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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Many of the people around Diana tolerated her dishonesty. "At least once ... she lied to me outright," wrote her friend Clive James. "She looked me straight in the eye when she said this so I could see how plausible she could be when she was telling a whopper." Her friend Peter Palumbo believed that Diana's special circumstances excused her. "I would ask her whether this had happened or that had happened, and she would tell me a complete lie, which I believed," said Palumbo. "But I never held it against her because that was her way, and that was her character, and she was under a lot of pressure." Such "enabling" by her friends emboldened her to lie even more.

Diana had many fine traits that were evident both in public and in private: warmth, sweetness, affection, femininity, naturalness, grace, sensitivity, reserve, humility, wit, instinctive sympathy, thoughtfulness, generosity, kindness, courtesy, resilience, exuberance, energy, self-discipline, courage. "The nice side of her was fresh and unspoiled and almost childlike," said Nicholas Haslam. "Her nature was spontaneous."

But Diana also had darker traits that were largely hidden from the world. "Her dark side was that of a wounded trapped animal," noted her friend Rosa Monckton, "and her bright side was that of a luminous being." Diana's inability to see past her intense emotions and her failure to understand consequences often overwhelmed the better part of her nature, harming family and friends and creating misery for herself. As one of her relatives said, "She had a perfectly good character, but her temperament overtook her."

Indeed, Diana's unstable temperament bore all the markings of one of the most elusive psychological disorders: the borderline personality. This condition is characterized by an unstable self-image; sharp mood swings; fear of rejection and abandonment; an inability to sustain relationships; persistent feelings of loneliness, boredom, and emptiness; depression; and impulsive behavior such as binge eating and self-mutilation. Taken together, these characteristics explain otherwise inexplicable behavior. Throughout her adult life, Diana experienced these symptoms severely and chronically. While she received periodic treatment for some of her problems--her eating disorder and her depression--neither Diana nor anyone close to her came to grips with the full extent of her illness.

There were numerous reasons for this failure, among them Diana's own ambivalence toward treatment, an ingrained mistrust of psychiatry in the British upper class, and hostility in the press toward mental illness. But mostly it was Diana's dazzling public persona that lulled even her friends and family into disbelieving that anything could be seriously wrong with her--a common fate of the borderline. In the months before her death, Diana's erratic behavior and anguished outbursts showed that she needed help more than ever, but she was too isolated and tormented to find it.

For more than a decade, it fell to Britain's tabloid hacks (as the reporters cheerfully call themselves) to shape Diana's image. The British tabloids cater mainly to blue-collar readers, and circulation rather than advertising provides the bulk of their revenues. Consequently, they clamor for attention with sensationalism and titillation. These newspapers include the gaudy "red tops" (The Sun, Mirror, Daily Star, News of the World, Sunday Mirror, Sunday People) as well as the bourgeois midmarket Mail (daily and Sunday), Express (daily and Sunday), Evening Standard, and from 1984 until it closed in 1995, Today, a color tabloid modeled on USA Today.

The tabloids felt favorably disposed toward Diana most of the time: Promoting her was good for business. But if Diana crossed them, or misbehaved in their eyes, the hacks would scold and attack her, then patronizingly praise her when she came to heel. "Slowly she is adjusting," wrote tabloid veteran James Whitaker in a typical column at the end of 1983, when she seemed "no longer quite so obsessive in her determination ... to keep her private life totally private."

Copyright © 1999 Sally Bedell Smith .

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