Arrow-right Camera

World Mourns Princess Who Dared To Love She Brought To Public Life A Personal Language We Could Understand

SUNDAY, SEPT. 7, 1997

Things will never be the same. For her family, for the people of this country, for the press.

The profound outpouring of emotion over Diana’s death will continue. Tears are being shed by those who have never cared much about the royal family, by those who would much prefer a Republic, by those who dismissed her as trivial, self-obsessed and generally silly when she was alive.

The effect that this uneducated woman has had on our national psyche is only just beginning to be gauged.

Icons do not die. Diana’s afterlife is only just starting. Forever frozen at the height of her beauty, Diana, like Marilyn, that other troubled goddess, will not age. She will continue to glow, forever young and vital, in the hearts of those she touched.

For the pop princess, the people’s princess, the media princess understood the power of touch, the language of intimacy, of a hug, a gesture that was always more eloquent than mere words. After all, the most looked-at woman in the world grasped early on the impact of visual communication; she was a child of her time.

The manner of her death brings with it a dark and terrible symbolism. She died because of the world’s appetite to look at her, to see her in her most intimate moments whether she wanted it or not.

This tragedy is a thoroughly modern one, for Diana was a thoroughly modern woman and her life and death embody so many themes of the late-20th century.

She resided at the apex of so many of our obsessions: our preoccupation with image, the nature of fame, the search for personal growth, the changing nature of family life, the quest for depth in a world of superficiality, the oscillation between victimhood and empowerment, the continuing muddle between what is properly private and what is public, the struggle between duty and desire.

Diana represented these contradictions. She lived them and spoke openly of them. She made no secret of the dysfunctional family that she was born into and even less of the one that she married into.

She sought, as so many of us do, to remedy this through her relationships with her own children. To hear that these poor boys were Sunday ferried to church in royal cars to observe royal protocol - no matter how they felt - is truly sad.

She surely would have wanted her boys to weep openly, not to have to maintain the ghastly facade that had already nearly destroyed her.

As Jacques Chirac said she “was a young woman of our age.” Had she been born 20 years earlier she would have been expected to put up with her husband’s infidelity, to grin and bear it.

In refusing to do so, she laid open the cynical workings of monarchy, patriarchy and hereditary privilege that had used her as little more than a brood mare.

When her fairy tale marriage fractured we saw another story altogether, one that many, particularly women, could relate to. She had her 20th-century problems - bulimia, the 20th-century disease of low self-esteem as well as the much-pilloried 20th-century desire to “find herself,” to give her life meaning.

In offering up her own emptiness, she became a void for us to project our fantasies into. She was a saint, supermodel, an international superstar and a sex symbol all in one deliciously toned body.

We knew that having known what it was not to be loved she could give love freely. For all her manipulation of the media, her compassion was genuine, a gut reaction rather than a thought-out strategy.

Her immense significance was that she brought into public life an intensely personal language of pain and distress and love and affection.

She not only spoke it but insisted that it had a place in the buttoned-up discourse of civic life. Such language, coded as feminine, is too often dismissed as inappropriate, as somehow inferior, as far too emotional to be worth taken seriously.

She was not a traditional political figure but in realizing that her life had been shaped by circumstances beyond her control, that a role had been written for her that she could no longer play, she ruptured the divine order, triggering the desire for a new kind of monarchy.

Tags: Commentary

Click here to comment on this story »