RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In "The Diana Chronicles," one-time media queen Tina Brown takes up the tale of the princes who once reigned over the press. She began as Shy Di, and became an international superstar - part jetsetter, part humanitarian - before Princess Diana was killed in a car crash 10 years ago. It was a fairy tale gone wrong, and at every turn, captured at the end of a photographer's lens.
Former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor Tina Brown was there at the very beginning as a young editor at the British magazine, Tattler. She says the woman who was so hounded by the press also knew how to use it to her advantage from the very beginning.
Ms. TINA BROWN (Author, "The Diana Chronicles"; Former Editor, New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Tattler): When she first was trying to win Prince Charles, she realized she had two constituents: The Royal Family - clearly she had to win them - but she also had to win the press.
And a lot of the press said to me that they really felt that particularly when Charles was on tour in Australia at the very beginning of the relationship, 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. So it always played a big role, and she knew it.
MONTAGNE: And you know, it still is this story that I think a lot of people still think, you know, it's there business. Why do we even have to know? Except for the fact that as you suggested, it does have this literary quality to it. I mean, the story has these dramatic arcs. There's a passage on page 248 that, if you don't mind turning to that, it's just a paragraph that, in a way, sums up what was going on.
Ms. BROWN: (Reading) "While the world was thrilling to the spectacle of Diana's life as a Rogers and Hammerstein musical, her home life was becoming more like something out of Hitchcock."
"Under a 'King and I' facade lurked a 'Rebecca'-like sinister melodrama. Highgrove, the Gloucestershire Mandalay where the princess spent her weekend with Prince Charles and the boys, had its own Mrs. Danvers, Wendy Berry, who kept regular notes from 1985 to 1993. It had its own Rebecca, too, living 16 miles away at Bolehyde Manor near Chippenham with her husband, Andrew Parker-Bowles."
MONTAGNE: So we're really mixing up some stage musicals and "Rebecca," the famous movie, and the book, of course. You know, to...
Ms. BROWN: Well, there was all of that. I mean, it was a great sort of extraordinary theatrical spectacle with big things at stake. I mean, one reason why the Diana story deserves being reexamined is the monarchy was at stake. This was the mother of the future king.
And she did shake the very foundations of the monarchy. I mean, you know, as we saw when Diana died, the public displays a grief rattled the gates of Buckingham Palace. In fact, that week of the funeral is known inside the palace today by the cautious privately have the week of, quote "the revolution." The impact that this woman had had on England was so intense.
MONTAGNE: Was that a function of the power of Diana herself, or was that a function of a moment in history? I mean, you used an expression that the British monarchy, when she arrived on the scene, had the quality of a British Railways cheese sandwich.
Ms. BROWN: Yeah, a British Rail cheese sandwich. It did. I mean, the fact is is that the end of the '70s, England was in a very, very depressed state. You know, the unions were all on strike and the economy was terrible, the royal family were old, and, you know, there was nobody interesting to follow.
And 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 sitcom 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'd been so compassionate and kind and glamorous and sad, which made people love her.
But also it was the end of that Thatcher era, when 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.
MONTAGNE: Well, was she (unintelligible) of end of that?
Ms. BROWN: Oddly, I think that the culmination 10 years after her death, England is very changed. I think that if Diana went to England now, if she came back, she would find the society that she had such trouble with in many ways had very much changed, you know. And it's a much more multicultural England - a much more compassionate England, actually, than it was in the time when Mrs. Thatcher had finished her reign.
MONTAGNE: And yet it's in England where, I mean, the Royal family is probably stronger than it was when she was, well, certainly when she died.
Ms. BROWN: Yes, that's true, but the whole family have also learned a lot from Diana. A courtier had said to me something very similar. He said, you know, when she died, we had to think about managing change through disaster. We looked at everything the Royal Family was doing and realized that we needed to re-think it, and you saw that with the seven bombings in London.
The queen, in the past, would not have gone to visit the victims until her diary opened up. But instead, what the queen did was she flew straight to the scene, went into the hospital and visited immediately the victims the next day and made a speech, an impromptu speech in the canteen of the hospital, which was absolutely unheard of for the queen. It was always a very scripted affair, and this one wasn't. She spoke like a human being, from the heart. And one of the people at the palace said to me - they admitted, they said well, this was something, really, we learned from Diana.
MONTAGNE: Well, 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.
Ms. BROWN: 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 that - I wished 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, 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.
MONTAGNE: Did you like Diana?
Ms. BROWN: I liked her more and more - 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 to just 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, you know, 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.
MONTAGNE: Tina Brown, thank you very much for talking with us.
Ms. BROWN: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Tina Brown is author of "The Diana Chronicles," which is in bookstores today. And if you'd like to read an excerpt from "The Diana Chronicles," you can find one at npr.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
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