Princess Diana is the queen of people's hearts but few know about how she used the media to become one
Interestingly, Princess Diana's relationship with the media changed after her divorce with Charles was finalized in 1996.
It's been 20 years since Princess Diana's death and if there's an image the world lovingly remembers of her- it is her solo picture taken in front of the Taj Mahal- a palace built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his loving wife, Mumtaz Begum. The palace of love, it seemed, had ironically hosted a princess who had a lack of it. Diana's wisps of blonde hair, flying across her forlorn face, captured the hearts of many when the picture was published in 1992. Even now, the photo is emblematic of Diana's loveless marriage to Prince Charles but here's a tiny piece of news: he was with her on that trip to Agra.
Diana, who once famously said that she would rather be the queen of people's hearts, may not have had a formal education. However, she was media savvy and an expert in creating a brand around herself. She formulated a PR strategy that painted her as the victim in her marriage to Charles; she was looked upon as the outcast among a brood of stuck-up royals who remained silent as she reportedly spread gossip from inside Buckingham Palace and in various interviews, she painted Camilla as the third person who entered her fairytalesque married life- and ruined it.
The more vulnerability Diana displayed, the more the British public loved her for it. The late Diana's pain, struggle, and rebellion against the Windsors resonated with every man and woman who almost always saw her as the victim. But was she? Or was it all part of her plan to manipulate the media and grab headlines?
According to BBC's former royal expert Jennie Bond, "Princess Diana was far more articulate, coherent, shrewd and strong than I had anticipated. She was funny and much more intelligent than she made out. She was a cleverer woman than people thought," Harper's Bazaar quoted her as saying.
Hawkish royal watchers pointed their finger at the late princess when a Sunday Times headline read in 1992, "Diana, driven to five suicide bids by ‘uncaring’ Charles." This was shocking at the time, given UK's stringent libel laws and the royal family's power over the British media. This piece of news, many believed, could have only come from an insider in the Palace.
That same year, journalist Andrew Morton published a biography on her titled 'Diana: Her True Story.' She is believed to have narrated her struggle with bulimia, self-harm, a sexless marriage and Charles's love for Camilla in the explosive book that came out in 1992. To the outside world, Diana said she'd never met the journalist. However, a republished version on the 20th anniversary of her death included handwritten edits made by the late princess. His version of Diana's life, it seemed, was a first-hand account narrated by the mom-of-two.
To be sure, Diana's weepy, pained image on the front pages of newspapers won her loyalty from the public as the rest of the royals remained tacit and hidden behind the tony walls of Buckingham Palace. In her infamous interview with BBC's Martin Bashir in 1995, Diana masterfully used her body language to shy away from the camera and look into it just as she delivered poignant statements. For instance, Diana, who was famous for her side head tilt, sat straight, pierced into the camera's lens when she said of her marriage, "There were three of us in that marriage so it was a bit crowded."
This is not to say that Diana wasn't left emotionally damaged by the rigidity of the royal family or the rules that governed their lives. However, she rarely, if ever, alluded to her several affairs during her marriage to Charles. In this context, it is perhaps safe to say that Diana cashed in on the image of the virginal bride who was married off to an older man still in love with his former girlfriend. She sold a narrative in which she fought hard for Charles' love but failed as he looked the other way.
Interestingly, her relationship with the media changed after her divorce with Charles was finalized in 1996. Diana, no longer HRH, was seen covering her face with a tennis racquet, running towards her car after a quick workout at the gym and shooing away cameras as she dropped her kids at school. She seemed annoyed as the paparazzi followed her every move but at the same time, she was onto creating her next image. On the outset, it seemed like Diana's sweet, cherubic image of a sacrificial lamb had vanished and in its place emerged a modern single mom who took on the world by herself and tried to change it.
As much as the media invaded her personal space, she manipulated it to bring attention to her humanitarian efforts. The cameras were present when she walked on a landmine in Africa and pictures of her with Mother Teresa spread a warm glow in people's hearts. Diana, who distanced herself from the royal family, recreated another image of herself as a happy, dynamic woman of the world who didn't need the trappings of the royal family to be a global star.
Unfortunately, her love/hate relationship with the media came at a cost. At just 36, she lost her life in a tragic car crash in Paris in 1997 after a horde of paparazzi followed her through a narrow tunnel in the City of Lights. Years after her death, Diana's younger son Prince Harry told reporters that his mom was still breathing when camerapersons found her wounded body. And in an ironic twist of fate, the cameras clicked as she spent her last moments in a sea of newspaper reporters.