PRE-OCCUPATION WITH LADY DIANA CONTINUES
Issue Date 19 - 25 Aug, 2017 at 2:00 PM
It is not easy to identify the reason behind the evergreen British pre-occupation with Lady Diana, the former Princess of Wales and wife of Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne. Yes, she was a very beautiful women, but then so was Hema Malini, although Ms Malini did not quite have Princess Diana’s regal status. And Princess Diana died young leaving behind two very young boys which makes for a tragic situation, a situation which Ms Malini thankfully did not have to face. But there is more to it than that, although it is not easy to put one’s finger on it.
As the twentieth anniversary of Princess Diana’s death approaches later this month, British television has no stone unturned in its remembrance of the glamorous princess. Perhaps one reason for this neck-deep wallowing in Diana nostalgia is the fact that Diana brought glamour into the British Royal family, which may be known for many things but glamour, certainly, is not one of them. As pure physical specimens go, both male and female, you could consider yourself hard done by if on any given journey in any given compartment of the London Underground you didn’t find at least a dozen males and an equal number of females who did not rate higher than anyone the Royal family could come up with. A dozen males and a dozen females is pretty much the entire compartment unless you are travelling at the peak of the rush hour.
Most of the programmes being aired to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Princess’ death portray her as the classic Shakespearean tragic heroine, wronged by being trapped in a loveless marriage, with none around her to offer any sympathy, struggling to bring up two young boys without an emotional support from any corner, giving every moment of her life to them. And in line with that narrative, one of the programmes that was seen as a better ‘yarn’ than most of the others was the one entitled Diana’s ‘Wicked’ Stepmother. The inverted commas are not mine, the same having been inserted reportedly after due discussion between the makers of the programme and concerned members of the family.
The stepmother was called Raine, who started life in the middle class but very soon began to graduate upwards. At 18, in 1948, she married the Hon. Gerald Legge, heir to an earldom; in due course she became a viscountess but after some 28 plus years of marriage, decided that Legge was a bore and moved on to have a relationship with Earl Spencer, Lady Diana’s father, who had been divorced from Diana’s mother, Frances Shand Kydd. They were married in 1976.
Diana and her siblings had an uncomfortable relationship with their stepmother and they made no bones about it. They would chant ‘Raine Raine go away’, referred to her as ‘Acid Raine’ and one Christmas, presented her with a biography of Marie Antoinette, the French queen who, quite literally, lost her head during the French Revolution. It was alleged during the programme that Diana, on one occasion, had even pushed her stepmother down the stairs. The stepmother herself was a long way from being a paragon of virtue and is said to have even kept the children away from their dying father.
That was a patently bad move for as soon as the father died, the new earl, Diana’s brother took over and threw the ‘wicked’ stepmother out of the house. Again, almost literally, to the point that when she was taking away her stuff, she was asked to unpack a suitcase which belonged to the old earl and repack her things – in a black bag, the mother and father of all indignities.
But the story has a twist in its tail. As Diana’s marriage started to collapse around her, she contacted the stepmother whom she had hated all her life and asked her over for dinner along with her new husband, this time a French count making it her third straight marriage into royalty. Raine’s third marriage lasted only two years but at the time of the dinner invitation, the French count was still in office and therefore attended the dinner. During the dinner Diana is reported to have waved the flag of truce by saying how much she appreciated all the happiness Raine gave her father; at which the two women got up from their chairs ran towards each other and hugged in a tearful embrace. Hema Malini could not have done better even in the most outrageous of Bollywood dramas. And the two women continued to be friends till Diana met her sad end in August 1997. Raine died only last October at the age of 87 having lived life to the full, as they say. With three marriages, it must have been pretty full.
Many in a British audience would find the tale ‘moving’ for the British have such a mutually contradictory view of royalty. One the one hand there are those who love them and their shenanigans to bits while on the other there are those who regard them as living too cushy a life without having to do much to earn it. The latter view is rather closer to the truth. It is a class which contributes precious little to society, apart from the odd handshake here and cutting the odd ribbon there, considers itself superior to everyone, and thinks that what goes on in their largely meaningless lives is a matter of crucial importance to the country and indeed, to the future of mankind. But for all that, they attract a great deal of attention and that is the oxygen that drives their lives. In that they may not be too different from Ms Malini. •
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