I can vividly recall the live telecast (if I am not mistaken) fairy-tale wedding on the only available state-run channel. I, a grade seven student at that time was dazzled by the pompous and ostentatious ceremony and Diana’s captivating and alluring portraits published in the print media. I remember, Jang, Pakistan’s largest selling newspaper, published her translated biography in weekly episodes which was read nationwide with equal enthusiasm regardless of the age, social class or intellectual background.
It is not surprising that 35 years after the widely publicized marriage and 18 years after her unexpected world-stunning death, floral tributes consistently flood the Herods in Central London; Amazon and Google books are still overflowed with a plethora of titles about the ever memorable figure of British royalty. But perhaps no other book traces the treacherous emotional life of the widely loved and revered princess in such detail as Tina Brown’s ‘The Diana Chronicles.’
MS Brown, gifted with an ability to reconstruct narrative with a novelistic detail, brilliantly narrates the heartfelt agony behind the aristocratic fairy tales. She paints Diana’s melancholic childhood after her mother walked away as a consequence of a broken marriage, her fascination for Barbara Cartland novels portraying an overlooked girl winning the heart of a masochistic alpha man, her longing for an ideal and stable marriage and finally her resolution to marry the crown prince among her friends who in her own words ‘would never be able to divorce her’. Equally interesting are the writers illustration of the unpleasant events that marked the honeymoon. She skillfully connects the dots and sheds light on the circumstances that followed the bitter divorce 15 years later.
Brown maintains that Diana longed for a conventional happy family life full of marital excitement, but her dreams shattered as early as honeymoon began on board Britannia down the coast of North Africa. The shyly smiling 20-year old bride could not entice her Comella obsessed spouse. The heart-breaking cufflink affair smashed the heart of the princess. The telltale gold entwined Cs (for Charles and Comilla) cuff links which Charles’s sported during their dinner with Anwar Sadat in Egypt revealed Charles’s insensitivity for the fresh marital relationship. Later the writer sarcastically examines Diana-Charles confrontations along with the analysis of Diana-Comilla chess moves.
In the end, MS Brown draws a revealing portrait of Diana’s eccentric relationship with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan which ended in June, a little earlier her death in September 1997, when Khan refused to marry her citing his hatred for the media. (Though he could never avoid the limelight associated with his relationship with the princess. ‘Diana’ a biographical screenplay premiered in September 2013, documenting last two years of her life is mainly focused on her last love Hasnat.) Brown comments citing the closed sources that Diana was heartbroken and wounded and her rattling around Paris with Dodi Fayed was nothing but an effort to make Hasnat jealous. Brown gives a cursory nod to the conspiracies triggered by the tragic accident leading to her instantaneous death along with her extravagant and ostentatious beau and the driver.
Brown claims to interview 250 sources to maintain the authenticity of the account. However, this large number equally threatens the credibility of the biography. She tried hard to sift the gossips and personal judgments from the facts and reality by maintaining a balance between sources notably close to the princess Di including her mother Frances, stepmother Reine, intimate friends, hairdresser, personal chauffeur and even the butler responsible for the household groceries. She also relied on a number of fleet street references and have mentioned accounts of a few anonymous sources. So the tone switches from reliable and trustworthy to exaggerated and sensational frequently but Brown writes with such an exhilaration and spins such a propulsive thread that you gladly accept these inconsistencies.