It may seem hard to believe, but Aug. 31, 2017, marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Now, television is looking back at her life, its tragic end, and her lasting legacy.
In the second half of the two-part, four-hour documentary The Story of Diana, ABC and PEOPLE brought the late princess’ life and trials to television through interviews and exclusive footage. (Read the highlights from part one here.) Here are eight things we learned from The Story of Diana: Part Two.
Extramarital affairs weren’t such a big deal in a royal marriage
Men in the royal family are said to have almost been expected to take a lover during their marriage. And women? They could do the same, so long as they’d produced, as the saying goes, “an heir and a spare.” And so both Charles and Diana did just that.
When Diana was 24 years old, she fell in love with her bodyguard at the time, Barry Mannakee. Mannakee was relieved of his duties in 1986 and died in a car wreck a year later. Diana received word of his death from Charles while on a private jet to Cannes Film Festival and was apparently inconsolable. Her next relationship, with James Hewitt, was a significant one for her, and her boys grew to like him. Hewitt was soon transferred to Germany.
On the other side of the marriage, Charles went back to (if he was ever apart from) Camilla. Although the tradition for the past century and a half had been for royal couples to just stick it out when they were unhappy in marriage, Princess Diana decided she couldn’t live a lie. Diana confronted Camilla at a huge party that Camilla threw with her sister.
As a result, press attention began to escalate. Reporters would pose as delivery boys to get close to Kensington Palace. They had contacts and anonymous sources within the palace; money was changing hands as butlers and flatmates were paid for information. Understandably, the royal couple grew paranoid as deceit surrounded them.
Diana went to great lengths to keep her part in Andrew Morton’s book under wraps
As the media attention mounted, it became inevitable that Diana and Charles’ unhappiness would be exposed. Diana, who was afraid because her sons were heirs to the institution that she was being sidelined from, decided her side of the story needed to be heard, and she found strength in that rebellion.
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She chose journalist Andrew Morton as her outlet because he had covered her previously in a kind and compassionate way. Morton was already doing a biography on Diana, so she said she would help. Since she couldn’t be interviewed by him openly in case she did damage to the institution that her sons were part of, she made it a top-secret mission to relay information to Morton. Morton would write questions and give them to someone close to Diana, who would record her answers and get the tapes back to Morton.
When a fax was delivered to Charles over breakfast with the first installment of the book, including details on how his wife had almost been driven to suicide multiple times, he was alarmed; he knew it would all be in The Sunday Times that day. Diana: Her True Story rocked the royal family. For the public, though, Morton’s book helped people sympathize with Diana. News of her struggle with bulimia also helped take away some of the stigma surrounding eating disorders.
A familiar media magnate invaded Diana and Charles’ privacy
In 1992, surreptitiously recorded phone calls between Charles and Camilla, as well as calls between Diana and her then-lover James Gilbey, were released in a tabloid newspaper. Both tapes were sent to the tabloids anonymously under the pretense of public interest. In a breach of press protocol and morality, the Australian media published a full transcript of the conversations in a paper owned by none other than Rupert Murdoch. The article invited people to listen to the tape from any telephone by just dialing number.
Unfortunately, the height of press interest in Diana came at the same time as the birth of 24-hour news cable channels. Now in daily competition with the constant cycle of TV news coverage, the papers became more desperate. Murdoch and his media empire helped create the culture in which the press could do what was done to Diana. He believed that because Princess Diana was privileged, she had sacrificed all her rights to privacy.
Diana learned to use the press to her advantage
At the end of 1992, British Prime Minister John Major announced Diana and Charles’ separation in Parliament, though no plans to divorce were mentioned.
Initially, Diana moved to bow out of public life. But when Charles was interviewed in 1994 for a documentary intended to drum up sympathy for the prince, Diana decided she needed to have a voice again. Savvy enough to know how to use the press, she arrived at an art gallery and got out of her car early in order to walk in front of the media, using fashion — in this case, a stunning black dress — as a weapon. She had decided to give the press what she wanted them to have; she was no longer their victim. (Recap continues on page 2)