MAs he prepares to take on the role he’s been waiting for so long, it must be very strange for Prince Charles to continue to deal with the attention showered on his generous wife. His late first wife, who still sells newspapers, trades magazines, gets clicks and attracts viewers almost as magnetically as she did when she was alive.
Hence the new film Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as the princess of the city, which has already caused quite a stir. Of course, making noise is exactly what Dee liked to do in the years since her estrangement from the crown prince. In those days, she would deliberately appear at an event in a dramatic dress just to replace some boring speech he was giving around town. Now, posthumous iterations of her persona by a string of young actors—Naomi Watts (Diana), Emma Corinne, Elizabeth Debicki (The crown)- try to capture his spirit and continue to enter the new generations.
Generation Z, for example, was born in the same 1997 that she died. In other words, people in their prime who have no contemporary memory of the late Princess of Wales, having only footage and semi-fictionalized versions of events on shows like The crown to behave They are still being recruited, these new votaries at the shrine of Diana, Queen of Hearts.
Diana’s power in death may have been exaggerated, but Prince Charles must now have come to terms with the fact that he and Camilla will never be able to step out of her shadow, even when he is king (and the Duchess of Cornwall, presumably, the promotion her in Queen Camilla). Although British public opinion has softened over time, pop culture has ensured that Diana’s legacy lives on.
In fact, things haven’t changed much since the early years of Carlos and Diana’s marriage, when he strayed on their first trip together to Australia. Poor Charles heard several fans express their frustration that “she” was across the street and “all we got was him.” Much of the public hasn’t changed their opinion of the crown prince since then.
In fact, Diana has been chasing them ever since she died in that car crash in Paris. The days immediately following her death, in which the Queen kept the children and the rest of the family at Balmoral for too long, to the growing dismay of public opinion, marked the worst crisis the House of Windsor had ever experienced since the abdication crisis of 1936. People who usually sympathetic or indifferent to the monarchy, they question the value of the institution and its right to exist.
The population was sharply divided into camps for Charles and for Diana. It was a kind of prototype of the intergenerational culture war of values and attitudes that we are very familiar with today. Basic social attitudes guided people, again in a way that foreshadowed later conflicts, especially in relation to Diana’s second child and his choice of husband. Harry and Meghan have inherited these kind of compassionate values, dare I say “I woke up”, who embodied Diana, and with them they troll Carlos.
The cult of Diana seems stronger than ever, despite the fact that her holy figure died almost a quarter of a century ago. Few celebrities or historical figures leave a legacy that lasts more than a week. However, Diana, like James Dean, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe or John Lennon, has an air of immortality. She, like them, has the advantage that age will not tire her. Her gilded reputation never had a chance to suffer from the inevitable mistakes she would have made had she (and Dodi) buckled into Al Fayed’s limousine. His “life” since 1997 has been an irresistible blank canvas to create vicarious dreams for the fan base.
Much of the lasting appeal comes from those lamb eyes that Stewart spends much of Pablo Larraín’s Spencer trying to emulate. From the first pictures of the then Lady Diana Spencer peeking out from under her bangs, this semi-shy sideways glance has done nothing but attract attention and elicit sympathy. By the time she appeared in her world-famous confessional BBC interview with Martin Bashir (“there were three of us in this marriage, so it was quite crowded”), she hardly needed to try to appear vulnerable.
It is that fragile aspect of his personality that perhaps makes us feel protected, although rationally, of course, it is too late for all that. In the sensational funeral oration delivered by his brother Charles Spencer in Westminster Abbey, which caused unprecedented riotous applause throughout the building and on the Mall, he described this sacrifice memorably and affectingly, and with startling foreshadowing of Sussex’s exile, another reason why their death on the run continues to reverberate through the media:
“She talked endlessly about her escape from England, especially because of the treatment she received at the hands of the newspapers. I think she never understood why the media mocked her genuine good intentions, why there seemed to be a constant drive on their part to bring her down. This is puzzling. My own and only explanation is that true goodness is a threat to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum.
The qualities that made her so sought after then continue to be desired, if not adored, today: style, class, friendliness, fashion sense. Maybe that will help her be a gay icon and hero now strange. Writer Lewis Staples explains in an article about Harpers Bazaar what Diana meant and means to LGBTQ+ Gen Z (he was eight years old when she died).
“Not only did she go from being a relatively unknown (but very wealthy) teenager to the most famous woman in the world, but she also refused to be ‘ordinary’ royalty, defying gender expectations to be submissive and follow the rules.” So it’s not surprising that people strange who felt “different” growing up, or even rejected by their own families, “not identified” with Diana. She gave them a model for functioning in a hostile environment…”
Indeed, Diana’s work with AIDS sufferers and charities in the 1980s was groundbreaking. It’s hard to admit now, but as highlighted by the excellent drama of Channel 4 This is a sinIt was a time when tabloid newspapers shamefully called AIDS the “gay plague.” Diana shook hands with AIDS sufferers and made headlines for her compassion.
was a woman I woke up, as we would call her now, in every possible way and modernizing, largely spiritual ancestor of Meghan. Even Oprah’s interview with Sussex bears striking similarities to Bashir-Diana’s, including the unflattering references to the Prince of Wales and similar allusions to the dark forces of place.
Even at her death in 1997, it was clear what Diana meant to the then younger generation (people who are now of retirement age). To the horror of a tight-lipped older generation, the then-young Britain erupted in an unprecedented open display of grief. It was madness to be sure, but it was also the birth of a more raucous and emotionally unrestrained nation.
Diana was ahead of her time in embracing the cause of mental health when it was even more stigmatized than it is now, just as William and Harry would later be. Now we know more about why: Diana understood the heartache and cried out for help. The same courage applies to their missions to rid Africa of landmines that continue to maim children years after the end of several civil wars.
But back to the present: when Carlos becomes king, will Camila be queen? Attitudes have softened somewhat since the venom felt towards the current Duchess of Cornwall, but the idea of Queen Camilla still terrifies the more pious community of Diana devotees, and the wider cult of Diana is showing no sign of fading, so is a lasting posthumous life in popular culture.
Thus the new king and his wife will discover, curiously, that there are, so to speak, three persons in their marriage, and that only one of them is stellar. As Charles Spencer prophetically said at the Abbey: “The singular, complex, extraordinary and irreplaceable Diana, whose beauty, both inner and outer, will never fade from our minds.”