Legacy

Princess Diana Still Rules Buckingham Palace

20 years after her death, Princess Diana dictates the royal agenda far more effectively than she ever did in life—with the dedicated support of her sons Princes William and Harry.

There is little doubt that Princess Diana, had she lived, would have done everything in her power to see the Crown skip a generation, and come to rest next on her son William’s head rather than that of her hated ex-husband, Prince Charles.  

Diana spelled out her feelings to no less a figure than Prime Minister Tony Blair, and told her divorce lawyer "several times" that she believed the Crown should skip a generation, according to testimony delivered at the inquest into her death.

But who would have listened to Diana?

Had she lobbied for Charles’ head, so to speak, by going public on his appalling behavior throughout their marriage or the disdainful and heartless way in which he openly continued his affair with Camilla throughout it (he once allegedly told his wife: “I refuse to be the only Prince of Wales never to have a mistress,”) she could have been easily dismissed as another jealous ex.

The debate would likely have degenerated to a media-mediated he-said she-said, and Diana would probably have come off worse, in the long run, had she gone up against the superior firepower and influence of the establishment.

Diana spent much of her married and post-married life being slandered as mad, emotional and an attention-seeker by the establishment and the press.

It’s easy to forget how pronounced the nervousness around Diana and her influence was in some quarters before she died.

On 25 June 1997, for example, two months before her death, Diana was forced to pull out of a meeting with an all-party anti-landmines group after newspaper columnists and lawmakers from the Conservative party objected to her presence on the grounds she was inappropriately dragging the royal family into politics.

After a trip in January 1997 to see victims maimed by land mines in Angola, one government minister called her "a loose cannon."

The media maintained a stream of criticism generally, and frequently suggested Diana’s landmine work was motivated more by a cynical craving for attention than for humanitarian reasons. The chorus of negativity was broken only by updates on her burgeoning love affair with Dodi Fayed.

So, in short, the answer to “Who would have listened to Diana?” is: no one who mattered: No one in the establishment, no one in power, and certainly no one of any authority in the media.

The latter is especially scorned by her sons, who have pointed out, in the days before and after they beatified her, was still buying pictures from photographers who had spat on her in order to provoke a sellable reaction, and whose first reaction on encountering the crash scene in Paris' Pont de l’Alma was to start taking photographs of her dying, rather than going for help.  

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In this, the twentieth anniversary of her passing, Diana, well beyond rebuke now, has dictated from beyond the grave a powerful anti-Charles and Camilla news agenda, which is having a far more tangible effect on their popularity than she could ever have achieved in life.

Partly this is due to her sons, who have nobly sought to enshrine her memory with dignity by finally discussing their mother and her death on the record this year. Heartbreaking details – such as their last phone call with their Mom – have been shared as part of their efforts to normalize discussion of the mental health issues that affect young people.  

However, they have inadvertently, in the course of these interviews, fed the anti-Charles narrative.

Harry, for example, suggested that he had been made to walk behind his mother’s coffin by Charles without fully understanding what it entailed.

Harry, who was 12 at the time of his mother’s death, in June, when he said: “My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me while millions more did on television. “I don’t think any child should be asked to do that, under any circumstances. I don’t think it would happen today.”

However in an interview for a new documentary, Diana: Seven Days, focusing on the events of the week following Diana’s death, Prince Harry sought to row back on that incendiary claim, saying: “I think it was a group decision. Before I knew it, I found myself in a situation with a suit on and a black tie, a white shirt, I think, and I was part of it. Generally I don’t have an opinion on whether that was right or wrong. I am glad I was part of it.”

The other impetus driving this summer’s anti-Charles fervor is old fashioned Fleet Street muckraking.

Big media organizations are always keen to dig up fresh and preferably salacious new material to sell papers, and fresh and salacious material on Diana and Charles is always grist to the mill. To this end they have been wheeling out Andrew Morton (the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail serialized new extracts of his Diana tapes), Earl Spencer (who recorded a special podcast for the BBC slamming ‘lies’ he was told by the palace about the funeral) and even her voice coach (Channel 4 broadcast video recorded by him, which shows her rolling her eyes and musing on Charles’s infidelity and cruelty during their marriage).

The effect has been staggering.

Consider some of these recent numbers:

51 percent of respondents in a Sun survey of 2,000 people said they thought the crown should skip a generation and pass next to Prince William.

Just 14% of people told YouGov pollsters that Camila should be queen if or when Charles accedes.

The same poll, carried out for the Press Association, found that only a third of Britons believe the Prince of Wales has been “beneficial” for the royal family—half the number who believed the same thing four years ago. This is an extraordinarily negative finding.

The polls have capped a miserable month in the court of public opinion for Charles.

Last weekend, he was forced to concede a humiliating defeat on his long running battle to take over significant parts of his mother’s job before her death via a "regency."

A front page story in the Sunday Times, stuffed with quotes from senior courtiers to Her Majesty, shot down notions which often seem to emerge from Charles’ camp that the reins of power should be transferred to his care sooner rather than later.

In life, Diana was dismissed as an emotional and unreliable Sloane Ranger who wasn’t prepared to make the necessary personal sacrifices to do her duty.

In death, however, rather as Obi-Wan Kenobi cautioned Darth Vader, Diana has become more powerful than her adversaries could possibly have imagined.