It’s not the happiest occurrence on which to end my blogging break, but today is the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana on August 31st 1997 in Paris. The horrific crash that killed the princess and its aftermath epitomized the issues inherent in Diana’s relationship to the British crown and their treatment of her.
I remember finding out about the crash while standing in my family’s kitchen in Milan, watching a newscast. I think it was the day after the crash, possibly in the evening, and I remember feeling upset and shocked at the news despite being 12 at the time (the same age as Prince Harry). I didn’t know much about Diana beyond her marriage and then divorce to Prince Charles, and her public persona as a benefactress of many causes, including the battle against AIDS and the efforts to ban and remove land mines in areas of conflict.
A few weeks ago, I watched the HBO documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life And Legacy, in which Prince William and Prince Harry speak candidly about their relationship with their mother growing up and their experience of her death and funeral. I realized I didn’t know much about the background of Diana’s life and decided to search for a good biography of the princess. Once I discovered that Andrew Morton’s take had been recently updated and was primarily based on taped interviews with the princess herself, I knew it was the right choice. I wasn’t disappointed – the book feels highly personal to the princess thanks to the inclusion of her actual words describing the circumstances of her life. Read my review below.
Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words by Andrew Morton
Publication Date: June 27th 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
(20th Anniversary Edition, original published in 1992)
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
The sensational biography of Princess Diana, written with her cooperation and now featuring exclusive new material to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her death.
When Diana: Her True Story was first published in 1992, it forever changed the way the public viewed the British monarchy. Greeted initially with disbelief and ridicule, the #1 New York Times bestselling biography has become a unique literary classic, not just because of its explosive contents but also because of Diana’s intimate involvement in the publication. Never before had a senior royal spoken in such a raw, unfiltered way about her unhappy marriage, her relationship with the Queen, her extraordinary life inside the House of Windsor, her hopes, her fears, and her dreams. Now, twenty-five years on, biographer Andrew Morton has revisited the secret tapes he and the late princess made to reveal startling new insights into her life and mind. In this fully revised edition of his groundbreaking biography, Morton considers Diana’s legacy and her relevance to the modern royal family.
What I Liked
Hearing from Diana in her own words. The biography actually starts with a chapter dedicated entirely to transcripted quotes from Diana’s interview tapes included verbatim. This was initially kind of jarring. The conversational nature of Diana’s speech within the tapes translated to a much less smooth reading experience than I was expecting from an edited biography, and I was worried that the entire book would simply be a relaying of Diana’s actual words in these interviews. I soon realized, however, that Morton placed Diana’s own words at the beginning of his book to introduce readers to her story, before producing a more classic version of a biography of Diana’s life that interwove within it some of the information which she divulged in the tapes. I think the impact of having Diana’s own narrative of what she experienced in her marriage to Prince Charles, her relationship with the media and her clashes with the British royal family, is central to the power of this biography. Diana’s true personality shines through her words, and the reader goes on to experience the traditional account of her life that follows feeling that much closer to the princess.
Learning more about Diana’s life. My knowledge of Diana’s life before reading this biography was limited to what more or less reputable news sources broadcast about her while she was alive and after her death – mostly the scandalous aspects of Prince Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, Diana’s own rebellious behavior against the dictates of the British crown and her relationship with Dodi Fayed immediately before her death. Through Morton’s biography I learned so much more not just about the details of each of these better known aspects of Diana’s life, but also about her youth before she became Princess of Wales and about her struggle with mental illness and eating disorders. I think this was the most shocking part of the biography to me. I’m sure that after the release of the original version of Morton’s profile of Diana, since these details of her life were included in her taped interviews, there was significant discussion of her suicide attempts and bulimia in the press, but I somehow missed it. Hearing about Diana’s physical and mental struggles really touched me and made me feel even more for Diana as a human being.
Incorporated testimony from her friends and family. Because this biography is heavily based on Diana’s own words, it can be viewed as being really one-sided. I think that’s a fair assessment, and one that a reader should be very conscious of while tackling the biography. It’s obvious that Prince Charles is not depicted completely fairly within this narrative, which portrays Diana as the victimized heroine, ignored and disrespected by her husband and his family. Due to this, I really appreciated that Morton made sure to include quotes and contributions throughout his biography from Diana’s friends and family – mostly people who were sympathetic to the princess but also, in some cases, Prince Charles’ own words about their marriage and even the Queen’s opinions on Diana’s personality. Fleshing out the narrative by bringing in the voices of the many different people that surrounded the Princess, either in her youth or during her years as a royal, gave more weight to Diana’s own account of her life.
What I Didn’t Like
The conclusion felt rushed and repetitive. The strengths in Morton’s book lie in the beginning – when he gives space to Diana’s own words – and in the middle – when he details her youth, her marriage to Prince Charles and its failure, and her struggles to redefine herself after their divorce. I found the end of the book disappointing. It basically felt like a rehashing of some of the opinions of the author on the meaning of Diana as a symbol of love and unity for the masses after her death, and of the royal family’s role in her demise. Several portions of the conclusion felt heavily repetitive and I found myself skimming over some parts. I was left wishing that the author had dealt further into Diana’s continuing legacy today – either by providing information on how the Princes have coped through the years with their mother’s death, or even on how the image of Britain’s most recent new member, Catherine Duchess of Cambridge, differs or parallels Diana’s experience.
Highly personal and moving though arguably biased biography of Princess Diana, which almost feels like an autobiography due to being heavily based on taped interviews with the princess conducted five years before her death.
About The Author (from Amazon)
ANDREW MORTON is one of the world’s best-known biographers and a leading authority on modern celebrity. His groundbreaking 1992 biography revealed the secret world of Princess Diana, prompting Tina Brown to declare in The Diana Chronicles, “The journalist Morton most reminds me of is Bob Woodward.” Diana: Her True Story became a #1 New York Times bestseller, as did Monica’s Story, Morton’s portrait of the young woman behind the blue dress in the Clinton White House.
The winner of numerous awards, including Author of the Year by the British Book Awards and Scoop of the Year by the London Press Club, he lives in London and has traveled extensively in the U.S., Canada, and Europe in his research for this biography.
Have you read Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
You can also read my other recent Just Read reviews, including for political memoir Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco, audiobook of historical fiction novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, historical crime mystery Death Of A Nationalist by Rebecca Pawel, financial advice book Worth It By Amanda Steinberg, and nonfiction pick Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt.
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