Diana, You Ignorant Slut

Diana, You Ignorant Slut

Diana, You Ignorant Slut

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Sept. 2 1999 5:52 PM

Diana, You Ignorant Slut

Culturebox's first thought on reading Diana: In Search of Herself, Sally Bedell Smith's deliriously mean-spirited (though boringly written) catalog of all the ways the late fairy-tale princess turns out to have been troubled, trite, and exasperating, is that the British public didn't get its money's worth from the girl. During her marriage, according to the New York Times, Diana cost her subjects $3,287 a day ($1.2 million a year). Much of that paid for clothing, cosmetics, hair styling, physical and speech training, health care, beauty treatments, fancy vacations, and a private staff--all legitimate expenses for a state official whose job it is to be a professional celebrity. (Why the British would pay their royals to do such a job is another question.)

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If you go by Smith's account, the rest must have gone to: 1) a surprisingly large number of cell-phone calls--up to 20 a day per person--to a surprisingly large number of lovers; 2) alternative therapists--astrologists (three), spiritualists (including a clairvoyant who put her in touch with her grandmother), a tarot card reader, an energy healer, a hypnotherapist, an "anger-release" therapist, colonic irrigationists, osteopaths, chiropractors, reflexologists, aromatherapists, shiatsu and tai chi chuan experts, acupuncturists, and a "mind-body" therapist, the last a former tax accountant who gave her massages and diet advice; 3) more conventional forms of treatment for sleeplessness, eating disorders, paranoia, and self-mutilation, including an episode in which she slashed her arms and smeared the blood all over the walls of an airplane; 4) lunch at fancy restaurants to which she secretly invited tabloid reporters so she could drop by their tables and leak whatever she wanted to appear in their publications the next day.

When you think about it, Item 4 probably is in the job description for an official celebrity, which brings us to Culturebox's second reaction to this book: that the British got everything they paid for and more. Smith's Diana was an ill-educated, impulsive woman who spent her adult life reeling from what Smith dubiously diagnoses as a borderline personality disorder. (Culturebox knows as little about psychiatry as Smith does, but she knows wild analysis when she sees it.) Whatever the cause, Diana was depressed, secretive, paranoid, dissembling, self-loathing, desperately needy, and unable to sustain close relationships.

Yet she was also the century's most popular royal personage, a fact that now seems not at all unrelated. When you know how unstable Diana was, you grasp that it was her lack of self-control that fueled the media's obsession. She got our attention because she was cute, but she held it because she gave the paparazzi so much to work with--all those unchecked expressions of slyness or shyness or vulnerability or boredom, all that Sturm und Drang about needing her privacy. Tabloid editors put her on the cover day in and day out because eating disorders and fainting fits made good copy, not out of sympathy with her charities. And since by the ironclad laws of yellow journalism the famous have to be famous for something, Diana became the universal symbol of individual suffering, the victim of unfeeling institutions everywhere. Others might have found the attention devastating, but Diana must have been relieved to find in the public eye the unflagging concern, pity, and sense of drama Smith says the princess demanded, and failed to get, from Charles. Diana only ever had one loyal suitor--the public--and she quickly figured out how to win its favor, cultivating tabloid reporters while complaining about their impertinences, figuring out more often than not what to wear and say and how to upstage the other royals.

It was strangely easy for her to outfox the palace. No rational being, no one concerned about shoring up a marriage or maintaining a position in society, could have predicted what move Diana would make next. She leaked stories that put her in a questionable light. She collaborated with a tabloid reporter, Andrew Morton, on a royals-bashing biography that made divorce Charles' only option. She defied everyone she knew, including her own press secretary, to go on television for a notorious 1995 interview in which she came off as wildly self-pitying and un-self-aware. She flaunted her relationship with Dodi, the no-good son of a corrupt and authoritarian father. But Diana never cared much about being a princess. She cared about being a celebrity, and her public responded to her devotion by canonizing her: Saint Diana of Bathos. You'd have to be mad to court such a fate, but luckily, she was.