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The Diana Chronicles

by Tina Brown


Kids, let me tell you about my lunch with my new best girlfriend, Tina Brown. You mean I never told you that the former editor of The New Yorker magazine and I were best pals? Well, don’t feel bad, I don’t think she knows, either, but I reckon I can be easily forgiven for mistaking our acquaintance after reading her latest book, The Diana Chronicles. Once you’ve read Brown’s fabulous and juicy biography of Princess Diana, you’ll swear you’ve just sat down to a Cobb salad, martini, and a healthy side of Goss with the authoress herself.

What separates The Diana Chronicles from the billions of other bios about the Princess is the amount of insider information Brown has access to owing to her glamourous position as a doyenne of the world of glossy magazines. What makes it stand out is Brown’s willingness to include the reader in that access without ever being the least bit superior about it: You understand that Brown traveled in the same circles as Diana when she mentions early on in the book about having had lunch with the Princess and Vogue editor Anna Wintour a month before her death in 1997, and this is only related to point out the changes Brown perceived in Diana from the time she first met the Princess back in 1981.The reader never feels high-hatted or that what they’re reading occurs in some frosty pink society bubble far out of reach. On the contrary, one of the most enjoyable aspects was Tina Brown’s almost nihilistic rending of British high-society walls of secrets, built to keep the little people from knowing its clannish ways and means. Brown is more than generous with the privilege she’s been given and it’s the reader who benefits; not only are we given an unparalleled peek into a way of life few of us will ever infiltrate, but we are also given a clearer light into her subject’s world and an understanding of the realities of that existence. Brown is no starstruck butler, or tabloid journo gone lucky once; this biography is the real thing, a clever, thoughtfully constructed studiously researched impression of the life of a nice young girl who happened to end up wife of the heir to the throne of the British Empire.

The other factor that makes The Diana Chronicles so singular is the very voice Brown gives her book. It’s personal, chatty and loaded with elegant, earthy wit. Her take on the first Royal PR casualty, Princess Margaret, and the effect the press had in exposing her extramarital affair:

“Actually, Roddy {Llewellyn} was a sweet, affectionate, slightly hopeless aging hippie, a talented landscape gardener who offered kindness to Margaret at a time when her husband, Lord Snowdon, was largely indifferent to her. Her press narrative, however, was already sealed: she was irresponsible, flashy and worse a serial escapee of English weather.”

Not the wicked prattle of a fishwife, nor the sensationalism of a Fleet Street tabloidist, but when Brown chides the acts and motivations of the various players in her story (“No single factor shaped the divorce of the Prince and Princess of Wales more than the decisions they made to involve the media.”), then if you didn’t feel like you were lunching at Le Cirque with Brown, then the two of you were certainly chatting away while hanging up the laundry in your respective backyards. There’s a personable, everywoman warmth to Brown’s narrative; despite the abundance of evidence she provides for the conclusions and opinions she reaches, that warmth also serves to keep simmering scenarios that might read as twice-tread old hat in hands of lesser Dianalogists. Her observations are perceptive and refreshing. When discussing Diana’s other unrequited love, Muslim doctor Hasnat Khan, whose family would never accept the Princess as his bride, Brown notes,

“This time the situation was doomed, but for a novel reason. With the Windsors, she was suitable, but not desired. With the Khans, she was desired, but not suitable.”

On the crash that killed Diana and her boyfriend, Harrod’s heir, Dodi Al Fayed, Brown provides her take on Al Fayed’s father, Mohamed’s cries of conspiracy in the death of his son:

“Mohamed Al Fayed’s mourning was incendiary. The need to appoint a culprit became a lifetime’s unholy war. Like everybody else, his public relations executive…initially pinned blame on the paparazzi – “Gallic kamikaze, a load of disgusting creeps” – and described {driver} Henri Paul as a “sober, model employee” who was perfectly qualified to drive the Mercedes as a chauffeur. If Paul was none of the above, then Mohamed Al Fayed himself risked having to share in the legal as well as the moral responsibility for the deaths of Dodi and Diana, Henri Paul was Al Fayed’s employee from Al Fayed’s hotel, driving a car arranged by Al Fayed’s people. It was an agonising prospect for a grieving father, and on top of the unbearable pain there had to be the fear that he would be blamed for taking the adored Princess from them.”

“Sparing no expense, treating no reputation as inviolate, Mohamed Al Fayed’s well-financed PR machine created nothing less than an alternate universe in which fantasy was fact, doubt was certainty, suspicion was conviction, absence of evidence was proof of its suppression, and anyone skeptical of the plot was either part of it, or – in his words – an “arse licker.”

Brown debunks the crash conspiracy. She refutes or disproves a good number of popular Diana-era mythology like just how soon into Charles and Diana’s marriage did Charles restart his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles? How exactly were the infamous Squidgygate and the regrettable ‘Prince Charles imagines himself as a feminine hygiene product’ recordings leaked? Did Diana throw herself down the stairs while pregnant with Prince William in a suicide attempt? It’s all about access, folks, and Brown lets us in on hers. It’s worthy saying that while Brown does wag her finger at the tabloids and paparazzi for stalking Diana mercilessly, she’s not hypocritical about it. Brown was a journalist, who, like every other editor in Britain saw her circulation rise with a juicy Diana tidbit and Brown is very upfront and even makes some straightforward mea culpas though not in a maudlin or ingratiating way. While you can see her sympathies are understandably pro-Diana, this is no love letter. Brown isn’t blind to her faults. Discussing both Charles and Diana’s ardent desire for approval from the Queen for their benevolent and diplomatic efforts, and their disillusionment when none was forthcoming, Brown relates to us the wisdom behind the fact that other maligned members of the Royal family do their charitable deeds purposely unreported.

“Prince Philip has done good works and fund-raising and doesn’t expect people to appreciate him. This yields him the benefit of not having to appreciate people in return, which is probably the right course.”

In Brown’s view, Diana was an inexperienced girl whose popular phenomena was at first only the means to gain love and approbation from the husband and new family the 20-year-old bride adored. It was only with the deterioration of the marriage that the young girl took her comfort in the one place where she was always adored, the public eye, and Brown lets that public see just how expert Diana became at keeping it firmly trained on herself. Tina Brown’s portrait of Diana is the fullest, most complete and rounded one I’ve yet read. Unlike other biographies’ tendency to buy into the easily accepted (- and sold) façade of Diana as a helpless, hopeless, friendless creature victimised on all sides, Brown captures her pathos without allowing Diana or the reader to wallow in it, and shows us that while Diana had her troubles, many of them were the result of self-sabotage. Let’s face it, she may have been a Princess, but she was a Queen when it came to Drama. Brown brings a welcome balance to that unstable picture. Brown reveals Diana’s wicked sense of humour, her keen natural intelligence and sharp instincts, her cultivation of loyal friends, her truly good and brave acts for those in need, the adoration of her boys and her joys and disillusionments as a flesh and blood woman. Brown’s Diana is so vivid and intimate it makes one pine for the loss what this fascinating, very public figure might have become.

So dears, simply put, The Diana Chronicles is one of the most deliciously readable biographies I’ve got on the Temple bookshelf. Possibly the best story of a life I’ve ever read, and all due to the wise and witty voice of Tina Brown, who tells Diana’s tale with grace, style, and down to earth common-sensibility. I was involved and enrapt from the opening quote. I enjoyed every comma and quotation mark and can’t wait to nosh at Nobu with my good friend Tina again.

~ Mighty Ganesha
Feb 26th, 2008






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Tina Brown

Author Tina Brown








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