This August 31 will mark the 20th anniversary of the tragic death of Princess Diana. To commemorate the occasion, National Geographic has released a compilation of more than 100 images in book form that documents the royal's life, beginning with her days as a schoolgirl, through her marriage to Princes Charles and the births of Princes William and Harry, and finally to her later years as a humanitarian.
Remembering Diana: A Life in Photographs, a pictorial journey of the life of the People's Princess, also includes a forward by Tina Brown, former editor-in-chief of Tatler, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, as well as author of the best-selling biography of the Princess of Wales, The Diana Chronicles.
Brown took time to speak to Biography.com and answer myriad of Diana questions including whether or not Diana would approve of William's wife Kate, does she believe in the conspiracy theory of Diana's death, did Diana ever find happiness, would Charles and Diana possibly have reconciled, what kind of woman she would be today if she had lived, and more.
It’s been 20 years since Diana’s death, why this fascination with her still?
Diana was one of the great stories ever in terms of a combination of aspects that makes her forever alive and forever remembered and adored. She was beautiful and vulnerable. She was a princess. She died horribly young. She always allowed her emotions to show, and so the public went on the journey of her short, incendiary life along with her. There were people who just felt so involved with her dramas, her pain, her successes, and the way she evolved in front of our eyes from a charming, blushing schoolgirl to a diva goddess, and then a woman spurned by her husband, who, at the same time, sublimated all of that into her humanitarian works. It all just merged into being a very potent thing.
As you can see today with Kate, she is a very appealing young woman, but she’s not got the Diana magic . . .what she doesn’t have is Diana’s vulnerability, her pain, her travails, her attempts to break through. As a result, the identification with Diana is forever.
'Remembering Diana: A Life in Photographs'
Speaking of Kate, do you think Diana would approve of her?
Very much. I think Diana would think that Kate is absolutely the perfect thing for her son. I think it’s a great tribute to Diana that William turned out the way he did because Diana, amongst her many great attributes, was a wonderful mother who was able to make normal kids out of these young princes. Always before in the royal family, the children had been kept aloof, not part of the world. Diana fought to give them as regular a childhood as she possibly could and she gave them a ton of affection, which made them into the solid young men they are today. But mostly, I think, Kate is a tribute to Diana’s mothering because William chose an extremely solid, kind, very reliable woman who in a sense has been his rock, which is what he needed.
In your forward you write that it’s time that we acknowledge what we learned from Diana, which is humanity. In what way do you think we should do so?
I think Diana really was an absolute pioneer in leveraging celebrity for the greater good of the world. Today with movie stars and those with major fortunes, we expect them to get engaged in causes and to devote their time and attention in a serious way.
But she was really the pioneer in that because before Diana, the royal family dispensed charity by showing up at galas or being the figureheads of charities. They would arrive, they would shake hands, they would be very courteous, but there was no real sense of human engagement.
What Diana brought was this tremendous human engagement. She made a huge contribution to AIDS by taking away the stigma when she made that trip to the hospital, where she greeted the AIDS patients, and she shook hands without gloves. At that time, the royal family always wore gloves when they went out for philanthropic trips. Diana shook hands without gloves to show that she was unafraid to feel an AIDS victim's touch up close. That really was the handshake that went around the world and made an enormous difference to people’s perception of AIDS.
As a result, would you say that the monarchy is better for her having been a part of it?
Very much so, and they would, too, by the way. When I was writing my book, which came out in 2007, when I was interviewing people, the closest of the royal courtiers around the queen said that Diana had transformed the monarchy. That in fact, thanks to Diana, they realized that they had to modernize. They had to become more accessible. They had to become more human.
For instance, when the recent, terrible fire in London happened, the Queen was there. Pre-Diana, the Queen would never have done that. The Queen never went to the scene of a tragedy in real time. Her diary was inviolate. She might well have booked in her diary six months down the line when she was free to be able to pay a visit to the ward or whatever it was, but this now happens in real time, and that was the Diana impact.
You mentioned she broke taboos, but it seems that even as she stood up to the royal family, they beat her down. Was there a dichotomy to their relationship?
I think the tragedy for Diana was, in a way, she was gaslighted by the royal family because they knew that Prince Charles was in love with Camilla Parker Bowles, but they knew that this was a marriage that needed to happen because he needed to have an heir, and he needed to get married quickly. At the age of 30, they were running out of women in their circle who had not got a past. Literally, Diana was the only girl around who had all of the qualities that were required. She had the pedigree. She was still a virgin as far as everybody knew. She had no past because she was so young. She seemed like the perfect English rose, so she was really, in a sense, designed by the royal family for the role, but she thought it was love match.
Diana thought she was falling in love with a prince, who was going to be in love with her, and Charles was fond of her, he was attracted to her, for sure, but he was never in love with her, not in the way that he was with Camilla Parker Bowles. Diana always thought that even if Charles seemed a little remote that she could win him, that this was forever, and that he would love her.
He didn’t, and she found out very quickly, of course, that his heart was engaged elsewhere. She found it agony that nobody would tell her the truth. Everybody seemed to know but her, and I think that definitely undermined her in a very terrible way because her mother had abandoned her when she was very, very young. I think she was six when her mother left, so she’d always had abandonment issues, so when she lost Prince Charles before she even really had him and realized it was for life, she said that to her it was extraordinarily destabilizing. I think it definitely played into all of her angst.
But the other part of it, of course, was the intense fame. On the one hand, her husband wasn’t in love with her. On the other hand, the whole world wanted to eat her alive and adore her. She had a very strange duality to deal with. Diana was 20 when she married Charles, and I can't imagine the pressures on a young woman of that age, married to a prince in a family that was so starchy and stuffy and so bound by ritual, and so alone, and then, on the other hand, she had the rock star appeal of somebody like Beyoncé. That would send anybody over the top.
Another thing I was really surprised to learn from your forward was that Charles dropped by for tea. So, did they have some kind of reconciliation after the divorce?
In the last two years of Diana's life, their relationship was beginning to normalize and become the friendliness of an ex-husband and wife who had some things in common. Diana was in love with Hasnat Khan, so that took a lot of the jealousy and anger out of her feelings for Charles because she’d literally moved on. Now, she was in love with somebody else, which always enables you to be more friendly with the person you were last with who hurt you. I think they were developing a pleasant ex relationship. What’s sad is they had much more in common at that age than many others did with him.
She wasn’t that woman when he first met her. When he first met her she was incredibly young, frivolous, naïve and not very interesting to talk to. By the time she was 36, when she died, she’d been through a great deal. She was now a mature woman. She’d traveled the world. She was far more sophisticated. She’d sat next to prime ministers and kings, and she’d sat next to people of much greater knowledge and intelligence, and a lot of that had rubbed off on her. She was never going to be intellectual, but she was a lot more mature and a lot more interesting as a woman in her later years than she was when she was young, so Charles had a lot more to talk to her about. The sad thing is you think, "Well, if she hadn’t died would they have ever managed to get back together?" Possibly, it might have happened.
Did she ever find any happiness? You mentioned that she was in love with Hasnat Khan.
She was madly in love with Khan. She certainly got romantic and sexual happiness with Khan, but was she really happy with Khan? No, because Diana was tremendously possessive, and she wanted to marry Khan. She had a fantasy that he knew could not be realized. She thought she wanted to live as a doctor’s wife, and they could go away and live in South Africa, which is one of her ideas, but he knew that, of course, was completely impractical. He would never have been able to lead a normal life as a doctor, which is what he wanted to do. He didn’t want to give up his life as a doctor at all, and he didn’t want to become the consort of a rock star, which is what it was like really being with Diana, so she never really found any real lasting happiness.
HBO is airing a special, which her sons took part in. What do you think about William and Harry talking about their mother now?
I think it’s great. I think it’s long overdue. I think Diana’s going to grow in importance as her sons become ever more present. When William is king, she’s the king’s mother, and he loved her. I think he’s going to make sure that she has every accolade that she is due her when the Queen eventually dies and all of the old feelings have gone away. What you'll be left with is one prince and one king who adored their mother. I think that they do want to remember her now and speak about her now, and I think they feel it’s important to try to reclaim her.
So, what about the conspiracy theory? It sounds as if you don’t believe that there was any conspiracy.
Well, to be honest, I would actually consider a conspiracy except for the fact that the car crash was, in the end, random because had she been wearing a seatbelt, she wouldn’t have died. It’s hard to believe, therefore, that a targeted attack like that would have been left to such random chance, so I don’t think it was a conspiracy. I think it was a perfect storm of things that happened that night, the combination of the paparazzi and the driver who’d had too many drinks and wasn't their usual driver. They didn't have the royal police driver who Diana didn’t want because she was very headstrong. She thought that he was spying on them, so she suggested they work with this ad hoc chauffeur who didn’t expect to drive that night. He had had too many drinks. The paparazzi were pursing them. I believe it was an accident.
Also people didn’t know what they were doing that night. It was an unplanned exit. So, the other thing is that the conspirators would have had to know that they were going to decide to take that back entrance and go out at that time having decided to have dinner somewhere they hadn’t planned to. There were so many different changes of plans that night. Whoever was tracking them would have had to know all that.
What was your relationship with Diana?
Over the years at Tattler and at Vanity Fair, I’d had many exchanges with her as a journalist, covering her and going to the palace. I met her at an American embassy dinner first when she was engaged to Charles. I wasn’t a friend of Diana’s. I’ve never said I was, but before she died, she invited me to lunch with Anna Wintour at the Four Seasons.
Diana had come to New York in June or July of ’97 to auction her clothes at Christie’s for charity, and she invited me to lunch that day with Anna Wintour. I’m not sure quite what was the occasion. I think she just thought she was going to be in New York and she would be interested in seeing me, and she hadn’t for a while, so we had this lunch, which of course I will remember for the rest of my days because only six weeks later she was dead.
She talked a great deal about her loneliness and about how she was striving for this next act where she would be focused on her humanitarian causes. She was excited about that really, but she was also very lonely because her boys were off to stay with Charles in Balmoral, and she felt she was going to be alone for the summer. She said, "I don’t really have anywhere to go," and I remember saying, "Well, everybody wants you to stay," and she said, "You don’t understand, if someone has me to stay, you’ve got the paparazzi all over you. It’s a terrible hassle to have me around." She said, "I therefore have to spend a lot of time alone," which, of course, is really why she took the invitation up with Dodi Al-Fayed because he had the private yachts, private planes and a lot of security, and she thought, ironically, that would keep her safe.
Do you ever speculate on what she would be like if she had survived?
I think she would be a major figure today. I think about how she would be loving about the Syrian refugees. I think she would have been tremendously on the forefront of most of the humanitarian issues that we care about today. I think she would have been a major force. I think she would have been a combination of Melinda Gates and Angelina Jolie but with even more wattage. I think she would have been the world’s leading humanitarian force. I think it’s totally tragic that we lost her so young.