No personality in history was ever the subject of more unremitting attention than Diana, princess of Wales. The fact that she met her death in a Paris underpass while seeking to escape a motorcycle pursuit by photographers carries its own cruel irony.
It was a traumatic event not just for the country but for almost the whole world and her funeral bore witness to the sorrow felt at such a sudden and untimely death. We knew her story so well that her pain became our pain, her sorrow our sorrow and her joy our joy. She touched the child in all of us. It reminded us of the frailty of life.
I last saw Diana a few weeks before her death on a sultry summer's day in her apartment in Kensington Palace. She looked pure Hollywood from the top of her coiffed, streaked hair to her perfectly manicured feet. But when she talked she was anything but.
She spoke wistfully about her life with Prince Charles, the man who had once been her husband, and said she had never stopped loving him. She explained how difficult it was to live happily within the constraints of the monarchy, surrounded at all times by courtiers and those that hung onto her husband's every word, never daring to disagree with him.
It was never for her. Diana knew the workings of the palace and she was astute enough to see its flaws and weaknesses. The system was not hers to change however. It belonged to the queen, who had tried to accommodate Diana within it — bending its rules, excusing her indiscretions, making allowances for her illness, overlooking her outbursts, taking note of her grievances, ignoring the way she tried to claim center stage and ordering her staff to treat the princess with courtesy at all times.
Diana had the greatest respect for the queen, but she found her emotionally cold and distant. But Diana had neither the queen's strength of character nor her ability to compartmentalize her life and put duty before all else.
"She was reserved. The first and only time I ever saw her cry was at the burial of the duchess of Windsor at Frogmore," Diana told me. "We were at the graveside, Charles and me and the queen, and when she started crying I said to myself, 'I can't believe this is really happening.' She had been incredibly kind to the duchess and paid all her bills in the last years of her life. She was also incredibly kind to me."
What the queen would not do, what she was incapable of doing, however, was to restructure the monarchy to suit her daughter-in-law. Had she become queen herself, Diana might have made the changes she wanted, just as the Queen Mother had when she was a queen. But that opportunity had slipped away before it ever arose.
Diana was outside the royal orbit and looking to her own future. It was tough for her — tougher than she could ever have imagined. But in fighting for her independence she became her own person and was at last able to accomplish many of the things she wanted to do in her professional life, if not her personal life.