The Tarnishing of a Legend

It is twenty years in August since the world woke to the news that Diana, Princess of Wales had been killed in a freak accident in Paris. It doesn’t seem that long ago – the feeling of shock and disbelief is still very fresh in my mind, the images of overflowing bouquets of flowers outside the gates of Kensington Palace and the sense of stunned silence everywhere. The evidence of time passing is in the now-grown sons she left behind, in the husband who now is comfortably settled with someone else. Who would have thought, back in those heady summer days of 1997, that the woman who had caused so much distress to the princess’s marriage would one day become Duchess of Cornwall and be doing a pretty good job of it too?

One thing hasn’t changed though and that is the determination in some quarters to destroy Diana’s legacy. At first, there was a palpable whitewashing of her existence and then there was a return to the tactics of the days of the Wars of the Waleses in her absence. Neither can have been particularly enjoyable for the two princes, who prefer to remember her as “the best mother in the world”.

Pre-Andrew Morton and divorce, Diana’s work with the vulnerable and needy had led to huge respect globally. Her presence within the British royal family had been a massive boost – a young, beautiful woman with a good heart and the capacity to communicate with people of all backgrounds. Stylish, charming and winsome, she was a winner in the popularity stakes. Later, we learned that this quality – star quality – had not gone down well behind closed doors. Nobody should be allowed to out-dazzle the born royals, it seems. Her descent in to confession, depression and isolation led to an upsurge in support from the public and an ostracization from the palace.

The ensuing anti-Diana campaign (“She’s mad!” “She’s nuts!” “Loose cannon!”) reminded me of the way women who failed to stay in ‘their place’ have been treated for centuries. To dare to question the behaviour of the heir to the throne was simply not on, and she had to go. Her unwillingness to “go quietly” led to a greater desire to unmask this philanthropic woman as the sort who drove her husband to despair, caused distress wherever she went and who clearly couldn’t be trusted to behave.

The continuation of this campaign has continued since her death. Not content with the fact she had left this mortal coil, a reputation disintegration exercise commenced. She was declared to have a personality disorder, in her absence, by a female author whose loyalties firmly lie with the Prince of Wales no matter what. She was declared unhinged, hysterical, man-mad. The fact that the Prince had had several affairs throughout the marriage, not just a dalliance with Camilla Parker Bowles, was discreetly brushed under the carpet. He had a “true love” story while Diana had her knickers around her ankles. The determination to destroy the woman as she really was continues to this day. Again, serialisation of new books to mark the twentieth anniversary of her death continue to declare Diana as dangerous and desperate – rather than a very young woman plunged in to a very difficult role with a much older man.

For me, Diana still holds sympathy. I still remember the hospice visits, shaking AIDS victims hands, campaigning against landmines. I remember her work. The best possible way to remember her is as Prince Harry so adequately demonstrated this week in his speech to continue her work against landmines. And wouldn’t she have been proud to see her now-grown youngest boy sharing his desire to finish the work she started, alongside those she met in Angola and Bosnia?

Let’s remember the philanthropist, the humanitarian, the woman who knew how to shine her light on to issues nobody else wanted to look at.

Let’s remember her like that.

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