When (ex-)Princess Diana died twenty years ago today, August 31st, she had only just begun to start anew from the wreckage of her marriage to Prince Charles, who, for some reason perhaps pertaining to insanity, gravitated his penis toward Camilla Parker Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall (at least she knows it would be sacrilege for her to use the title Princess of Wales in the wake of being Charles’ second wife and Diana already owning said moniker). Though their rapport had already long since devolved, it was Charles’ infidelity and the stifling forces that were Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip that ultimately sent Diana packing.
It bears noting that her death date wasn’t far off from her wedding date to Prince Charles–July 29th–a marriage that, in many ways, signaled the demise of her innocence and sense of feeling truly “alive”–or rather, that her life was her own. Their divorce, marking her newfound liberation from at least one prison, was finalized on August 28th of 1996 (though they split informally in 1992), after fifteen years of “officially” being together–one more calendaric coincidence.
Another eerie aspect of the timeline leading up to her “expiration” was that it had only been a little over a month since Gianni Versace was slain in his own Miami Beach home on July 15th. Diana would attend the funeral with Elton John at her side, the very same man who would revitalize the Marilyn Monroe tribute, “Candle in the Wind,” for her as a somewhat lazy homage to her funeral.
Although the paparazzi were blamed mercilessly by the public for tirelessly pursuing and tailing Diana’s car through a tunnel in Paris, a French investigation into the accident in 1999 concluded that the driver had also mixed alcohol and drugs, adding to the out-of-control fate of the vehicle she was riding in with boyfriend, Dodi Al-Fayed, best known as being the oldest son of the Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed, but also as, at one point, owning Harrods department store. That Diana would choose him as her rebound was rather telling of just how much of a bad bitch she could be, and in the most undermining ways–after all, the Queen couldn’t have been pleased that Diana had loosely tied herself to a known arms dealer (Al-Fayed’s mother, Samira Khashoggi, was the sister of illustrious “weaponry salesman,” Adnan Khashoggi). Indeed, Prince Philip even remarked that Dodi was nothing more than an “oily bed-hopper” unfit to be the future stepfather of William and Harry. But even before that, she fell in love with another Middle Easterner descended from royalty: heart surgeon (ironic) Hasnat Khan. Her post-Charles boyfriend selections aside, Diana had always managed to somehow disappoint Elizabeth & co. no matter what she did, primarily because of how she could never make a wrong move in the eyes of the British people.
Many have even gone so far as to speculate that there was a sense of relief on the part of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles upon her death. At the time of being notified, the royal family was doing their usual relaxation stint at Balmoral castle in Scotland, choosing to remain there for the subsequent days, save for Prince Charles, who went to Paris to collect the body. England’s effusive reaction to the death of the woman that was frequently referred to as the People’s Princess, went directly against the “stiff upper lip” stereotype of British folk. But this was the closest England ever got to a John and Jackie Kennedy figure rolled into one. Her reputation as the People’s Princess made her all the more valuable to the British people as a result of her unprecedentedly approachable and caring nature, particularly in comparison to your average member of the royal family. She had empathy in spades, made the public feel as though she could truly understand them. She was, after all, the first royal bride to have actually had a job before getting married (appropriately, as a kindergarten teacher).
Thus, it’s no wonder that, twenty years on, England and the world at large remain fixated on her arcane tenderness. Not to mention just, how it could have all been avoided, the tragedy that seemed ultimately to be her life. The way she ended up with Charles, who was originally dating her older sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale, after only twelve dates and an all too quick trip to Balmoral to meet the family in November of 1980 was to be telling of how it could all fall apart just as easily as it had come together. Possibly because she was so young, she believed truly in Charles’ ardor for her, only later learning that it was more about what he could get out of her as a fellow public figure than the “till death do us part” sentiment of true love. As Diana grew to understand that Charles didn’t love her as she thought, it was only natural for her to coin the phrase, “The worst illness of our time is that so many people have to suffer from never being loved.”
The troubles in the marriage were soon to become evident post-1981, the thirteen year age difference (Diana only twenty years old at the time of the wedding, and just sixteen when she met Charles) paling in comparison to Charles’ constant predilection for Bowles. As though to prove he wasn’t the only one who could cheat, Diana, too, established her dalliances. The princess’ affair with English cavalry officer James Hewitt in the mid-80s was quickly exposed by the media, and the rumors of him being Prince Harry’s true father (the resemblance is rather, well, notable) have never fully been quashed in some conspiracy theorists’ minds. To compound the scandal, the “Squidgygate” incident–tapes leaked to the media in the early 90s of Diana’s intimate conversations with friend and sometimes beau James Gilbey–made her own cheating penchant neck and neck with Charles. But still she could do no ill as far as the perception of her loyal public was concerned, more enraptured with her good deeds and ever-devoted charity work. From visiting with AIDS victims when no one else would touch them (literally) to her interaction with lepers for The Leprosy Mission, there was seemingly no walk of life that Diana wouldn’t or couldn’t reach out to with her personable touch.
As Diana once said, in that aphoristic manner that only she could, “I would like to be a queen in the hearts of the people.” And oh how she was and has continued to remain so. That she was able to get the royal flag draped over her coffin in spite of being cast out of the family and be the instigating force behind Buckingham Palace flying the Union Jack at half-mast for the first time in history is a testament to how her power only magnified in death. For her overt fragility was and is something we recognize in all of ourselves, beneath that crusty exterior most of us commoners have–like haddock battered in beer.