N E W Y O R K, June 14, 2001 -- Princess Diana is one of the most written-about women of our times. But a new biography says much of what we think we know about the "people's princess" is simply not true.
Billed as the ultimate Diana bio, Diana: Story of a Princess, by Phil Craig and Tim Clayton, was shipped to bookstores in plain boxes to prevent pre-publication leaks.
The book and accompanying television documentary (airing this week in Great Britain and premiering July 27 on the Learning Channel in the United States) are timed to coincide with several milestones: Diana would have turned 40 on July 1, July 29 would have marked the 20th anniversary of her wedding and Aug. 31 is the fourth anniversary of her death in a Paris car accident.
The authors, who also produced a mini-series on the princess, say their book debunks myths and provides new insights into her life and marriage to Charles, Prince of Wales.
Royal courtiers, for instance, told the authors Diana Spencer's "fairy-tale wedding" to Prince Charles in 1981 almost didn't happen because the prince would not renounce his love for Camilla Parker Bowles — the woman who Diana would later blame for her split with Charles.
To prevent her from canceling the wedding, the authors say that a lunch was arranged between Diana and Parker Bowles during which the two women were said to have cleared the air.
Plots, Rumors and Lies
As the marriage eventually soured, Prince Charles and his closest allies plotted to unjustly portray Diana as "mad" and suffering from borderline personality disorder, the authors report.
Craig says Charles decided to raise doubts about his wife's mental health after it was revealed that he was having an affair with Parker Bowles.
"He was really on the ropes," Craig told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America today. "The temptation to go negative, to use a political phrase, must have been overwhelming.… There was a concerted briefing by his courtiers that suggested Diana was mentally ill."
But the book also claims the princess helped manufacture scandals of her own, such as a reported suicide attempt.
After Diana took a stumble down some stairs, there was speculation that it might have been a suicide attempt. Craig says, however, that he is certain she did not throw herself down the stairs, as was widely reported. Witnesses remember her fall down three steps as an accident, he says.
But rumors of suicide continued to circulate as Diana began sparring with Charles, in part, Craig says, because she wanted people to see her as the victim of an unfeeling husband.
The authors say that Charles and his staff put their own spin on the deteriorating marriage, arranging meetings between his friends and his biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, to spread tales about the princess's alleged mood swings, tantrums and vindictive personality.
"It's a horrible distortion of a woman that simply was not like that," says Craig. "It's fair to say during the last few years of Diana's life that she was perhaps disturbed at times, but to say she was mentally-ill throughout her life is nonsense."
Lovers Loomed Large
While the public has often revered Diana as compassionate, sensitive and the victim of a dysfunctional royal family, however, the authors depict her as at times neurotic, irresponsible and manipulative.
During her globetrotting campaign against the proliferation of landmines, they say, she pursued a spiteful vendetta against one of her staff by inviting her along on a "vacation," only to send her a huge bill upon their return.
Diane's personal life was immensely complicated say Craig and Clayton.
As the prince resumed his affair with Parker Bowles, the princess also took a lover, James Hewitt.
"He was her lover," says Craig, noting that the authors became very close to the Hewitt family while researching the book. "This family was her alternative family for many, many years. She saw more of them than other people."
Through an arrangement known throughout the royal household, the authors say, Diana and Hewitt took turns with Charles and Camilla, using the royal country home on alternate weeks.
Controversial to the End
Craig and Clayton report that the princess's death was simply an accident caused by a drunken driver.
They say that when the royal family learned of her death, an argument broke out between Prince Charles and the queen's private secretary, Robert Fellowes (who is also Charles' brother-in-law, married to Diana's sister, Jane).
Fellowes thought that Diana's death should be played down, that she should go to a private mortuary and have a private funeral to calm public reaction. This was what the queen wanted, say the authors.
"The queen was frightened by the outpouring of public support for her," Craig says.
But Charles felt that he should fly to Paris in order to bring the body back and personally arrange for a very public goodbye for his ex-wife, which is what he did.
The queen took heat for staying at her country estate in Scotland and not going immediately upon learning of Diana's death. But the authors say the family was advised by Scotland Yard to stay in Scotland because their safety couldn't be guaranteed.
If Diana had lived, her life would probably have remained relatively the same as it had been, Craig says.
Although her boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed had a ring — possibly an engagement ring — for Diana the night they died in the car crash, Craig says she would probably not have married him.