The Once and Future Princess

Most of the discussion of the recent televised interview given by the Princess of Wales, and of the royal separation to which it deliberately drew renewed attention, has been, as one might expect, superficial and partisan: for or against Diana, for or against Charles, for or against divorce, for or against the monarchy, for or against the BBC. It has also been as narrow-minded and short-sighted as such “instant analysis” tends to be. On the one hand, it has been generally concluded that while her interview was a sensational performance, the Princess actually said very little that was new. On the other, it is now widely believed that a divorce must take place, and that it will clarify an impossible situation. But a more considered reaction to the interview suggests that the first of these conclusions is incorrect, while serious reflection on the consequences of divorce implies that the second conclusion is no less inadequate.

Despite the fact that Diana had clearly been well-prepared for her appearance, it revealed for the first time, and no doubt did so quite unintentionally, the extent of her confusion about herself and her job. She is admired, she said, for being a “strong woman,” but much of the account she gave of her thoughts and actions belied that. She presented herself as a devoted mother, but do devoted mothers give interviews as candid as this one was? She said she hopes the Prince of Wales will find peace, but many of her other comments hardly seemed designed to assist him in this quest. And how are we to reconcile her claims that she is not a “destructive” person, and that she believes in the monarchy’s future, with her avowed determination to “fight to the end,” and with the damage to the throne which her behavior has already caused?

Nor does she seem any more clear about her present occupation or future job. She says she would like to be a roving ambassador for Britain. But this was just the vague and plausible-sounding position vainly sought by the Duke of Windsor, another hapless royal (of whom more later)—hardly a convincing or encouraging precedent. She says she wants to hug people and to give them love: but this is the language of her step-grandmother, Barbara Cartland, and it mistakenly presumes that monarchy is primarily about therapy and social work. And when she says that she wants to be “a queen of peoples’ hearts, in peoples’ hearts,” we have reached depths of pious platitude and vacuous phrasemaking that have not been plumbed since Prince Charles informed us that he wanted to be “defender of faith.”

When we consider the sort of life she has lived these last fifteen years or so, it is hardly surprising that the Princess of Wales is mixed up. In this, at least, she resembles her husband: that sad, bewildered, vain, unsure, and petulant person of the television documentary and book by Jonathan Dimbleby. Whatever allowances we may make for their low…

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