Diana, Princess of Wales

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Diana, Princess of Wales Pencil Portrait
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Last update : 14/4/13

The sadly curtailed life of Diana, Princess of Wales (1 July 1961 – 31 August 1997) reads like a modern Greek tragedy invoking at the time of her death, a wave of public mourning and hysteria vastly disproportionate to her place in history. At the core of this national sentiment lay the roots of a movement that had brought the House of Windsor to its knees. Her own problems in life are now more than well documented, acquiring as they have, the hallmarks of a folk story that almost feeds on itself. So redolent is her story with chinese whispers, inaccuracies, downright lies and misconceptions that I find myself struggling to make sense of it all. By the age of thirty six and within the confines of her private emotional life, she had transmogrified from a chubby faced naive child bride seemingly in love with the concept of love to a world weary, intelligent and highly manipulative woman. Eating disorders and more worryingly, a need for constant demonstrations of affection would have been more than enough to drive any self contained man to distraction. For Charles, suitably bereft of genuine maternal affection as a child, the emotional hurdle of handling his wife’s insecurities was insurmountable whilst Diana’s role in Royal circles was initially perceived as little more than an agreeable incubator to generate a much need heir and spare. Their relationship was doomed from the start but nobody could have foreseen how badly it would all really end.

It is seemingly beyond dispute that the Princess of Wales was a devoted, imaginative and demonstrative mother. She rarely deferred to the Prince or to the Royal Family, and was often intransigent when it came to matters involving her children. She chose their first given names, dismissed a royal family nanny and engaged one of her own choosing, selected their schools and clothing, planned their outings and took them to school herself as often as her schedule permitted. She also negotiated her public duties around their timetables.

Equally beyond dispute was her social conscience. The Princess developed an intense interest in serious illnesses and health-related matters outside the purview of traditional royal involvement, including AIDS and leprosy. In addition, she was the patroness of charities and organisations working with the homeless, youth, drug addicts and the elderly. From 1989, she was President of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. The day after her divorce, she announced her resignation from over 100 charities to spend more time with the remaining six. Also following her divorce she remained patron of Centrepoint (homeless charity), the English National Ballet, Leprosy Mission and National Aids Trust. More tellingly, she displayed an acute understanding of aids and other transmittable diseases in her demonstrative handling of innumerable patients on her hospital visitations.

During her final year Diana lent highly visible support to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a campaign which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, only a few months after her death. It goes without saying therefore that there was intrinsic goodness in this person for although her position in life necessitated the carving out of a bespoke tailored career she embraced her varying roles with a commitment and compassion way beyond her call of duty. She rightly earned her title of “The People’s Princess” and her endeavours in her public life made her divorce and subsequent premature death all that much harder to bear in the minds of many people.

I could fill pages discussing the events in Paris that claimed her life but there is much already out there in the public domain. I am personally convinced her open conflict with the UK arms industry and her proposed campaign to denounce British complicity in the sale of weapons to countries that did not respect human rights, brought her into focus amongst powerful factions in much the same way as JFK’s proposed withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam incensed his military chiefs of staff. Instead I would prefer to focus on Diana the woman.

My portrait of her dates from the period where she was aware of Camilla’s presence in her husband’s life even though, if several key sources are to be believed, there had been no resumption of physical relations between the former lovers. Several years earlier, she had seemingly appeared the perfect bride for the Prince of Wales; a young, beautiful, allegedly virginal nineteen year old from a good aristocratic British family. Sadly, she was also presumed to be compliant and yet her thwarted romantic idealism gave rise to a disastrous union that nearly tore the royal family apart. Prince Philip, who continues to appeal to my extremely black sense of humour was overheard to say that Diana would at least bring some much needed height into the family. People might recoil in horror at such notions but in reality what other perspective, apart from a practical one, could be reasonably expected from a man of the world? After all, whilst women are portrayed as idealists, in reality the onset of advancing years brings very real defined agendas whilst continuing ostensibly to pay homage to the ‘accoutrements of romance.’ The all consuming question for a woman of a certain biological age is the suitably of her partner to be the father of her child. Other factors come into play of course but that thought will be the deciding one. After all, the woman is the nest maker and so having been carried along on the crest of a wave of public expectation and with personal misgivings (her fiancée remained unsure on camera what the term “in love” meant) she should still have called off the impending nuptials after that interview. However, with thousands of commemorative plates and mugs now on sale the wedding of the decade took place on July 29, 1981.

Encouragingly both parents immersed themselves in their babies which signalled a departure from normal royal custom. Years of familial neglect however, had not prepared Charles for his wife’s burgeoning popularity. Twenty years earlier President Kennedy had recognised the political mileage to be wrought from his wife Jacqueline’s image as a fashion auteur; Charles was not so savvy, resenting the back seat he was seemingly being compelled to take after several years as the world’s most eligible bachelor.

Charles therefore expected his marriage to be conducted along the lines of his parents’ union whilst continuing his dialogue with Camilla, who had replaced his beloved ‘Uncle,’ Lord Mountbatten as his primary confidante when he was so cruelly murdered by the IRA in 1979. It is no secret that the Queen and her husband live separate lives. Philip has taken several solo trips abroad each year while his royal wife enjoys her own chosen lifestyle. However the man has never fallen short in his patriotic role as consort to the monarch and as such we must presume that the way in which they conduct their lives is an arrangement that suits them both. Diana expected something else.

When the Queen visited hospitals, she smiled remotely, asked formal questions, seemed ill at ease and never touched anyone. My wife, who is an intensive care nurse and therefore infinitely more important professionally than I can ever be, met the Queen in 1997 who regaled her with the same mind numbing question she must have put to thousands before._ “I suppose the people in this intensive care unit are all rather poorly?”_ However what could the poor woman have asked? How Government cutbacks were affecting staff morale? She must sigh inwardly at the sheer inanity of these visitations. Diana, on the other hand, bounded into AIDS wards or orphanages in deprived areas, sat on the beds, told risqué jokes, hugged, cradled babies, laughed and cried seemingly without losing an iota of respect or dignity and on the day of her funeral, these very real distinctions in their personalities left me in real fear for the Queen’s life. I shivered watching the reaction to Earl Spencer’s speech come rolling through the doors of Westminster Cathedral from the crowd outside. If this completely misplaced anger towards such a selfless monarch had physically spilled over into the congregation itself one can only wonder how it would all have ended. It is this thought that our monarch might not have been around to enjoy her Diamond jubilee that raises questions about the human psyche and how shocking news can bend our sense of perspective fatally out of shape. I don’t doubt for a moment that Diana experienced heartbreak over her marriage and that this bitter estrangement sent her tumbling into one affair after another. But it is the most common and fundamental mistake any spouse can make to believe for one moment that a revenge affair can bring the errant husband back into the emotional fold. At the time the event occurs, the partner is sufficiently distracted to barely notice anyway beyond the effect on his pride and the scorned spouse achieves nothing for her own self esteem whilst potentially hurting “the third party” involved. This wilful manipulation of a third party in order to make the spouse experience similar pain, anger, jealousy and rejection is damaging enough but in Diana’s case possibly caused the death of one party whilst leaving others in very real fear of their lives. In the words of James Hewitt, Diana was of the opinion that her former lover Barry Mannakee’s death was no accident. If she truly believed that then we must call into question her sense of judgement in involving herself in other relationships until her divorce and revised constitutional rights had been resolved. Hewitt in the eyes of the world may have been a “love rat” but he desperately needed to raise his public profile ten fold lest some unfortunate “accident” were to befall him too.

As the couple headed inextricably towards divorce I was somewhat removed from the core issues discussed during her now-legendary Panorama interview on November 5, 1995. Her wish to be “The “Queen of Peoples’ hearts” and her references to Miss Parker-Bowles were predictable fare and a direct sop to her husband’s interview the previous year with Jonathan Dimbleby but it was her attempt to abrogate her estranged husband’s right to rule his country in favour of her son which went to the heart of a scorned woman. Notwithstanding the technical issue of an adulterous Charles becoming Head of the Church of England it was not her place to make such a suggestion on national television. She was shortly to find herself of lower social status than her children even though to many she was still ‘Her Royal Highness.’ Those who still addressed her in such a manner were never rebuked. Straying into the constitutional arena devalued the goodwill generated up to that point by her interview. The Queen was understandably horrified at both the content of the programme and the viewing figures.

As for her final relationship here was a woman seeking sanctuary from the world’s paparazzi, whilst pitching herself into a union that may well have led to estrangement from her children. Perhaps it was nothing more than a jewel encrusted diversion but any woman past a certain age who gives of herself in the bedroom has an agenda in mind. Men invariably don’t see it or don’t wish to see it but willfully ignoring its existence is a recipe for disaster. In any event, marriage to Dodi Al Fayed and the possibility of a Muslim half brother for the future King of England was too much to bear in Royal circles. We may profess to live in enlightened times but certain protocol never alters.

What would have become of her had she lived? I don’t personally think she would have found contentment. Studying her features as closely as I do with so many of my portrait subjects I am of the opinion that the camera would eventually have fallen out of love with her. As her face progressively lost its plumpness I think her nose would have come to dominate her features. Does any of this really matter? We all get older and uglier hopefully with someone we love and who loves us in return, but Diana’s power struggle with the inner courtiers at Buckingham Palace was greatly aided by her PR image as a fashion icon. I feel the pendulum of power would eventually have swung in Charles’s favour. The events of 31 August 1997 rendered that theory redundant.

In any event, he looked absolutely dreadful emerging from his plane having flown to France twenty four hours after the fatal accident. Years earlier Diana had undoubtedly been ‘used’ and he had lacked the inner strength to repel such powerful entreaties in favour of marriage, most notably from his beloved grandmother who was the principal architect behind the fairytale romance. However no one should have to bear the terrible burden that weighed so heavily upon his shoulders that day. For those that resent his marriage to Camilla there is an argument to be made that they “deserve” to be together, for both the good times and those remorseful moments when they reflect on how much an earlier commitment to each other would have spared so much pain and sadness. She was suitably piqued at Charles’s non commitment and married her first husband to spite him thus subsequently experiencing rejection when her husband had the first of several extra marital affairs. As for her husband Andrew Parker Bowles, one can only surmise that there was a certain “prestige” involved in having one’s wife bedded by the future king of England. In any event he reportedly gave full consent to the relationship being later derided by the press as “the man who laid down his wife for his country”. Clearly for many people in both high and low social circles, sex has little symbolic resonance, being merely perceived as a “means to an end”.

In the years following Diana’s death a few lessons were evidently learned by the Royal Family, albeit reluctantly. Nevertheless the privileged existing “order” continues to this day evidenced by the manner in which the Queen neatly sidestepped payment of inheritance tax to the tune of approx £28m when her mother died in 2002. I have been advising on inheritance tax for years but my strategies have never included striking a private deal with the incumbent prime Minister. I must look into that one!

In summary, devoid of matters of the heart, Diana was an exemplary person but in her private life and sufficiently scorned she was a loose cannon on deck. Appearing in that famous black “revenge dress” designed by Christina Stambolian the night of her errant husband’s televised interview with Jonathan Dimbleby, her intent to capture all the following day’s headlines was chillingly obvious. For many viewers, understanding Charles disinterest in his wife at that precise point in time seemed inexplicable, yet coming to terms with the real person behind the well publicised façade invariably leads to physical repulsion and the feeling was probably mutual. Every facial and bodily imperfection, once so endearingly embraced as quite unique, now magnifies into something invariably smaller and uglier. That both of them should have conducted their affairs so indiscreetly must have led the Queen to question the irreparable tearing of the very fabric of a society over which she had ruled for so many years, and in such an exemplary fashion.

Some objective revisionism is therefore required on the part of future biographers, since there is blood on the hands of many of the principal players in this story. The recent vilification of Penny Junor and the backlash accorded to her book about Prince William “Born to be King,” replete with revelations about Diana, suggests perhaps that the world would rather hang onto the fairytale. However, millions need to revisit their emotions in the days following her death and perhaps apply some fresh perspective. Greeting The Queen with the cries of “about fucking time” when she returned to Buckingham Palace was reprehensible behaviour. Her Majesty is the living embodiment of a question posed to me by my late father on many an occasion when he would enquire whether I thought “my presence on this earth was solely to have a good time?”

Recommended reading

War of the Windsors – a century of Unconstitutional Monarchy (L.Picknett, C. prince & S. Prior) 2002

It’s all here as far as salient points are concerned. In the final analysis, even the most famous of people are eventually relegated to historic newspaper clippings. There was a time when she was never off the front page but each new generation needs its own icons.

Diana: Her story – in her own words (Andrew Morton)

Sanctioning the co-operation of her closest friends with Morton, Diana displayed all the hallmarks of a manipulative woman; not for her the unwelcome publication of toe sucking photos with her lover; she was always much smarter than the Duchess of York who should have had “Budgie the helicopter” on standby when the press descended on the couple.

I never read the book but I did plough through the extracts in the Sunday Times. Of course there was a time when the Times would not have stooped so low but that era disappeared around the time I was born.

50 People who buggered up Britain (Quentin Letts) 2008

Just when I’m of the suspicion that I may be alone with my thoughts, comes a publication written by the parliamentary sketch writer and theatre critic for ‘The Daily Mail’ that makes me look like a ‘literary pussycat’.

Reflecting on 21st century Britain in his introduction, Letts writes:

‘So much money, so many technological advances, yet such an unhappy country, so drained of community, so robotic as it staggers towards oblivion. Who landed us in this mess? Who are the halfwits, the moonclaves, the clotpolls, the pickthanks whose little touches and yanks on the national tiller steered us into such a rock-strewn channel? Read on Macduff’.

I did and in came Diana with a bullett at position 18; a woman who ‘weakened our monarchy almost to the point of rupture,’ whilst encouraging Fleet Street to lose its grip on morality and truth without holding this increasingly flimsy woman to account. Diana’s supporters barely escape Lett’s vitriolic demonisation, describing these individuals as unhappy creatures spouting the most venomous theories about her enemies in the Royal family. Describing their anger and bitterness as astonishing, not least given that their fallen heroine built herself up as such a walking beatitude, such positive good-energy vibes remain conspicuously absent when accusing the Duke of Edinburgh of wanting to murder his daughter-in-law or in their suggestion that the princes’ nanny, Tiggy van Winkle, was plotting to marry Charles.

Compulsive reading for the ever so slightly jaundiced.


Princess Diana Remembered



The full Panorama interview from 1995 if only for one of her last comments in which she expresses a desire that her husband finds “peace of mind” whilst confirming in a rather oblique fashion that she would wish her eldest son to accede to the throne when he “comes of age”. In the modern era of freeze frame technology the well satisfied smirk at 54 mins 51 secs says it all. There are numerous memorial websites but all are hampered by the lack of tangible “product’ that someone like Diana could possibly leave behind her. So extensive picture galleries and reminiscenses from people who met her or were personally touched by her are the order of the day and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

\Diana – The Panorma interview parts 1 & 2\