“People’s Princess” Diana: Why Are We So Obsessed With Her?

Picture of By Žanet Levickova

By Žanet Levickova

The life of Princess Diana has been documented so well, yet it remains a mystery to us. Perhaps that is the reason why her life continues to inspire numerous films and serials. Besides appearing in the latest series of Netflix’s The Crown, she is also the main subject of Spencer, a film that was released in November and revealed to us Diana’s inner image. Spencer is about Lady Di’s self-discovery and the strength she found in difficult times. In August, it will be 25 years since her tragic death. In what ways does she inspire us today? And what is the legacy of the Queen of People’s Hearts? 

In September, Spencer (Diana’s maiden name) was introduced at the Venice Film Festival. The main role of Princess Diana is portrayed by Kristen Stewart. In an interview for InStyle, Steward said that she hadn’t been so excited to play a part as she was for Spencer in a very long time. 

The plot of the movie centers around three painful days in Lady Di’s life, during times when she and Charles, Prince of Wales, live separately but are not yet divorced. The royal family traditionally spends holidays in the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk countryside. Over Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Boxing Day, Diana realizes that her marriage to Prince Charles has fallen apart and reevaluates her life and its direction. She decides to pursue freedom. Diana deals with a crisis after her marriage is heavily discussed in tabloids all over the world. During the holidays, everyone is trying to act as if nothing has happened to maintain the relaxing atmosphere of Christmas. And Diana’s mental well-being is being overlooked. 

Besides family problems, she is also suffering from an eating disorder (bulimia), a habit of self-harm, insomnia, delusions, and mental confusion.  She is constantly under scrutiny from the public and as well as the royals and every step she takes is criticized harshly. In dealing with these heavy emotions, she is said to have attempted suicide multiple times. Twilight star Kristen Stewart’s performance is simply breathtaking. The way she persuasively portrays the emotional despair of Diana makes it so we can understand the deepness of her misery as if we were experiencing it ourselves.

In Spencer, Diana is often captured alone in wide landscapes or in very opulent and bright environments which slowly turn into gloomy chambers that resemble a prison rather than a majestic palace. Charles tells her to put a mask on and pretend that nothing is happening. Diana, unwilling to live as a hypocrite, slowly turns paranoid and full of self-hatred. She is desperately longing to go back to her childhood when she was carefree. 

Pablo Larraín’s Spencer is not your usual biographical film that captures Diana’s whole life story. It is almost entirely uninterested in historical accuracy. It is a strange film; a psychological drama about a woman, who seemed to have everything but the one thing that she longed for most – true love. Eventually, she got divorced in 1996 and found her “one” – Dodi Fayed.  Even after splitting up with Charles, the public remained on Diana’s side. She died tragically a year later, on the 31st of August 1997 next to her lover in a car crash. Her death caused an enormous fuss, even bigger than the one she caused during her life. Princess Diana’s funeral was watched on television by a British audience that peaked at 32.10 million people. Millions of others watched it around the globe. 

Sunshine Mixed With a Little Hurricane

And the fuss about her lasts until this day and age. There is no doubt that Princess Diana has been one of the most popular royal family members for a couple of decades now. Even though her daughter-in-law, Meghan Markle, tried to follow in her footsteps and be the family’s black sheep, she received criticism and was regularly polled as being the least favorite member of the royal family.

Princess Diana captivated the whole world with her angelic face and humble behavior. She was perceived as a breath of fresh air in the palace. Someone who brought a human element, vitality, and reality into the royal chambers. It’s a paradox that even though we think of her as sunshine in human form, she remains a symbol of an unhappy marriage. A symbol of a tragic relationship that was convicted to doom (despite the fairytale background) from the very beginning. 

Princess Diana’s Story Reflects Tragedies of Our Own

But what is it that we love Diana so much even until this day? First and foremost, she was the person one could identify with. We love her because her story reflects the tragedy of our own lives. We all know how it is to feel unloved, overlooked, or judged by everyone. We know how it feels to be stuck in a situation where there is no way forward, or way out. And we also struggle with our body image or other mental illnesses.

Secondly, despite her privileged position, she was admired as somebody who remained down-to-earth. For example, she changed society’s attitudes towards AIDS patients when she visited the pediatric AIDS ward in Harlem and hugged a young boy suffering from the disease. She also raised awareness about cancer and mental illness and advocated for ways to help those in need.

Another reason why we have so much sympathy for her could be activism, charity work, and patronage. She was able to connect with the crowds like no one else before her. Her friendly behavior and charisma resulted in enormous popularity which meant that even after her public divorce Diana’s reputation survived. She organized many public gatherings and charity events that earned her the nickname “people’s princess”. She was also an amazing mother who embodied love.

One more superficial reason why she is still relevant today: her fashion sense was simply immaculate. She was a trendsetter back in the ’80s and ’90s and she still is today. Blue jeans, biker shorts, caps, simple t-shirts…It could be your grandma, your mother, or yourself trying to mimic her outfits. Social media is full of her outfit pictures and overall fashion style. In conclusion: Diana died young, and many see her as a victim of the royal family. She stayed pure and innocent forever. With all the reasons mentioned above, it is no surprise that Diana became such an icon, still adored to this day, and whose fame will only grow greater with time. 

Cover Image: Robert Sullivan

Edited by: Hana Maurer

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