Diana Still Captivates

The story of Princess Diana is of course the grimmest of fairy tales — the beautiful girl and the prince she loved; the royal wedding; heirs to the throne and an adoring public.

Fairy tales do come true — but remember fairy tales are filled with lies and cruelty, jealousy and betrayal. There would be no happy ending, only a senseless accident. And ten years later we are still entranced by Diana.

"She died at the peak of her beauty, at the peak of her powers, at the peak of her magic, and the magic never dimmed," Tina Brown, author of the best-selling "The Diana Chronicles," told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.

Only a handful of people have had that kind of magic, said royal watcher and social commentator Victoria Mather.

"She's up there with Elvis and Marilyn Monroe and John F Kennedy and always will be," Mather said. "It wasn't just her beauty. It was her vulnerability and that people could relate to her because they felt her pain. She was a very modern icon."

Nineteen-year-old Lady Diana Spencer was an old-fashioned girl.

"Her magic in the early days came from the innocence and the spontaneity," Mather said. "I mean, she just was enchanting."

Photos: Diana, The Crusader
"Not only was she perfectly born with her Spencer background," Brown said. "She was probably the only virgin left in the British Isles. She suddenly just seemed the most perfect thing that anyone could ever find. And she was the most perfect thing anyone could ever find. Charles himself as well as the British public, just bought into the whole dream."

Of course the whole dream was just that — a dream. Behind all that regal pomp were all-too-human frailties.

"The way she actually saw it was that she was going to be able to marry the one person who could never divorce her because it was unthinkable that the Prince and Princess of Wales would ever divorce — unthinkable," Mather said.

"You know, Diana's mother left her when Diana was six for another man and it left her with a great fragility and a great instability, really, that lasted her whole life," Brown said. "She would have been absolutely fine if she could have married a man who loved her, but this very fragile, very sort of high-strung girl married into a family that was very rejecting, to a man who didn't love her but was madly in love with somebody else. That for her was probably the worst possible soil for this particular flower to be planted in."

But somehow in that hostile environment the English rose did bloom.

"She, from the very beginning despite all the woes at home, had the most immense appeal to the public," Brown said. "She was a natural with the camera, a natural with the media. The media adored her. And for Charles, he could not cope with the fact that on that very first tour, for instance, to Wales, there'd be two lines going down. He would have one side, she would have the other. The side that she went down, everybody went crazy. It was like Beatlemania in a tiara. The side that he went down, everybody groaned, went, 'Oh no, oh no, we got Charles.' Well at first he made a few jokes. Then he got very, very irritated. And then he got furious. And the royal family got furious. Because they thought, you know, 'He's the Prince of Wales. I mean, this is Wales and he's the Prince of Wales.'"

Prince Charles was used to being the center of the universe, and all of a sudden he was being upstaged by his wife. The spotlight moved onto her and stayed there, much to the dismay of the royal family.

"When the queen opened Parliament — that was her big day every year," Brown said. "I mean it's the queen's day. She gets to sit on a throne. She gets to wear her crown. She gets to travel in a gilded coach. It is the royal day. Diana and all the royal family go. But when Diana went she had her hair tied up that day. And all the press focused on Diana's new up-do. That's all they talked about. There were polls in the paper: Should she have worn it up? Should she have worn it down? The queen didn't even get her face on the front page that day."

Patrick Jephson was Diana's private secretary. He says Diana stood out whether she was visiting an AIDS ward or going to the opera because she was both regal and approachable.

"In a BBC poll most British people voted Diana the third greatest Briton in history," he said. "That's after Churchill and I think Shakespeare. Diana had many of the qualities of a natural leader and therefore to other members of the royal family who were born into the dynasty of leadership, her success was not always something they could take great joy from."

Photos: The Princess Mom
As the animosity grew, leading to her separation and then divorce from the Prince of Wales, there were two things that would sustain her: Her sons. In the divorce, she was stripped of her title, "Her Royal Highness."

"When William heard they'd stripped her of her HRH, he turned to her and said, 'Don't worry mummy,'" Brown said. "'When I'm king, I'll give it back to you.' And he will. You wait. He will."

And the press — in all battles royal — Diana controlled the most important weapon. Shortly before her separation in 1992, she revealed a scandalous pile of royal secrets for Andrew Morton's tell-all biography.

Then, just prior to her divorce in 1996, she talked with Martin Bashir on the BBC.

"She's laying down the gauntlet, pretty much everything she says to the royal family," Brown said. "She's saying, 'I will get very tough if you try to play anything except fair with me. I will tell more. I will go further than I have already to make sure I get what I need.' She had incredible chutzpah this girl, she really did."

"The Princess of Wales was not by nature a rebel," Jephson said. "She was an aristocrat. Her interests and the interests of the royal family coincided for the most part. She was a proud woman and she didn't like being messed around. She didn't like being treated disrespectfully."

The royals agreed on a £17 million divorce settlement in 1996, that came to about $26.5 million. She would also keep her home and office at Kensington Palace.

With financial security and a home base, Diana was back in the spotlight and back on the road — this time, roads not often traveled to bring attention to things she cared about.

"She was determined to achieve something in her own right and she saw what she could do with people," Mather said. "She did have this magic touch with people. If you went round a hospital ward with her, I mean she did touch people's lives and it was the most extraordinary thing, and they did feel better for having met her."

And through it all, Brown says, Diana knew that image mattered.

"When she walked in an uncleared minefield in Angola in the last years of her life without any sort of fear, she didn't have to do that," she said. "She really didn't. And a lot of people wouldn't have wanted to."

Photographers asked her to walk along the minefield again for more pictures and she obliged.

Photos: Diana, Style Icon
"It was an extraordinary moment where Diana's celebrity, her humanitarian cause and her absolute instinct for the power of gesture because the press hadn't got the shot the first time," Brown said. "She knew she had to do this to get the message out around the world. That was really the kind of quintessence of Diana's great moment I think. And I think that's how she saw her life going. "

Brown says when she had lunch with Diana two months before her death, the princess was beaming over the success of her land mines campaign. But something else was troubling her.

"She kept saying how much she regretted still the relationship with Charles," Brown said. "And she said, 'You know, we would have been such a great team.' And she clearly regretted that she wasn't going to be able to play her role in the world stage as queen. And she regretted that all the way of what had happened with Charles and her great sorrow in a sense that she now had great fame, but such a barrier to happiness. Of course the saddest thing about Diana was that in the end it was always going to be about, did she find the guy?"

And in the last two years of her life, Diana did find the guy. Brown says Diana's secret love was a London heart surgeon Dr. Hasnet Kahn.

"They had this really secret, very, very passionately intimate affair," Brown said. "But sadly, after a time of course, all Diana wanted was for a regular life with a guy. And she wanted to go public. This was a moment of truth for Kahn because he knew his life was going to become nothing but Di's new guy and he decided he couldn't take it. And he said to her the affair was over. That was a devastating blow for Diana, a devastating blow. She wanted to get the heck out of England and it was easy for her to accept the invitation of a multimillionaire with a house in the south of France, protection, drivers, helicopters. She thought, 'I'll be safe there.'"

She was not. Playboy Dodi Fayed had money and mansions but, with the press in hot pursuit, he and Diana got in a car. The driver was drunk.

"We can't accept that somebody that special, that beautiful, that romantic a figure could die in such an untimely way," Brown said.

And even 10 years later, Brown says Diana's magic still remains.

"It think the arc of her story is a magical arc," she said. "You know the young, virginal princess who marries the prince of her dreams. Who discovers that it's all sadness and ashes. Who almost feels like a prisoner in her castle, and then breaks free and uses her new life to create immense pleasure and happiness in the lives of people who have much greater ills than herself. And then dies tragically young with all her beauty untouched. This is a fairy story of a very major kind and I think has a kind of mythic resonance that will always be a story that we find fascinating. Forever."
  • Caitlin Johnson

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