Diana: Princess of Wails
Updated: Jun 15
A Privileged Chaos Fairy: The Implications of Unexamined Worship
Humans are gullible. Those of us with the trait of empathy anyway. And some humans are accomplished at trickery, whether by accident or design; added to that, we all operate under a number of cognitive biases.
These conditions have served to create and maintain flocks of Diana Devotees, impervious to the slings and arrows of outrageous reality.
Lately, there have been many articles discussing how terribly maligned and downtrodden poor old Lady Di was. I find these claims quite puzzling.
Perhaps the reason I never joined the Sect Of Devotees For Diana was that I've always had a fairly good memory for detail, and generally value character traits such as honesty, stoicism, reliability and gratitude over surface charm and self indulgence. I'm not impervious to being bedazzled or experiencing illogical loyalty of course, and have had that weaponised against me once or twice. But generally successful bedazzling requires, for me, face to face interaction. Whereas the cult of celebrity means doting on people you've never met to the point of illogically, fatuously defending the indefensible and determinedly ignoring unsavoury facts.
I recently saw the term Chaos Fairies in an amusing and perceptive article. In my opinion, this phrase perfectly defines Diana, and one or two others I've known who weren't quite so famous.
Many react positively to a glib, glittery exterior and remember only half-truths and positives about their pet celebrities. That's probably another reason I'm rarely a celebrity fanatic. It's hard to worship someone when you remember with some accuracy all the not so pleasant things they've also said and done.
I Am The Grudge Keeper is a book I've been trying to write for decades. Unfortunately, I remember the harms people have done to me, to my loved ones and even to random strangers with distressing reliability. As I said here:
However, I Am Also The Curator of Kindnesses Done, so it all evens out, in the end.
The Ever Illogical Naked Ape
But why do so many people forget or ignore the less glamorous truths about Diana?
Well, that's part of a wider conversation. Why do people behave so illogically, and why do so many prefer comfortable narratives over the truth?
Never forget that we are all highly emotional naked apes, who one day learned how to think. We make decisions based on feelings, rarely facts, and once we're persuaded to emotionally bond to a concept or a person, it's really difficult to shift us. Certainly, logic alone will rarely do it. Confirmation bias and emotional thinking accounts for some of that. We often use emotional reasoning to defend a conclusion that we’ve already reached, based upon our feelings.
We can also hold opposing notions in our mind at the same time, a type of doublethink. You will typically notice cognitive dissonance when you're trying to believe conflicting ideas. Such as: Diana was humble and assuming, and yet Diana spent about £10,000 a month on clothes and orchestrated starring in a dance routine with Wayne Sleep at the Royal Opera House. At that time, Sleep was one of the most famous dancers in the UK.
When a Diana Devotee is faced with information proving she was a confident attention seeker, they will typically go into attack mode, weighing in with ad hominems, straw men and other logical fallacies, berate you for being unkind and dismiss any inconvenient facts. Thus shoring up the battlements of opinion and easing the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.
Speak the truth. If you can be kind and true, be both. If you can only choose one, always choose truth. If you can’t manage that, don’t call yourself a writer.
The Halo Effect reminds us however that many humans value style over substance.
And let's not forget that Diana was also rather excellent at marketing her own deep well of self-pity, engendering (to my mind) bewildering compassion from the public. The availability heuristic accounts for some public perception. She was excellent at self-promotion, ensuring plenty of positive press coverage about her chosen "Queen of Hearts" persona, and promoting her own version of herself as a poor wee vulnerable and exploited soul.
Whatever the reasons, many of those who were charmed by Diana's lavish twinkle are still hell-bent on finding justification for loyalty to a woman who was really only loyal to herself.
Beware False Prophets
People who go to mediums don't parse the ten minutes Mystic Meg spent fishing for a name starting with D, E, or maybe F, and only recall that she hit on uncle Frank with unerring accuracy. Much like celebrity devotees, they are particularly susceptible to confirmation bias, focusing on the hits and not the misses.
I was a girl, heading towards my teens, when Diana first appeared with her confabulated head tilt and charade of shyness; I was almost instantaneously convinced that she was full of shit. I've been having the same conversation about Diana for 30 years. People show you who they are all the time. If you've set your sights on marrying a king you're not shy. If you're informing the press of your movements to ensure they're covering you in the best light you're not trying to escape public scrutiny (except when it suits you).
I think if she'd lived a few more years, more of the world would have seen her as I did, a conceited, needy and disingenuous woman who relied on outside validation to feel good and would say and do what it took to win approval.
Of course, I didn't analyse it in quite those terms aged 11 or 12. I just thought Ugh. She reminded me of a girl I knew at school called Lorna. I didn't much like Lorna's performative cajolery and calculated charm offensives, and I was baffled by what some teachers and students saw in her.
Growing up in the UK you were fed Diana Devotion by osmosis. The press persona and the glamourising, apologising for and normalising of some pretty extreme behaviours obscured the pattern.
If I had known what borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder traits were way back then I'd have said Aha!. I mean, obviously I'm in no position to diagnose anyone, let alone anyone I've never met, but these days I'd recognise and respond with concern to the following traits in anyone:
Bulimia, lying, constant attention-seeking and demands for validation, extreme behaviours like self-harming including throwing yourself down flights of stairs (even while pregnant), repeated threats of suicide, an inability to maintain stable relationships, making threats towards those who displease you, a certain amount of relationship and other types of risk taking behaviours, polarized thinking - one day you're her adored friend the next you're her enemy based on some slight, however small - plus an inability to accept rejection, to the point of pursuing those who rebuff you.
Do Diana devotees not know about these behaviours? Do they somehow not know that these days they would be seen as mental instability? I cannot imagine how exhausting, demoralising and frankly distressing having a family member with these traits would be.
I think what amazes me most about Diana Devotion is the cherry-picking. She wasn't all bad, of course, quite a nice person much of the time, who did a bit of good in her charity endeavours.
But as well as all of her deeply concerning personal behaviours, people seem to have forgotten that, along with accusing pretty much everyone close to her of cruelty, she was disingenous about the Camilla situation - she knew all about Camilla well before she chose to marry, but chose to become a Princess anyway.
She considered herself wronged despite admitting to being unfaithful several times with several different men - some claim she had at least 10 affairs prior to Camilla returning to the scene. However many men there were, at least one was a married art dealer who, when he dared to break off his adulterous relationship with Diana, was then apparently subject to her calling his home up to up to 300 times.
"She would drive to his house and park up outside and then call his house phone from her mobile. She’d do it in the middle of the night, so she could watch the lights in the house go on as he scrambled to the phone. She would be there for hours, watching and calling."
She also made quite a few paranoid statements about being in danger, about her brakes being sabotaged and seemed certain that people were out to get her.
And no, I'm sorry, nothing was behind Diana's tragic death except a driver who'd been drinking, was speeding and Diana herself making the fateful decision not to wear a seatbelt.
Diana was apparently also convinced that Charles had been shagging the nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke and is said to have been deeply jealous of the fact that her children were close to her. It wasn't the only nanny she was jealous of either, she reportedly sacked Barbara Barnes because William was too fond of her. She's said to have believed that Tiggy aborted Prince Charles' child, leading to a situation where Diana sneered "sorry about the baby" at the nanny in public, something for which she was later forced to apologise in writing.
At one point Diana apparently believed Tiggy was Charles's real love and Camilla a mere decoy.
That all sounds a bit potty, and frankly not very nice behaviour - at least to me.
And yet, the Devotees are unwavering in their support, glossing over facts, ignoring obvious untruths and believing unreservedly often unproven allegations she made.
Because apparently people who have believed and told astonishing fables are still trustworthy when they're saying something you, personally, endorse.
Why don't people demand proof before they believe allegations? Well, as I mentioned, we're emotional creatures. Once again, I urge you to remember this:
When it comes to rumours and gossip, even among your own family, it’s important to remind yourself regularly that if you were not in the room when it happened, or if you did not see the actual text, video or email of the event, you do not know what happened. You only know one person’s version of what happened. You’ll save yourself a lot of unnecessary bickering and melodrama if you remember that rule.
To my mind, Diana was a desperately sad woman who lived an incredibly privileged life and could simply have walked away and quietly made a new place for herself in the world, but for her urgent need to have the public admire her, sympathise with her and affirm her views on reality. It would seem the apple didn't fall very far from the tree in one of her sons.
She probably couldn't help having those traits. I'd have pitied her more if I'd realised what was really going on back then.
But I still wouldn't have signed up for Diana worship. Of course, it was rotten for her that her husband cheated on her, I'm sure the Royals weren't a particularly welcoming or supportive family to her, and she certainly didn't have to put up with that.
And, of course, she did not. The main difference between Diana and millions of others in similar or far worse situations is that she did have choices, which she exercised. And that she felt so very, very sorry for herself. But the only way to have any control over what is said about you in public is to do what the royals have instinctively done for decades - to shut up. Let them squabble and bicker and gossip and wonder - and keep walking, head up. However, people who rely heavily on outsiders for validation can't seem to manage the art of just shutting up. Diana never did. Harry certainly hasn't. As I previously said:
"And yet, despite an abundance of therapy and relentless discussion of their mental state amongst those who find their own selves immensely and unendingly fascinating, there is little incorporation of one basic tenet of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. You can’t make people think, feel or behave as you’d like them to, but you do have some control over how you react and behave."
Poor old Diana, she had such a hugely privileged life. She was so very fortunate, a reasonably pretty girl with a very average IQ, lovely manners, well brought up. An ex child minder from an aristocratic world, spirited away into the sort of fabulously wealthy, fortunate life most of us can only dream of. But she seemed to be miserable. Perhaps because the one thing she couldn't manage to do was silence all criticism and make everyone love her.
Ultimately, if you can't bear disapproval, you're destined for despair. The irony of people like this is that while they adore themselves far more than anyone else ever could, they also need to have that adoration expressed by everyone around them, unhesitatingly, unquestioningly and unceasingly.
And that's just not sustainable.
Demanding outside validation, demanding others acquiesce to your world view, demanding that your feelings usurp the feelings of others is not the act of a well person, or a person I want to be around - no matter who they are, or what validation they are demanding.
You can, of course, worship whomever you want, with or without sound reasons, my permission neither required nor requested.
So Why Do I Care?
I am troubled by Diana Devotion because of the mental cartwheels people have to perform in order to maintain that devotion.
This in turn bothers me because I am increasingly concerned about the way the world is headed. We live in a world which has been gradually overwhelmed by ideologies. Wokepinions are presented as being undebatable, and science and provable reality are supposed to play second fiddle to feelpinions.
These are the same conditions that allowed The Spanish Inquisition and The Salem Witch Trials to take place. That's not hyperbole. Women in particular are often singled out for attacks which have real world consequences including assault, doxxing, rape threats and job loss, for daring to have an opinion that doesn't conform to the current ideologies.
When you argue that your version of reality does not require proof, that your feelings are more important than reality - and importantly when you start to believe you have the right to silence others because you find them offensive, you're arguing with your limbic system, your reptile brain, not your pre-frontal cortex.
We seem to have forgotten the famous quotation by Evelyn Beatrice Hall:
So the next time you choose to believe that Diana's life was the anguish of one who was treated cruelly, as she claimed, perhaps you could remind yourself that people who are disingenous about parts of their life are generally disingenous about all aspects of their lives. If someone will lie about the basics, what on earth makes you think they won't lie about other things too? And apply that to everyone.
Ask yourself for the evidence when someone - anyone - is banging their own drum. And consider how your own irrational biases might be affecting how you view them.
We can't help being emotional creatures, and thinking illogically. That's how our brains have evolved. But at least if you're aware of those tendencies, you might be slightly more inclined to make rational judgements: about Diana, about politics, about ideologies. About the world.
I'll defend your right to hold your opinion. We're all entitled to one.
I just prefer mine served with a side of facts.
NB: Princess of Wails is not a typo.
Alison Tennent, Queensland, Australia, May 2021
Copyright Alison Tennent 2021, all rights reserved. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship. If you’re reading this anywhere but The Garrulous Glaswegian, Vocal+ or Medium, this work may have been plagiarized.