Unhappily Ever After
By Margaret Moser
JULY 17, 2000:
Ever After: Diana and the Life She Led by Anne Edwards (St. Martin's Press) 384 pp., $24.95
When Prince William turned 18 a few weeks ago, his handsome young face flooded tabloid covers at news racks and grocery checkouts across the world. The whispers were audible. "Look how handsome he is! Wouldn't his mother be proud?"
Yes, of course she would. She was deeply proud of both of her sons. They are the scions of a remarkable British dynasty and exude all the good looks and breeding that suggests. Diana Frances Spencer achieved what generations of Spencers had longed for -- a marital alliance with the royal family of England. In Prince William, the Spencers will gain the ultimate in British immortality: the crown.
For the first time in the three years since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, there is a selection of books that are not breathless tell-alls rushed into print. Three of the newest books are by people who played roles of varying degrees of intimacy in her life; they paint a more accurate, more vibrant picture of her life than the spate of cockeyed conspiracy theories, endless photo collections, and soggy coattail remembrances that traditionally make their appearance around the summer anniversary of her death. Another notable publication is the latest title by a veteran biographer who offers a gentle, thorough retelling of her life.
In Ever After: Diana and the Life She Led, Anne Edwards lends her fine, even hand to the story of the Princess of Wales' fairy-tale life. As an author, she has written 14 affectionate but never bland and always compelling biographies on personalities such as Vivien Leigh, Katharine Hepburn, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, and Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell. Edwards also knows her way around royalty, having scribed Matriarch about Queen Mary and the House of Windsor as well as Royal Sisters about Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. As if she needed further credentials, Edwards actually attended the wedding of Charles and Diana.
Edwards subscribes to the theories that Dodi Fayed intended to propose that fateful August night, that there was no conspiracy in the 1997 accident, that Henri Paul, the driver, was drunk but got a bad rap, and that Prince Charles, while unconscionably ignorant of the effect of his affair on his wife, was not a complete villain. As she so cogently writes: "The history of the British monarchy is strewn with the bodies of the wives who had been displaced in the affections of their royal husbands or who had displeased them."
The truth of that well-worded statement is enough to send chills down the spine. For every monarch who gave up the crown "for the woman [he] loved" (exactly one), other spousal heads rolled, and more were banished behind the throne as favourites of both sexes took center stage. It was the lot of the royal wife to bear not just children but a husband's infidelity. Edward the VII, for example, kept a coterie of mistresses, one of whom was named Alice Keppel. Keppel's great-granddaughter was none other than Camilla Parker-Bowles. Camilla baldly reminded Prince Charles of that relationship at their first meeting in 1972, when she approached him with the rather plebeian proposal, "So how about it, then?"
There is not a great deal of new information within Ever After, but it is nonetheless refreshing to have a fair and balanced update of one of the great 20th-century icons. Ever After neither fawns nor damns, nor does it leave the reader rushing to purge. Its historical framework provides the larger-than-life structure for the tragic dimming of the brightest, most dazzling jewel the House of Windsor ever held in its crown.
All is not fair in Love and War, by James Hewitt, but then Diana's first extramarital lover erred grievously when he spilled all in Princess in Love. He manages to regain some of his dignity in Love and War by being forthright but tender about his affair with Diana. That goes a ways in erasing his cad image but does little to keep the reader from renaming the book War and Love, because Hewitt goes on far too long about his military career. It is a waste because, frankly, women are going to be reading this book. They will simply flip through the first third until they spot the name "Diana," read it, and then go on to the next reference. The middle third has a few good Diana stories, but the last third is mind-numbing in its silliness. A girlfriend of Hewitt's steals Diana's letters and offers them for sale to a newspaper, causing no end of embarrassment for the former riding instructor.
One thing Hewitt does, and perhaps with a bit of stiff upper-lipped spite, is claim that Diana verified that she and bodyguard Barry Mannakee were lovers. Mannakee was killed in an auto accident, and Diana believed that MI6, Britain's intelligentsia, was responsible. Most accounts of Diana's life, including Ever After, say Mannakee and Diana were not lovers but agree the two had a very close and personal relationship. Diana's suspicion about the circumstances of his death fueled much of the speculation about a conspiracy in the Pont de L'Alma crash.
What makes Love and War so different from the fumbling Princess in Love, which was ultimately credited to author Anna Pasternak, is that Hewitt's genuine love for Diana is obvious and his telling of the stories so gentlemanly. He does not titillate with lewd details or sell her out; they remained in occasional contact until she died. Unfortunately, Love and War lacks any style. Coupled with the limited amount of information given, it's an overall dull read.
In the Royal Manner: Expert Advice on Etiquette and Entertaining From the Former Butler to Diana, Princess of Wales by Paul Burrell is a mouthful, yes, but the title says it all. Dianaphiles will know Burrell as the impeccably mannered man whom Diana called her "rock." Burrell does nothing to compromise her memory, and that lack of revelation or juicy tidbit may be the disappointment.
As a guide to gracious living peppered with hints that even the most unroyal among us can grasp, this is a charming and useful read. Burrell started out as a footman to Queen Elizabeth and spent 20 years in the royal employ, so he understands protocol very well. This is exactly the source to consult about seating and place cards and floral arrangements when the queen is expected for tea, or even just the mother-in-law coming for dinner.
Paul Burrell does not discuss his role in the aftermath of Diana's death -- how he flew to Paris with a suitcase packed with clothing for her burial. How he chose all the accessories, including the rosary from Mother Theresa. How he applied the last make-up to her remarkably undamaged face so that she would be presentable. How he sat with her body in the morgue for hours, awaiting the arrival of Prince Charles and Diana's sisters Jane and Sarah, so that even in death the Princess of Wales would not be alone. It is a degree of devotion that we as Americans scarcely fathom because the concept of service is inextricably entwined in our minds with slavery.
In the Royal Manner is a delightful legacy of Diana, for Burrell emphasizes that the beauty of life comes from the care taken to make it that way. Because he so doggedly stays on the subject of the book, he is as rigid as a Buckingham Palace guard and just as unflappable. His commitment to the profession of service is laudable.
Trevor Rees-Jones understands service, too. The beefy Welshman is often mistakenly assumed to have been Diana's official bodyguard. In fact, he worked security detail for Egyptian businessman and Harrod's owner Mohammed al Fayed. In the summer of 1997, Rees-Jones was assigned to Dodi Fayed and subsequently with Diana as they vacationed in the Mediterranean that last summer. He was the only one in the car to survive, and that is The Bodyguard's Story: Diana, the Crash, and the Sole Survivor.
It's a slender story, and Rees-Jones knows it. To his credit, he makes no apologies for why he chose to write it and makes clear the tenuous, short few weeks he accompanied Fayed and Diana were not typical of his life or job. There is nothing in Rees-Jones' history to suggest he would ever do much more than play rugby and hold up the bar at the local pub every night. But in the span of one night, he managed to become an object of international interest. He became The Unknown Survivor.
He didn't remain that way for long: The Unknown Survivor quickly became a media curiosity. Everyone from the Palace to the press was waiting to hear what the bodyguard would have to say when he recovered from the disfiguring crash. Like many automobile accident victims, he remembers little about the moments leading up to it. The French court's inquiry into the crash and subsequent rulings did not please Mohammed al Fayed. Trevor Rees-Jones remained in al Fayed's employ but was feeling pressured by his working conditions during recovery and resigned not long after the hearings. The Bodyguard's Story is a stiff, almost sad read and its author awkward in the reflected light of Diana, still shining after her death.
The public appetite for books on royals is hardly confined to Diana. The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England originally came out in 1975, when royalty still had some decorum. The names haven't changed but the divorce rate has: Since its initial publication, the queen's sister, Princess Margaret, daughter Princess Anne, and sons Prince Charles and Prince Andrew have all ended marriages in divorce.
While the divorce rate is scandalously high within the Windsors, The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England shows that theirs was neither the first divorce nor the only scandal. However, Fraser writes with such an eye toward history that she seems disinterested about procuring those details whose inclusion would make most biographers green with envy. Beautifully illustrated essays are presented in chronological order with gorgeous, full-page portraits, genealogical tables, royal heraldry, and coats of arms that bring many of these ancient monarchs to life.
Antonia Fraser, who has written biographies of Mary, Queen of Scots, Oliver Cromwell, and Guy Fawkes, is the editor of the book and a most interesting voice on the stories of those who have occupied the throne since the Norman Conquest of 1066. Lives is written by a series of house historians with Fraser's mildly chagrined introduction leading the way. Naturally, the Windsor chapter is the one most revised, but many of the titillating details are glossed over too neatly, like whether Richard III killed his two princes in the Tower of London. (He did.)
Lives is no bedside guide to the 40 monarchs and 10 dynasties that have ruled England. It is oversized and heavy even in paperback, printed in Italy on heavy art-paper stock, and demands the reader sit with it and pay attention to it. It's a high-quality book; far too few publishers make the effort anymore.
The strikingly personal reactions to Diana's death can be traced right to the moment she was brought into La Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital by the ambulance. Three nurses were emotionally overcome when they realized who their patient was, and two had to be excused from the operating room. As the grounds around Kensington and Buckingham Palaces were being carpeted with flowers and the queen was waffling about lowering the Union Jack, the shock waves were tremendous. An estimated two billion people watched her televised funeral. Those numbers go off the scale. Not even the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. two years ago came close to it. The next time a royal will draw that attention is when William marries (which also brings to mind the possibility of having a Queen Tiffany or Princess Heather in the royal House of Windsor).
Among the many rumors to fly just after Diana's death, one of the most intriguing had the queen considering passing over Charles and crowning William as king. It wasn't true, but the thought has caught the fancy of many a royal-watcher. Since Charles has chosen to flaunt his relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, the notion that he should step aside and let his son take over has been suggested numerous times. That's not likely to happen, as Charles desperately wants to be king, so much so that he would probably not marry Camilla in order to ascend the throne. And Camilla is so determined to maintain her position as Charles' favourite that she is willing to wear the mantle of royal whore until death do them part in order to see her lover crowned king. After all, she was willing to do it while he was married.
"I know I shall never be queen," Diana told numerous confidants on many occasions over the years. Diana's intuition was poignant and correct. She would never be Queen of England. Her place as the matriarch of the Spencer-Windsor dynasty is assured, however, because she fulfilled that most royal of duties: One day her son will be King of England.
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