Diana Accepted The Benefits Of Royalty, But Not Its Duties

Written by David Frum on Saturday September 6, 1997

Grief for the Princess of Wales should not lead us to do an injustice to the family she left behind

The death and funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, has detonated a blockbuster bomb of anger and resentment against the British royal family. Millions of people around the planet have made up their minds a beautiful, warm-hearted, modern woman was victimized by a cold, haughty husband -- and it was this persecution that ultimately put her into the deadly backseat of a playboy's automobile.

But grief for Diana should not lead us to do an injustice to the family she left behind -- especially since that family provides Canada with its head of state. For while she certainly suffered injuries at the hands of the royal family, it's also true that much of her unhappiness originated not in her resentment of them, but in her unwillingness to shoulder the
responsibilities of her situation.

Diana has been called the first modern royal. I suppose that's probably true -- but I don't know that it's an altogether good thing. Certainly she was the first member of the royal family to have gone through the quintessential modern experience of psychotherapy and she learned its lessons well. Pre-eminent among those lessons is that one's own
needs must always come first.

Diana is now being hailed for her selfless charitable work. By all means, let us hail it. But we ought to remember that she did only a small fraction of the work done by her homely uncelebrated sister-in-law, Princess Anne -- and that when Diana's divorce became final, she quit nearly 200 charities of which she had been the honorary patron. As she said at the time, the main difficulty with life as a member of the royal family was it left one too little time for oneself.

Diana accepted the benefits of royalty, but she would not accept its duties. As part of her divorce settlement, she insisted she retain the title of Princess of Wales and the use of Kensington Palace. In time, she would have taken the seat of the mother of the king at the coronation of William V or Henry IX. But she did not see why she should have to curtail her freedom in order to enjoy those good things.

Diana never seemed to understand there was a difference between being the mother of the future king of England and
being just another international celebrity. The reason the public loves celebrities is because they are just like everybody else -- only richer. They think the same thoughts, live by the same codes, talk the same psychological
babble. The reason the public has so disliked Prince Charles is because we suspect he is not like everyone else. However little he may personally be, he represents something great and grand. He commands our attention, not because he
is living a luridly interesting life, but because he is the embodiment of 1,000 years of continuity of the English nation.

Diana, on the other hand, was a lot more like Gianni Versace and Madonna and Barbra Streisand. She did not practise the reticence and discretion the British used to expect from their monarchs. If she was unhappy in her marriage, everybody heard about it; if she fell in love with another man, the whole world got to see the photographs of their
embrace. It was, of course, to avoid having further pictures taken she was racing around Paris at 120 miles an hour. And certainly we all condemn the jackal-like photographers who pursued her. But am I the only person in the world who thinks it was very, very wrong for the mother of the next king of England to be conducting so flagrantly public a love affair? Or to be alarmed she was on her way to making Mohammed al-Fayed, the man at the centre of the worst
corruption scandal in recent British politics, the step-grandfather of the next king?

After her divorce, Diana seems to have decided to live exclusively for her own happiness. That came naturally to her: she had always disliked conventions and traditions. Nowadays, of course, the untrammelled pursuit of one's own happiness is considered a sign of psychological health. But Diana, as she pursued her giddy, doomed destiny,
never troubled to ask herself this: In a world without convention and tradition, would there be such a thing as a Princess of Wales at all?

Originally published in The Financial Post