The Real Diana

by Lady Colin Campbell

Published by St. Martin's Press

320 pages, 1998

Buy it online






An Ugly Portrait of the People's Princess

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


Noblesse oblige is the time-honored idea that the nobility have an obligation to more common folk: i.e. you and me. Though the United States will admit no noble class, the idea of noblesse oblige isn't foreign there. Mrs. Clinton seems to understand it very well when she smiles beatifically for the camera even while her husband's bedroom habits are under constant scrutiny. Brad Pitt understands it when he stops to give an autograph even though he's late for an appointment with his stylist. Princess Diana herself understood it very well, especially early in her marriage when the world press got no hint from her about the various disappointments, illnesses and setbacks in her life.

Lady Colin Campbell, author of Diana in Private and -- more recently -- The Real Diana, seems to have created her own interpretation of noblesse oblige. Based on reading The Real Diana one would think that Campbell's interpretation includes what is owed her as nobility. Amid a great wash of name-dropping and thinly-veiled suppositions, Campbell's portrait of the princess isn't a pretty one.

Unlike Death of a Princess: The Investigation written by career journalists Thomas Sancton and Scott MacLeod and also published by St. Martin's Press, The Real Diana is a strictly amateur undertaking. No right-thinking journalist would -- for instance -- include quotes as unsubstantiated as these from right before the royal wedding.

She wanted to be svelte and sleek. "I want to look my best as a bride," she said to several people at the time, in what they took to be a perfectly ordinary ambition for any young woman. Even then, her wit was in evidence, such as when she declared to one member of the Royal Household, "I'm not walking up the aisle waddling like a duck."

For three days, Diana starved herself. When she complained to a member of Charles's [sic] Household that she was so hungry she was light-headed, the person in question advised her to be less radical about the diet, to eat, but to eat less fattening foods in smaller quantities than she normally did. Diana, however, was always an all-or-nothing person, someone of extreme appetites and reactions. "But I might not lose all the weight I need to," she said plaintively, "the child within her very near to the surface," as the person to whom she was speaking describes with affection.

The prose is bright and the organization of the material sensible. We start with Diana's childhood and follow her life through early relationships, her courtship with Prince Charles, lots of lurid details from the marriage and it's eventual decline. Still more lurid details await from the accident that killed the princess. None of this material is new, but Campbell's power of description and ability to throw journalistic caution to the wind makes this rehashing especially compelling.

Wherever the fault lies, the fact is, the Mercedes slammed into the thirteenth pillar of the underpass of the Pont de l'Alma at 12:24 am at 121 miles per hour. The mighty car buckled, the radiator pushed to where Henri Paul was sitting. He died instantly, as did Dodi, who was seated behind him. Diana was hurled between the front seats, semiconscious but alive, while Trevor Rees-Jones, who had put on his seat belt some time before the point of impact, was horribly injured.

The Real Diana clearly benefits from two facts: the princess in question is a year dead and so will not question any of Campbell's suppositions and allegations. As well, it is known that the Royal family never deigns to answer or contradict whatever the press might say about them: so Campbell is safe on that front as well. However, the fact that much of this story is as close to fiction as is imaginable in a work of non-fiction is clear. Quotes are often attributed to "a royal cousin" or "a friend" or "a member of the household." Ironically, when speaking of Mohamed Fayed late in the book, Campbell says:

Spin doctors do not let facts stand in the way of their theories...

On reading The Real Diana one must wonder if Campbell is referring to herself. | August 29, 1998