Tina Brown on Princess Diana: "She was grander than the royal family"

Life and legacy of Princess Diana

It was 20 years ago this month that the world was shocked and saddened by the death of Princess Diana. National Geographic is marking the anniversary with a new documentary "Diana: In Her Own Words," which features audio from secret interviews Diana recorded in 1991.

National Geographic

"She was grander than the royal family," journalist, editor and biographer Tina Brown said on "CBS This Morning." Brown has written the forward to the new book, "Remembering Diana: A Life in Photographs" (National Geographic), and also wrote "The Diana Chronicles."

Of Diana, Brown said, "In person she so was so much more beautiful than in her photographs. That's really the funniest thing. Because she had this really long, tall, imposing height, which you don't really get a feeling of in the pictures. Plus these enormous eyes, which were these big, limpid pools of feeling, and then this apricot skin which was the perfect English rose. So the combination of the dazzling eyes, the peach skin, and the height, it was really very stunning."

When asked about the use of the previously-unreleased recordings of Diana in the film, which included interviews with her biographer Andrew Morton (who wrote the 1992 book, "Diana: Her True Story"), Brown said, "I think the Morton tapes as you hear in the National Geographic [special] are absolutely fair to release, because after all she wanted those published. They did form the basis of the book that was then published by Andrew Morton. But it was really Diana's own story that she gave him."

Causing more controversy are private recordings from Diana's speech coach. "They were, like, therapy tapes she was doing in private. I think those should have been released to her family. I think to simply put on air for anyone to hear her darkest, deepest, saddest moments which were really told in confidence to her coach and who was really her therapist as well, I think that's really very cruel to the family."

Tina Brown CBS News

Brown says she would have preferred any release of the private tapes to be delayed.  "I think it's still too raw for that to be seen," she said.

And why does she think they were released?  "Well, for the reason that everything is released, which is the money."

Brown said that it was very hard for Diana to find happiness beyond her two sons and her social activism. "She came from such a wounded, broken family. Her mother left when she was 7. Her grandmother sided with her father against her mother in the divorce case. So the family was riven with painful feuds. She was the lonely child in the middle while the other kids were off at school, her little brother with her. She was a terribly damaged girl.

"At the same time, the whole world was in love with her — everyone was in love with her, except her husband. Another sense of rejection. Here's a girl with a primal wound of her family who marries someone who she thinks is, 'My prince has come and I'll live happily forever after,' only to find it's like some nightmare … he's actually always been in love with somebody else."

Brown said, "Everyone was in on the story except her."

She described Diana and Charles' union as an arranged marriage brokered by the palace: "She was picked out by the Queen Mother who said, 'Look, Charles needs to get married, this girl is very young, she's a virgin' — which was very much a vanished species in the U.K. at this point — 'there's no backstory here. She's perfect.' The Queen and Prince Philip said, 'Yes, she is. You're right on. She's perfect. We need to get him married because he's having an affair with this married woman, Camilla Parker Bowles.' Another abdication drama in the making.  

"So everybody was all ganged up., and Charles was too weak to resist it. He knew he had to get married, and he kind of talked himself into thinking he could love her. But he was already committed emotionally to somebody else, Camilla. And in the back of his mind he knew he could go back to his mistress because that's what Princes of Wales always have done.

"Alas, Diana thought 'I'm in a love match here.' She was the only one who didn't know."

Despite her naiveté about her marriage to the next in line to the throne, Diana was "brilliant" at using the press, Brown said. 

"It was a kind of intuitive skill she had from the very beginning. Another reason why Prince Charles married her in the beginning was that the press fell in love with her. He was so used to having bad press about girlfriends, he thought, 'Wow, this young girl knows how to handle the press, they all love her.' So it was very important, the whole question of how she knew how to play the press. Of course, later it became lethal from Charles' point of view, because she always knew much better than he how to dole out the quick soundbite, the little off-the-record interview, whatever, that was going to make him look bad. She played that to the hilt."

"Diana: In Her Own Words" premieres on the National Geographic Channel on Monday, August 14 at 9 p.m. ET.

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.