By Dorothy Scarborough
It has been twenty years since the death of Diana, which means we were never alive at the same time. So all I know of her, I know from my mother, who is perhaps the greatest authority on Diana the world has ever known. When I was young, the only two stories my mother would read to me were biographies of the young lives of Jackie Kennedy and Diana, Princess of Wales.
To Americans, we haters of of monarchy, there was an allure to “the people’s princess.” To many, she was a real life representation of our American princesses, Disney princesses.
So in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the death of Diana, I interviewed the foremost scholar on Diana (I have ever met): Dee Dee Scarborough.
TheTrim: When did you first learn about Diana (what was the context – not just age, but where, what events were happening?)
Dee Dee Scarborough: I heard about Diana pretty early on because I was always interested in the royals. I knew he (Prince Charles) had dated other women because he was considered one of the world’s most eligible bachelors (because he was going to become king someday). I never found him physically attractive and of course he is about 15 years older than me so I was never interested in him except as a famous person. I had heard of some of the women he had dated previously like Anna Wallace, Lady Jane Wesley, Diana’s sister, and of course, Camilla when she was still single (Camilla, Charles’ current wife was previously married).
There were not stories about Charles dating Camilla once she (Camilla) was married. The first stories about Diana were that she had been spotted watching Charles fly fish up in Scotland but the paparazzi didn’t get a picture of her face; she purposefully walked straight up the mountain without turning around and so the first pictures of her were only of her backside and the newspapers said “Charles’ New Mystery Woman.” Their courtship was pretty short so there wasn’t a lot of coverage in the press about her, but I remember hearing when they did get engaged; the news stories were that Prince Charles was no longer eligible.
TT: If you can remember, did you automatically side with her or the royal family during the divorce?
DS: Yes, she was my favorite of the Royals, and as a lot of the negative news about her had not come out yet, she was pretty universally enshrined. She had been very popular as the Princess of Wales, and I am sure part of what frustrated Charles about her is that she seemed to be more popular than he was, and even more popular than the Queen. There used to be news stories about when the two of them would go on a ‘walk about’ meeting people in the crowds either in the UK or abroad and one (Charles or Diana) would go on one side of the street, and the other on the opposite side. The crowds would audibly groan when Charles would come to their side versus Diana.
TT: Did you learn about the affair while the marriage was happening?
DS: I don’t remember when I learned about the affair, but the press was pretty careful about not reporting on it for a long while. There is one story that still hasn’t been fully explained when they were still married: Charles was going somewhere by train and his rail car was taken off the train and put into a siding so they could sleep overnight. Some blonde woman climbed onto the train car and stayed the night and this person’s identity has never been revealed. It wasn’t Diana or Camilla as both had alibis elsewhere on that night. So Charles was cheating on Diana and Camilla that night.
TT: What did you like about her style?
DS: What you have to understand is that her style and her personality changed a lot over the course of her public life. Before she was engaged, the pictures of her were of her wearing simple full skirts (probably cotton with an elastic waist) and loose sweaters. She seemed to have only one necklace which she wore almost every day. It was a gold “D” (charm on a chain). Her hair was mousy and in a very simple style. She wore flats. The British press called her a “Sloane Ranger” because she lived near Sloane Square (a posh area of London) and she was similar to a lot of people her age (and older) who wore country clothes, were not seriously educated, were not career oriented, spent their weekends in the country, and were well born. They would wear silk scarves loosely around their necks and white tights under their skirts and what they used to call “sensible heels.”
Once she got engaged, her clothes became more dressy but really more frumpy. Very old fashioned and fussy for a nineteen year old girl. The only exception I can think of is (a) black evening gown, strapless, which she wore when she went to a show of some sort and met Princess Grace of Monaco. It was very low cut, and the television shows would have slow motion footage of her getting out of the car and questioning if her bosom could be seen at one point. Apparently Charles criticized her for wearing black as members of the Royal family didn’t wear black except for mourning, and she didn’t know this and had thought a black strapless gown would be very sophisticated.
Diana had long loved to read romance novels and had probably been thinking about her own wedding for a long time as she chose her wedding dress based on a dress worn by one of her ancestors which is in a painting at Althorp (Princess Diana’s ancestral home). It was a very big dress, very full and with bows and heavy silk. In the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, the first bride in the movie wears a dress somewhat like Dianas and one of the guests at the wedding calls it a ‘big meringue,’ but right after Diana got married, everyone wanted a big dress with big shoulders like that. Apparently the dress was a lot less crinkled before she got into the coach to go to the cathedral for the ceremony, but when she got out of the coach, the silk was all crumpled and there was no time to deal with it. I still don’t understand why the designers wouldn’t have thought about that in advance.
Once she married and had money to buy clothes, her style became very popular because she clearly put a lot of thought into it. If she was going to visit a foreign country, she would wear colors of the flag of that country. She clearly had access to a lot of jewelry and enjoyed wearing (her jewels). (She wore) ig necklaces with sapphires or emeralds more than diamonds or pearls. One difference between her (Diana) and Kate is that Kate sometimes wears clothes from Top Shop or other ready-to-wear brands whereas I think all of Diana’s clothes (at least the dresses) were made for her so you didn’t have the same frenzy to buy what Kate was wearing, or now for what her children are wearing. There were some sweaters Diana wore that were available in stores and (became) very popular, She liked jewel tone colors in her clothes, and she knew she needed to wear colors so she could be spotted from a distance. Her clothes were still not very revealing and when she did wear tighter fitting gowns, she was accused of having anorexia (which she did have), and so she tended to not wear very much (clothing) which showed her skin. Her hemlines were a lot longer in general than (clothing) is today, more mid-calf to just below the knee.
Diana’s style became more revealing and more trendy as she got older and divorced. She apparently was working out a lot more towards the end of her life and was very proud of her body and wore much shorter dresses and halter style tops. Her clothes also became a lot more casual–workout clothes and blue jeans worn with a blue blazer, because she was no longer a ‘working royal.’
TT: Why did you like her?
I liked her initially because she seemed so naïve and sweet. She didn’t wear very much makeup and her style was very simple and unglamorous. She smiled easily and seemed genuinely nice. The press loved to call her ‘the girl next door’ because she had grown up on a royal property. (She was) just very simple and unpretentious. She didn’t smoke and she wasn’t fast. It probably helped her image that she was an assistant at a nursery school. Although she was from the nobility, she seemed to be like a Disney princess, plucked from obscurity to marry the prince of the realm and chosen because of her innate goodness.
After she married, I continued to like her because she was so pretty, and she did so much more in meeting and talking with people than Charles, or the Queen, or the Queen Mother ever did. And the press helped to make her a celebrity because she was on the cover of every magazine and celebrities at the time were not people like the Kardashians but rather real movie stars, and she was the only non-movie star celebrity around.
Some of the things that she did which stood her apart from the Queen and Charles were that she would touch people with AIDS or leprosy or who had lost a limb. She wasn’t just cutting ribbons or planting trees. She also showed her emotions much more readily; she would laugh and smile, and once when she was pregnant with one of the princes, she fell asleep at the opening of Parliament. She was more real.
TT: How has her character changed for the public since she died?
DS: I think the press has changed a lot rather than her character. The press probably knew a lot of what was going on in their marriage and when she was dating other men, (Diana had an affair near the end of her marriage), but because the press was less willing to give all the truth about famous people before, we as the public didn’t know the full story. It seems that Diana was a master manipulator and knew when to leak a story for herself and when to show up Charles. (She) wasn’t as vulnerable as she was portrayed when she was alive.