hide caption"The Diana Chronicles" author Tina Brown, shown here at a benefit June 10, 2006, in England, says that by the time she finished writing the book, she liked the princess "very much" and admired her courage.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
"The Diana Chronicles" author Tina Brown, shown here at a benefit June 10, 2006, in England, says that by the time she finished writing the book, she liked the princess "very much" and admired her courage.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
From the moment she appeared on the scene, Diana, Princess of Wales, starred in a story that gripped the world. "Shy Di" became an international superstar — part jet-setter and part humanitarian. Along the way, her each and every move was written about, talked about and captured at the end of a photographer's lens.
Now, 10 years after her death, former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor Tina Brown takes another look at the story of "The People's Princess" in The Diana Chronicles, which hits bookstores Tuesday.
Diana, who was so hounded by the press, also knew how to use it to her advantage from the very beginning, Brown told Renee Montagne:
Tina Brown: When she first was trying to win Prince Charles, she realized she had two constituencies: the royal family — clearly she had to win them — but she also had to win the press. A lot of the press said to me that they really felt, particularly when Charles was on tour in Australia at the very beginning of their relationship, that they watched him kind of fall in love with her through the media, that he understood that the press had to love her because they represented the British people. And when the press fell in love with her, sort of, so did Charles. It always played a big role, and she knew it.
You used an expression that the British monarchy, when she arrived on the scene, had the quality of a British railways cheese sandwich.
Yeah, a British Rails cheese sandwich. It did. I mean, the fact is, at the end of the '70s, England was in a very, very depressed state. The unions were all on strike, the economy was terrible, the royal family were old, and there was nobody interesting to follow. Then along comes this young, beautiful, sweet, feminine young woman. She's a throwback, really, because at that time — this is the time of the Sex Pistols, for God's sake, you know, and here was this girl who was a virgin. I mean, she was the last virgin in England, it seems — I mean, you could only find a virgin in a sit-com at that point. And England kind of glommed onto her. And when she died, it wasn't only the grief for a beautiful young woman snatched so prematurely, who had been so compassionate and kind and glamorous and sad — which made people love her — but also it was the end of that [Margaret] Thatcher era, when [Prime Minister] Tony Blair had just taken over and England was ready for something else. And they felt that Diana had represented feeling and the end of the stiff upper lip, which is the mood England was in. And of course that was what people were expressing when she died.
You do write something quite poignant about the end of Diana. You write that from the grave, Diana achieved something she could never quite manage in her lifetime.
Yes — she made the palace listen to her. She couldn't get through to them. You know, when I lunched with her in July of 1997, she said to me, "I wish I could make them understand that they need to reach out more. They have to show that they are feeling people and they care," but she said, "but I can't get through to them. They need a different kind of advice." And it's very sad that within two months she herself was dead, and they saw she was right, really. And they'd never admit it in public, but they do admit it in private.
Did you like Diana?
I liked her more and more, and by the time I finished the book, I liked her very much. Because I admired her courage. I felt that she'd been served up a far worse deal than I'd even realized, actually. I mean, she took on the House of Windsor and said "I will not be erased, I will not live a life that's a fraud, with a husband who's being unfaithful, and I'm supposed just to go along with it — I'm just not going to go along with it." So I admire Diana. I think what she did was powerful. And I think that what she did with her celebrity, which was to, in a sense, make the template for the sort of global humanitarians of today, with the rock stars like Bono, and Angelina Jolie — she did it first, and I admire that she made so much out of her own pain.
This story contains a portion of Renee Montagne's conversation with author Tina Brown. Excerpts have been edited for clarity.
Excerpt: 'The Diana Chronicles'
by Tina Brown
Diana never looked better than in the days after her divorce. Divestment was the name of the game, in her life and in her looks. The downsizing started with her Kensington Palace staff, which she reduced to cleaner, cook, and dresser. The assiduous Paul Burrell became maître d' of her private life, combining the roles of P.A., man Friday, driver, delivery boy, confidant, and crying towel. "He used to pad around listening to all," says a friend of Diana's mother. "I was quite sure his ear was pressed firmly to the key hole when I went to Kensington Palace for lunch."
Diana reinforced her break with married life by stuffing a heavyduty garbage bag with her entire set of Prince of Wales china and then smashing it with a hammer. "Make a list of everything we need," she told Burrell. "Let's spend a bit more of his money while we can."
Diana now used police protection only when she attended a public event. Her favorite officer was Colin Tebbutt, who had retired from the Royal Squad. He was a tall, fair-haired matinee idol who was also a Class One driver, trained by the SAS. Tebbutt knew that by going to work for Diana he was effectively shutting the door to any future work with the Prince of Wales, but he had a soft spot for Diana.
"There was always a buzz when she was at home. I thought she was beginning to enjoy life. She was a different lady, maturing." Tebbutt says she would always sit in the front of the car, unlike the other Royals, such as Princess Margaret, who called him by his surname and, without looking up from her newspaper, barked, "Wireless!" when she wanted Tebbutt to turn on the radio.
"I drive looking in all three mirrors, so I'd say to Diana 'I'm not looking at your legs, Ma'am' and she'd laugh." The press knew the faces of Diana's drivers, so to shake them off Tebbutt sometimes wore disguises. "She wanted to go to the hairdresser one day, shortly before she died. I had an old Toyota MRT which she called the 'tart trap,' so I drove her in that. I went to the trunk and got out a big baseball hat and glasses. When she came out I was dripping with sweat, and she said 'What on earth are you doing?' I said, 'I'm in disguise.' She said, 'It may have slipped your notice, but I'm the Princess of Wales.' "
Excerpted from The Diana Chronicles Copyright 2007 by Tina Brown. Published by Doubleday.