To those who know me well, it is no secret that I am an anglophile tragic at heart in the way only colonials who have shed those bonds of subject-hood can be, and that I moved to the part of southern California where most British expats lived, Santa Monica. There I could indulge in all of my favorite British treats: sausage rolls, fish and chips, darts, and high tea among other things. There were also the fantasies: driving a British sports car, attending a special Pusser’s Rum promotion when the Queen sailed up the California coast, trying to spot Patrick McGoohan (Secret Agent, the Prisoner) who lived in my neighborhood, attending a tribute to James Bond event at the Playboy Club where I got to kiss George Lazenby (I asked politely), and Royal Weddings (of course!).
When I was a young woman, I went to a special tea at our local British tea room in the middle of the night for a special event: witnessing (what I thought was) the fairy tale marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in July 1981. It gave me a script to carry in my head of what I wanted my own wedding to look like, on a smaller scale, of course. I carried it in my head for many years until the fairy tale turned sour and I opted for a more uniquely Los Angeles wedding.
Diana’s story is now back in the news against a new backdrop: the fall of gonzo journalist Martin Bashir, the disgrace of the BBC, the daily statements emerging from Buck House and environs by royals looking to place blame everywhere except perhaps where it actually belongs. As a historian and an archaeologist, I place great weight on chronology and reviewed the events leading up to the BBC scandal. Timelines from townandcountrymag.com of both Diana’s life and Charles’ romance with Camilla Parker Bowles tell a different and more sinister story.
If the Martin Bashir/BBC scandal were to be located on one of the ten rings of an archery target, I would certainly locate it a few rings out from the bullseye. And, if Bashir duped Princess Diana in November of 1995, he was neither alone nor was he the first. An earlier biography was published by Andrew Morton in 1992, the same year Charles and Diana separated in August of 1992. However, the collapse of their marriage goes back further, even before its ill-fated beginning. If anyone should be blamed for Princess Diana’s state of mind, it is Prince Charles, who resumed his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles in 1986. Bowles was confronted by Diana as early as 1989. Somewhat later in our chronology, in January 1993, the infamous, cringeworthy, and even creepy tampon tape emerged. In the conversation, Charles can be heard expressing his desire to be Camilla’s tampon in order to be closer to her. The tape was not aired or published in the UK or included in the recent Netflix series the Crown, but it was well known at the time and it became an infamous Saturday Night Live skit in 1993, where Charles is actually depicted as a tampon, speaking to Parker Bowles in a high, squeaky voice. Personally, I prefer the handwritten poems and little surprise gifts I get from my husband to establish a romantic mood.
In 1994, one year before the Bashir/BBC interview, Charles admitted his romance with Bowles in a documentary. Already, Diana has every reason to speak out in public about her marriage. Misogyny in the form of a double standard is already in evidence. And Diana was also strong enough to continue her activism, undertaking her now famous walk through a field of land mines in Angola in January 1997 with full coverage of the worlds’ media. This is hardly the action of a fragile, paranoid, and hysterical woman.
This along with her work with HIV sufferers embodies Diana’s capacity to embody the Greek concept of kleos or glory for great deeds achieved, despite the tragedies of her life. Blaming her emotional state and death on an admittedly shameful practice by Bashir and the BBC, doesn’t begin to examine the treatment she suffered as a result of the actions of her husband.
Saying that Diana’s paranoia and subsequent death was caused by the BBC, sounds like a conspiracy theory on par with the ones perpetrated in the Middle East with the chorus lead by Mohammed al-Fayed that shadowy government figures caused the fatal car crash in Paris. Are we to assume then, that the BBC also caused the death of Dodi al-Fayed, not to mention Henri Paul? Or do they simply not count?
Orientalism and racism become entwined with the Royal family at this time introducing, if not continuing a double standard in the Royal family. Stories appearing in the British press shortly before Dodi and Diana’s death referred to their romance as a match made in Mecca, negatively commenting on Diana’s fascination with Muslim men, including her prior relationship with surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan. The fear that oriental culture will occupy the top row of British elite society is palpable, while people of color saw Diana as a person giving agency to ethnic minorities. Similar tropes and prejudices follow Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle, a woman of colour.
Conspiracy theories, are always popular among those who seek out another explanation when the truth is too painful: the Arabic press promoting the idea that the British government engineered Diana’s death to prevent her from becoming a Middle Eastern trophy wife, beliefs among others that Charles instigated the accident so he could be free to marry Camilla, and now, of course, the idea promoted by Diana’s relatives that Martin Bashir should be blamed for an event that began when Charles failed to end his relationship with Parker Bowles in 1981. Like the proverbial Jew that normally plays the anti-semitic role in most western conspiracy theories (consider the role of Jews in Black Plague pandemics) this is smoke and mirrors for hiding the sad truth: Prince Charles was an emotionally small, weak and petty man who could not stand up to his family in order to marry the woman he actually loved, and who was childishly jealous of the global popularity of the woman he was “forced” to marry, Lady Diana Spencer.
Charles is a man lacking the Greek ideal of arete, that of moral virtue, he is not worthy of the ethics embodied by Queen Elizabeth. Throughout the entire saga is the stoicism of Queen Elizabeth, perhaps the most famous stoic since Marcus Aurielius. It says something about the Queen that it was not until 2000 that she bends to the inevitable, to meet up with Bowles in public and does not attend her civil marriage to Charles in 2005, only appearing at the reception. Such is the Queen’s demeaner in communicating a stoic ethos of duty first, we might wonder about her ability to achieve eudaimonia or happiness, until we realise that it is achieved in her dedication to a life lived in duty and service.
Louise Hitchcock is Professor of Aegean Bronze Age Archaeology in the Classics and Archaeology Program at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of ‘Minoan Architecture: A Contextual Analysis, Theory for Classics, and Aegean Art and Architecture’ (with Donald Preziosi), and is the co-editor of ‘DAIS: The Aegean Feast, Aegaeum 29’ as well as the author of over 80 articles dealing with Aegean archaeology, architecture, and theory. Her current research deals with Aegean, Cypriot, and Philistine connections. The Australian Research Council funded her excavations at the Philistine site of Tell es-Safi/Gath, where she was an area supervisor.