Much has been written and said about the person who was Princess Diana. She is a charming young woman who became the people’s Princess simply by being her authentic self. It was indeed a rare feat to achieve that level of adulation without having to hide your real personality, and Diana did it well. But sadly, there was another side to that coin. Not having a mask on meant that she was vulnerable. Diana was real and honest but without guile, which meant that she was open bait when swimming with sharks. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was aware of and prepared for her responsibilities from a young age. When drawing a comparison between the two women who are the modern-day icons one thinks of when talking about the British monarchy, the difference in their upbringing cannot be ignored. It would help to keep in mind that despite the fact that the country was being led by a Queen, it still wasn’t the best time to be a woman. The 80s and 90s were still a time when women were supposed to take a backseat to men. And in an antiquated institution like the monarchy, there was absolutely no scope for the rules to change. Let us note that the things Princess Diana became famous for were her charm, her approach to charity, and her fashion qualities considered praiseworthy in women. The monarchy draws clear boundaries for everyone, and whatever Diana was known for was remarkable within those confines. That was the one standout difference between her and the Queen. The latter did not take a backseat to anyone. She led the way. Not to say that the institution did not hold restrictions for her, but whatever they were, she was still designed to win.
Since we started watching the story of Princess Diana unfold on screen in the 4th season of “The Crown,” we had a suspicion that was cemented in the 5th season: that she had “main character syndrome.” We must say that we do not mean that unkindly. Of course, we are all the main characters in our own lives, but the reason we say that Diana had it, is because of her hopeless optimism and open vulnerability. She had a distinct inability to look at the bigger picture and make a strong choice for what she wanted. We first got a glimpse of this towards the end of “The Crown” Season 4, when she decided not to opt for a divorce despite knowing that Camilla was still an active part of Charles’ life. Of course, it would be wrong to completely blame her for it knowing the complexity of her mental health at that point. However, as the fifth season of “The Crown” begins and we see the ending of her marriage unfold, we realize that there was a certain selfishness in the woman. It wasn’t overt, and neither was it actively harmful. But there were those times when she was sad that her son William was going to Eton because he was her “pillar” or “support.” And also, the fact that her children were the ones who stood for her when she needed to win arguments against their father for something as simple as shopping. In a certain sense, it could all be written off as being unconsciously done because she felt overwhelmed by her own circumstances. But when she goes to tell the Queen about the interview she gave to the BBC, Elizabeth points out that it was a lot for William to digest. Diana immediately retorts that William is stronger than the Queen thinks when Elizabeth reminds her that she is talking about it being tough for a 13-year-old boy to process all this and not about his strength. There is a realization on Diana’s face at that instant, which communicates to us that she had just not thought about it that way. She had been so focused on her own troubles that it had never occurred to her how they could affect others.
When we talk about Princess Diana having the “main character syndrome,” somewhere, we start understanding that Elizabeth has the “supporting character syndrome,” where the monarchy is the main protagonist, and she is the best friend whose life revolves around it. One can say that the statement would stand true for all monarchs, and it would be difficult to argue with that. However, it cannot be denied that Elizabeth had completely failed to take into account the damaging effect of the system on the personal lives and struggles of its members.
Let us forget for a second that the monarchy was an obsolete institution that was a waste of taxpayers’ money. But can we also forget their racism and colonial history? As Britain set about turning countries into colonies, the monarchy became a unifying symbol of the sovereign. That is the foundation of being so obsessed with appearances. When Diana points out that she has seldom felt heard, Elizabeth retorts that it is only natural. She refuses to believe that it is a fallacy of the family and chalks it up to a natural consequence of being busy while fulfilling one’s duties.
Princess Diana was a person who followed her emotions, no matter how fleeting they were, while the Queen never wavered from the bigger picture, that being the welfare of the monarchy. On a slightly frivolous note, allow us to make a reference to their sun signs. Queen Elizabeth was a Taurus, unmoving and unchangeable. Princess Diana was a Gemini, a woman of two minds, one in which she was still hopeful about life and the other in which she was trying to deal with the fallout of her current one. These two horoscope signs are right next to each other. They are known to bring out the worst in each other because they understand one another but don’t like what they find. Something of this sort seems to have happened with the Queen and the Princess. Had Charles been a better man, they might have been friends. It is also possible that the monarchy would have seen a real change instead of just surface-level tokens. The two women were rather different from one another, but a harmonious relationship between them was not impossible since the Princess never desired harm to the monarchy. She could have been their greatest asset if not for the foolishness of one man. But we make do with what we have, and the world lost a beautiful woman too soon because of the apathy of her husband and the outdated ideals of an outdated institution.