Friday, February 23, 2007

The Diana Phenomenon

She married a prince and was supposed to live happily ever after. She was beautiful and misunderstood. People related to her. When she died there was an unprecedented outpouring of grief.


10 years after her death Diana still makes news. One could say it's a phenomenon. It's fashionable to say one doesn't understand it. To admit you've been sucked in gives others the chance to take the high ground to your naivete and delusions. Trying to explain her appeal can be compared to explaining the enduring fascination of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean or even Elvis Presley. Regardless of whether you were a fan, it's inexplicable. It's possible that it will always be so. No matter how many tell-all books are written or tv specials made, we will never have the definitive answer. We don't want to. What would we talk about then? Because she's no longer alive, what else do we have?

True, Diana may not have been perfect. She wasn't the most beautiful woman in the world and she was no saint. Nor should we have ever claimed that she was. To insist on that takes her appeal to the extreme. In my opinion, we elevate Diana, like movie stars and musicians, to a level that we could never possibly obtain in our lifetime. We need to see someone reach that level so that we can envy them and then have the satisfaction of tearing them down. Like the firing squad member with the blank cartridge in their gun, it's human nature and in our case, because we didn't know her, we haven't hurt anyone directly. Yet, we will still buy the newspapers so that we can read how someone else did the job for us.

Some might ask, does Diana has some deep and significant cultural resonance? It's arguable. But in my opinion, she did. Maybe not deep but she continues to resonate because people related to her. To the point where, when she died, people felt they had lost a member of their family. They grieved publicly, in a way that might not otherwise have been appropriate were it their own kin. An estimated 2.5 billion people watched her funeral. Countless bouquets of flowers and poems were left at Kensington Palace. Today, for a fee, we can visit her grave at her ancestral home. It's as close as some of us will ever get to her.

During the week leading up to the funeral, it was impossible to avoid hearing about her. From the day she died there was blanket coverage. The only way to escape was to turn off the tv, radio and hide in your home. Still, had you tried to carry on as normal, there were people talking about it. Headlines of 'Diana Dead', couldn't help but grab your attention. The press at the time ignored her human qualities. People didn't want to hear about that at the time; it would have canceled out the fact that people were indeed grieving for her. Whether genuine or simply a domino effect of the media coverage, it's hard to define why people responded the way they did. Some might be embarassed by their reaction and deny it. Today we still don't understand it.

The Diana phenomenon has taken on a life of its own, to the point where it doesn't seem to have anything to do with her, as a person, any longer. And why should it? For people who buy the books, visit her grave, and idolize her, the reality of her life is irrelevant. People may judge such fans ill-informed, but ultimately, does it really do anyone any harm?

I don't think so. But then maybe I'm one of the ill-informed.

© Marilyn Braun 2007

This article was inspired by a post on the World of Royalty message board.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My Favorite Royal Books

I have an extensive collection of books on the royal family. One look at my bookcases, floors and and bedside table, you will note that my tastes are anything but highbrow. I prefer informative, easy to understand books with nice pictures. So, to prove this point, I thought I would compile a short list of my favorite books. As a helpful aside, you can click on the titles to order them.

The Royal encyclopediaThe authoritative book of the Royal Family - Edited by Ronald Allison and Sarah Riddell. Sometimes the word for word source for Wikipedia articles this A to Z book covers Abbey Court, Holyroodhouse to Zoological Gardens, Regent Park and everything in between. 632 pages of royal information, no royal collection is complete without it. If you don't have it, then too bad for you. So rare, I can't even locate a picture of it. Suffice to say that it's heavy, has the title in gold letters and a nice close up of the Imperial State Crown. Some would say it's wine colored...Merlot?..Bordeaux?..oh never mind.

Queen Victoria's Family: A Century of Photographs by Charlotte Zeepvat. I love old photos and this book is chock-full of them. I'm surprised my copy isn't dog eared for all of the time I've..uhh..spent "reading" it. For me, one very interesting aspect of this book is watching various descendants grow from babies to old age.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to British Royalty A good standby, this book has rescued me from many a confused look when someone asks me a serious question about the relevance of the royal family and what they actually do. Hopefully the recently published The British Monarchy For Dummies will fill in any blanks and cover me in all awkward situations.

Tsar: The Lost World of Nicholas and Alexandraby Peter Kurth. Beyond the connection to the Brit's, the Russian royal family is not my forte. This book has beautiful pictures of the various palaces, and the royal family before it all went horribly wrong. The last chapter details the discovery of the Romanov remains and the process to authenticate them. It also has a modern day section on DNA analysis and attempts to answer the question: Was Anna Anderson the Grand Duchess Anastasia?

The Jewels of Queen Elizabeth II: Her Personal Collection by Leslie Field.This is one of my all-time favorite books. Authorized by Buckingham Palace it details the collection of Her Majesty The Queen. Broken down by type of stone, it has gorgeous photos of tiaras, brooches, necklaces, bracelets, along with the history behind these pieces.

Queen Elizabeth II: A Celebration of Her Majesty's Fifty-Year Reign
by Tim Graham. Released to coincide with the Golden Jubilee celebrations. Want to know where the Queen gets her shoes, hats, and coats made? Information on the endless round of engagements the Queen performs? How the Garden Parties are organized? Released in 2002 to coincide with the Golden Jubilee celebrations, this wonderful book tells you about this and much much more!

I could list many many more, but that's another article!

© Marilyn Braun 2007

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Prince William, just step up to the plate already!

Good grief!

I'm tired of hearing about Kate Middleton's fashion sense, awful (yet significant and prophetic)high school plays where she plays a maiden accepting the proposal of her teenage co-star dressed up as a prince. How Kate will/might/wants/doesn't want to be the future queen of England.

William, will you propose already?

That way we can all get on with our lives.

Sure you may still be young, and have your whole life ahead of you, but think of all of us royal watchers on the edge of our seats. All of us, who in the absence of a royal death, wait for some real news. You've dated for four years, surely you've kept Kate and the rest of us, waiting for long enough. Why, Kate's practically put her life on hold. Poor girl. Luckily you're a prince, otherwise Kate might have moved on long ago.

Forget that this is the most important decision of your life. Or, one of them, should you decide to abdicate and leave it all behind. Forget precedent, that you parent's marriage failed, and the Duke of Windsor lived unhappily in exile. We'll remind you about that later at the first sign of trouble.

As your grandfather said to your father: "Get on with it". So that we can start speculating on when/if Kate gets pregnant. After the blessed arrival, you'll be expected to go on foreign tours. Come to Canada, we love the royal family. Propose for the Republicans, so that they can complain about how much it costs to maintain both of you. Ignore them while we talk about how fashionable Kate is, how beautiful she looks, and how she spends too much money.

Why, you're practically keeping the souvenir industry on stand-by. Think of all the workers, just waiting to make tacky oven mitts. Don't disappoint them. What about those of us waiting to buy these collectors items? Let's talk about the fashionistas. Your mother single-handedly revitalized the milliner, ruffled blouse, pearl choker making industries. Then there are the designers, known and unknown, vying for the chance to make Kate's wedding dress.

Oh think of the professional royal watchers! Penny Junor and Brian Hoey need something to write about; they can only re-hash revelations about the Queen for so long. Why, we haven't heard from Paul Burrell in a while, have we? He can tell us all about what Diana would have thought. He will throw in some sage words of advice about the perils of royal life and what fork to use.

William, what are you waiting for? More medals on the uniform you'll wear on your wedding day? Your Dad can lend you some. You can't possibly be too busy. Yes, you're in the military. True, you've got causes to highlight, token high profile positions in various organizations to occupy and polo to play. But still. What's that William? The concert for your mother? You've got people to organize that for you, so it's not like you're going to be hands on involved with putting up the stage and collecting tickets. No excuses.

What about ME? I need something to write about don't I? I can't keep writing informative royal profiles on forgotten members of the royal family and hangers on. I had so much fun satirizing Camilla's wedding to your father. I could recycle all of these ideas instead of just shamelessly linking to them. All my suggestions for wedding venues, gifts, Camilla's title, not to mention the good advice proffered. It could all be yours if you just get down on one knee and say those four crucial words.

We're waiting William....

© Marilyn Braun 2007