“Imagining Diana” A New Novel Paints a Portrait of the Princess as a Middle Aged Woman

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Who hasn’t wanted, at one time or another, to rewrite history? Like Cher sang, if only we could turn back time, either to keep an event from happening or perhaps just to have the same circumstances with a different outcome. New York Times Bestselling author Diane Clehane’s latest book and first “alternative history” novel, “Imagining Diana,” does just this–it illustrates what would have been, had arguably the most famous woman in the world survived the fatal Paris car crash 20 years ago this month.

“One of the best books about Princess Diana” – People.com

August 31, 1997. In the aftermath, Diana’s life is hanging by a thread in a hospital, until miraculously, the princess wakes up, from an eight day coma. She has overcome extensive internal injuries (although we never hear what they are), but has not escaped completely unscathed. She has been branded, similarly to another magical Brit (Harry Potter) with a “souvenir” of the accident — a gash from ear to jaw line, but thankfully not on her “good side.”

“The first book about Princess Diana that presents her as a real woman” – Erica Jong

Clehane weaves remarkably well between her fictionalized narrative and the cold hard facts. In her version, the accident scarred Diana (both emotionally and physically) becomes less a tragic figure and more a stable, self-actualized woman as she approaches middle age. In the first part of the book she deals with those who stand in her way such as Mohamed Al Fayed and his conspiracy theories, Charles and Camilla (Charmilla? lol), the Queen, as well as the nameless, faceless, members of the staff at St. James’s Palace dubbed the “men in gray” who really pull the strings behind the palace puppet show. Clehane believes that the accident was just a bad confluence of poor planning rather than the results of a plot against the princess. “I believe she would still be alive if she had been wearing a seat belt.”

Diane Clehane
Photo by Claire Buffie

Regardless of her slight disfigurement, Diana has an epiphany since being given a second chance at life. She learns to come to terms with those around her, including somehow becoming her ex-husband’s best friend; creates the Princess Diana Foundation; continues her humanitarian work; produces documentaries on landmines; moves to New York and becomes engaged to American financier Teddy Forstmann, who she dated briefly IRL. Eventually she comes back to London, makes amends with “The Firm,” spends quality time with her adult sons; even takes Kate Middleton under her wing, determined to help her escape some of the pitfalls that Diana encountered in dealing with the paparazzi (including, of course, the incident which almost killed her).

As I read I actually caught myself mid-way through, experiencing a heady feeling and saying to myself “Is Diana alive?” If you can suspend disbelief long enough it’s fun to consider a present day course of action for the “People’s Princess”: where would she go? (to a UES plastic surgeon Gerald Imber for scar revision and Botox), what would she wear?(Chanel daytime suits, Jacques Azagury evening wear), what would she eat?(Gravlax at Michael’s). One modern trend she doesn’t seem to engage in is social media as there is no mention of a PD Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram account.

Illustrations by Ileana Hunter
Courtesy of Metabook

“Imagining Diana” serves as one possible, fanciful scenario as its author immersed herself in everything Diana; from the written word to the countless TV specials, even to the exclusion of all else, in order to get inside Di’s head. A well-versed and credible source, Clehane knows her subject inside-out having been a royal watcher for decades — she wrote the 1998 tome “Diana: The Secrets of her Style.” She has also served as a commentator on the British royal family for CNN, Access Hollywood and CBS News. The idea for the book was initially formed when she attended Diana’s Christie’s dress auction. “I wondered what she was thinking. What was she going to do now after the divorce? She seemed to be at loose ends.” Although the author never actually met the princess she did interview her brother Charles Spencer about two years ago for his book “Killer of the King.”

“I’ve been fascinated by the allure of the monarchy –“it’s the world’s most interesting soap opera– and particularly with Diana since way back in the ’80s,” Clehane said in a phone interview. “She looked like anyone you could have known then, she was just sort of thrown together. Of course, she wasn’t like anyone at all — her ancestral home (Althorp) where she grew up could make Downton Abbey look like Downton Shabby. The royals saw her as just this jolly young girl who knew how to tow the line. No one knew she was going to become a global superstar!”

The book is written in three sections, beginning with the accident and ending on July 1, 2017 which would have been Diana’s 56th birthday. It tells the story in “tentpole” events rather than as a constant running narrative; a device which works well to advance the tale. “At some point it took on a life of its own,” said Clehane about writing her fusion of historical events and fiction.”I felt a responsibility to get the historical part right.  It became more challenging after the first section which takes place at Kensington Palace during Diana’s recovery. By the time I got to the third section, I had researched the wedding of Kate and Will extensively,” she adds.

The second section details Diana’s life in New York City. “She would have had to leave England for a period of time. In New York She would have gotten the Jackie O treatment. I think she would have been treated much more deferentially here than in England.” I especially love the anecdote about how she gives a courteous photographer an exclusive photo op of her crossing the street to help him pay off his student loans. Natch, it becomes a New York Post full front page shot.

The third section highlights Diana’s role with her now adult children and finally grandchildren . “I believe the lives of her sons were always her first interest. They would have pulled her back from the precipice after the summer with Dodi where she was in danger of becoming a bit of a social dilettante. Interestingly, the two boys represent the two halves of her personality. William is the empathetic one meant to be king and Harry is an open heart, looking for love. It’s been very helpful (in researching the book) that the boys (Will and Harry) have been interviewed a lot recently about their work for the charity ‘Heads Together.’ They have been very forthcoming about mental health issues and how they dealt with (or in Harry’s case, didn’t deal with) the death of their mother.”

“Perhaps the biggest misconception about Diana is that she was either a saint or an unhinged individual. She was a very complex person — she loved the limelight yet recoiled under too much attention. She fed off of the public adulation instead of finding that love in one person. She was a fascinating mix of naïveté and outward sophistication.” What does Clehane hope to accomplish with this yarn? “First and foremost, I want people to think it’s a good story. I am so proud of this book. For those who admire Diana, it may be cathartic to read about what she might have accomplished had she lived. I think she would have been a force for good in a lot of ways particularly in empowering women and girls in various countries.

One tween girl who has been touched by Diana is the one the book is dedicated to: Clehane’s daughter Madeline. I asked if Madeline was perhaps jealous of the time that her mom spent with “Diana” in the process of writing this book. “No, she was actually very interested in it and got to witness what it’s like to be a freelance writer who has to go on with her daily life while writing a novel rather than being sequestered away. She actually read dialogue with me in a British accent which was really very helpful.”

I must also ask — has this book finally satisfied Clehane’s Diana craving?  “I think there’s more of her story to be told,” the Connecticut resident answers. Stay tuned for Princess Diana: the golden years. Meanwhile “Imagining Diana” goes on sale August 29 and is available from Kindle, iBooks, Kobo and Nook. Print and audio versions of the title will follow. Click here for a video of Diane Clehane discussing her book. http://metabook.com

(Publisher’s note: Diane Clehane is a contributing Entertainment Editor of Lookonline.com)

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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