Excerpt from Diana In Search of Herself by Sally Bedell Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Diana In Search of Herself

A Portrait of a Troubled Princess

by Sally Bedell Smith

Diana In Search of Herself
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  • First Published:
    Sep 1999, 451 pages
    Aug 2000, 560 pages

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"I don't go by a rule book, I lead from the heart, not the head," Diana said. Her meager formal education enhanced her appeal as well. She frequently belittled her intelligence, saying she was "thick as a plank" or had a "brain the size of a pea." While she lacked intellectual curiosity and discipline, she had a practical, canny mind. "She was an entirely intuitive person," said journalist and historian Paul Johnson. "She was not particularly good at rational processes but she could get on well with people because she could grasp ideas if they had emotional importance to her. She was very quick, and quick to sense what people wanted." One secret of her charm, according to interior designer Nicholas Haslam, a friend for several years, was "she could appear to be talking about something to anyone. She was a conversational chameleon."

She had an agile, teasing sense of humor that included a sure grasp of the absurd and an instinct for punchy ripostes. During a party at Christie's auction house in London, "My friend Paolo said to Diana, 'Gosh, you're brown,'" recalled Haslam. " 'W-8!' Diana said. I thought a minute and realized she meant she had been sitting in the sun outside Kensington Palace," her home in the London postal code W-8. "She was sharp as a sharp pencil," said a woman who knew her well, "fast with repartee. She got the point of stories. She got the point of all the people in the room."

But in the solitude of her apartment at Kensington Palace, the engaging public Diana often descended into a lonely, adolescent solipsism. "The time spent alone reviewing every situation and having no friends was for planning and plotting," said Haslam. Diana would dwell on her perceived inadequacies, ponder the betrayals of her past and present, and think obsessively about her enemies, both real and imagined. Her thoughts would plunge her into tears and sometimes vengeful schemes. At such moments, she made her worst decisions. "If you have a mind that doesn't connect together in a coherent way, and great instincts on the other hand, it is an interesting but odd mind," said film producer David Puttnam, a friend for more than a decade who adored her. "I don't like it that she sat around alone. When people like Diana put together bits of intuition and they don't have the ability to really analyze, they start spinning in space."

In public, Diana betrayed little evidence of her emotional storms--a testament to her stiff upper lip, her talent for disguise, and her determination to keep the lid on. "I always used to think Diana would make a very good actress because she would play out any role she chose," wrote her former nanny Mary Clarke.

Because of her quicksilver temperament, Diana could slip easily from one mood to another, confounding those around her. "If she would say we will do this or go here, she was totally reliable," said fashion entrepreneur Roberto Devorick, a longtime friend. "But in her actions, she was like a roller coaster." In his eulogy, her brother Charles lauded Diana's "level-headedness and strength." In some circumstances--giving advice or supporting friends in distress--she admirably displayed these traits. In many other situations, usually those in which she was emotionally involved, she could as easily be irrational and weak. "She was a curious mixture of incredible maturity and immaturity, like a split personality," said one of her friends. "It was so extraordinary how she handled ordinary people, but at the same time she did silly and childlike things. She was very impulsive."

Charles Spencer also praised her "honesty," but as he once admitted, "She had real difficulty telling the truth purely because she liked to embellish things." It was hard to take Diana's words at face value, since she so often said things to make a point, whether or not she contradicted a previous account. She had other motivations for dissembling as well--protecting herself or attracting attention--and throughout her adult life, her tendency to take liberties with the truth often caused problems.

Copyright © 1999 Sally Bedell Smith .

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