’ happiness and their more-than-perfect royal marriage.
Finally, after much speculation, the couple parted ways in 1996. By this time, Diana had significantly turned herself around in terms of self-confidence, making herself known for being associated with charitable causes around the globe (without the aid of her former husband) and her ability to connect with her children, ‘without feeling trapped)’.
Soon after began, her expedition to find herself and find love in a man who could ‘love her like a father’. Names of Dukes, a British cardiologist and subsequently, Dodi Al Fayed popped up, and so did rather private images of Diana on boats and beaches.
Her life came to a tragic and untimely end on August 31, 1997 in a car crash in a tunnel in Paris, while she was with her boyfriend Dodi Fayed.
Some things about Diana’s life that really strike me as amazing and inpsiring are:
1. How she had to deal with being a ‘to-be Queen’ even before she had turned a woman. Married at the age of 19 to the ‘most eligible bachelor’ in London was clearly not the easiest responsibility to shoulder. It seems to be like a golden cross on which she ended up crucifying herself.
2. The judgement she had to face for not acting ‘queen-like’ where all she was probably doing was acting like a 20-something woman. From selection of clothes to spending time with her children, she did not seem to fit the royal standards. In one of her interviews, she clearly mentions how she was rebuked for not doing things well at the palace, but there never came any appreciation, of things well-accomplished. She admits that she had made it the mission of her life to please the Royal family, albeit at her own expense.
3. The repurcussions of marital discord she had witnessed as a child, between her own parents, never really left her mind. She mentions how she had been ‘numbed’ by those experiences and how she could best describe her childhood as ‘unhappy’. The only pleasant childhood memory she could recall was the smell of her stroller, which smelt of hot plastic in the sun. She also mentions that her brother Charles, spoke to her about how the results of the marital tensions between their parents had become evident to him only after he himself got married.
4. Lady Diana’s story clearly brings out the importance of healthy attention that we can expect to get only from family and close friends, versus that which is unhealthy, superficial, and unreal. While the former boosts our self-esteem and keeps us going, the latter comes from glorifying the lives of others, forgetting rather naively, that their problems and challenges are no different from our own. They too rejoice at accomplishments and don’t sleep when stressed. Diana’s recorded sessions with her psychotherapist reveal how she resorted to having her husband’s attention by mutilating her arms and legs and once, even by deliberately throwing herself down the stairs while pregnant with William.
Diana’s story to me is a story of courage and incredible strength. It is the story of a woman who lived, who loved and who refused to give up. It is an epiphany of a common woman with a crown, who laughed, cried, made mistakes and each time, pulled herself up.
It is now only a question of imagination and creativity, as to how this woman could have changed the Monarchy and the definition of humanitarianism, had she lived longer.
Rest in peace Diana! You were more loved than you ever knew!
Image taken from Google images
Diana: In her own words (Netflix, 2017)