Diana: The Last Year

Diana: The Last Year

by Donald Spoto


View All Available Formats & Editions


Critically acclaimed, best-selling biographer Donald Spoto recounts all the pain, promise, and joy of the last year in the tragically short life of Diana, Princess of Wales.

For those of us who loved and admired her, Diana's final year was in many ways the most fascinating and insightful of her life. It was a turbulent, amazing period in which she formally severed her marriage ties to the heir to the British throne, fell passionately in love with Dodi al-Fayed, and truly began to come into her own after years of personal adversity.
In Diana: The Last Year, Donald Spoto allows us to finally understand the complete story of this woman in conflict. Diana was driven by a philanthropic desire to relieve suffering and change the world, but she was also determined to make up for a youth that was taken from her, at the age of nineteen, when she became the wife of the future king of England. In Donald Spoto's elegant and richly satisfying book, Diana's last year is set before us in all of its triumph and glory.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375402579
Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/11/1997
Product dimensions: 4.43(w) x 7.04(h) x 0.82(d)

About the Author

Donald Spoto is the author of fifteen books, among them the biographies of lngrid Bergman, Laurence Olivier, and Alfred Hitchcock. His The Decline and Fall of the House of Windsor is a history of the Royal Family from Victoria to Diana.

Read an Excerpt

It would take the pity of God to get to the bottom of things.
-Enid Bagnold, The Chalk Garden

September 1996

With their divorce final by the end of August 1996, Charles and Diana were free to pursue their own lives and intimacies more openly, whereas before they had to exercise caution.

Even if he had been inclined to indifference about his own publicity, the newspaper reports of September 1 would have startled the Prince. A national survey reported that 54 percent of Britons said Charles must abdicate his claim to the throne if he were to marry Camilla Parker Bowles; 77 percent believed Charles lacked sufficient public respect to be an efficient king; and 79 percent said flatly they would not accept Camilla as his queen. Contrariwise, people were overwhelmingly sympathetic to Diana, who had been mistreated by the Windsor clan from day one and was now legally separated from them. But to his great surprise, Charles was enthusiastically mobbed by cheering crowds in Germany. After speaking at a summer engineering institute about the links between ecology and architecture, Charles stood on a balcony and waved to the smiling students below. "He's in very good spirits," one of his staff told the German press. "He goes down very well in Germany, but we certainly didn't expect this."

As summer turned to Autumn, Diana kept a low profile. She canceled a portion of a hectic speaking schedule drawn up for the season, preferring instead to have quiet evenings with a few friends and to bring her boys from school to Kensington Place for weekends of movies and picnics. But she was not isolated from the pain of others. At precisely this time,Diana began the habit of frequently slipping out of Kennsington Palace late at night and arriving unannounced a few minutes later at the Brompton Hospital. There in the deepest quiet of the night, she astonished the nurses by asking them to bring her to the loneliest and sickest patients, who must often have thought they were hallucinating when they opened their eyes to see the Princess of Wales sitting quietly at the bedside. Adele McCaffrey, who was among the staff there, recalled the many visits Diana made without fanfare.

This sort of thing simply was not done by members of the Royal Family, who always appeared according to carefully orchestrated and scripted panoply. Diana was turning up not only at ballets and school openings but also, unheralded, in AIDS wards and cancer clinics, where she hugged babies and embraced adults.

And to her rounds she brought a refreshing sense of humor. Jonathan Grimshaw, at the Terrence Higgins Trust, recalled Diana's lack of royal protocol. Approaching the door of an AIDS hospice via the pebbled driveway, she had caught an annoying stone in her shoe. "The first thing she did inside," said Grimshaw, "was to pull the stone out of her shoe, hand it over with a smile and say, 'I think this belongs to you.' We had been terribly nervous, but she broke the ice immediately."

Her friends now were not the old landed gentry or the titled, mustached bores she knew as a child. She was drawing near to all those in need. "Nothing gives me greater joy than to try to help the most vulnerable members of society," she said a few days before her death. "It's my one real goal in life--like a destiny. Whoever is in distress and calls me--I'll run at once, wherever they may be."

It would be easy, in these mean spirited times, to cast a critical, suspicious eye on activities and words like these, especially from a beautiful and desirable woman who lived in a cocooned world of luxury and abundance, who constructed a social world entirely according to her own tastes and who never knew any material deprivation. However, cynicism is out of order precisely because, since 1993, most of her attention went into direct contact with the people benefiting from her favorite charities--not merely board meetings, dinners and fashion shows--and because she troubled herself to visit the most unfortunate and shunned members of the modern world, wherever they may be.

Diana went, especially in the latter part of her life, where very few people wanted to go. It may be fashionable to loan one's name to a respectable charity dinner, but it was quite another matter to embrace African babies covered with AIDS wounds and Indian patients with leprous sores; to cradle children with terminal cancer and then to maintain contact with their grieving parents; to send handwritten notes to families shattered by sorrow at home and afar; to condemn openly the senseless border wars defended by politicians as "matters too complicated for the Princess to understand." Such an enormous and impressive network of concerns places her on the level of a real missionary, not the doyenne of paper foundations.

As for her fame, she was ruthlessly on target: "Always being in the public eye gives me a special responsibility--specifically, to use photo opportunities to send a message, to sensitize the world to an important cause or to defend certain values. People ask if I am an ambassador or a minister without portfolio. I prefer to define my role as that of a messenger."

If Diana was serving only the cause of her own publicity, she chose a remarkably ineffective means to achieve that. She knew only too well that real sacrifice, translating good intentions into hard work, is often maligned for the simple reason that people are made uncomfortable by being challenged. Not everyone has the time, the forum, the strength or the gift to devote to such extravagant good works, but everyone has the opportunity and the mandate to do something: that was what she wanted to communicate. Fund-raising dinners and charity fashion shows were fine as far as they went, but they did not go nearly far enough for her.

There were perhaps two main, ardent desires motivating Diana: she wanted a glamorous and exciting life, but she also wished to transcend it by a deeper commitment to causes and things that really matter. Here she is, photographed with Gianni Versace at his autumn fashion show; and there she is, filmed with Mother Teresa in one of the poorest sections of New York. Diana is the link between those two worlds--between merely temporal values and the eternal concerns. She had one beautifully attired foot in the world of glamour (the glitter that mirrors self-love) and the other sensibly shod foot firmly planted in the world of unconditional compassion (which reflects divine love). When she died, she was working out the perennial battle for ascendancy that wages every soul.

Real goodness of spirit, for perhaps every human being, lies not in achieving what the medieval mystics called heroic sanctity; it lies in acknowledging that there is always conflict, that one is always doing spiritual battle. The recognition that this is so--that one is always at work, never fully achieved--takes courage, one of many admirable qualities Diana possessed in abundance.

This is why it is foolish to ask whether she performed good deeds out of undiluted altruism or for her own emotional benefit--as if anyone could ever act from entirely pure motives. " Only God is love right through", as Thomas Moore famously said. The rest of us do what we can with our mixed reasons, trying, when we can, to bend selfishness into benevolence.

By September 1996, Diana's charity work had become a genuinely spiritual endeavor, as if by attending the fear and pain others endured she could deal more bravely with her own. You could say she was doing the royals one better, for it was in her role as the Princess of Wales that the family first moved her into the stream of their official good works. Little did they imagine how she would take to the tasks, affecting for good the institution that had rejected her, which was, ironically, the institution to whose fealty her sons were destined.

"You might say of her," commented the respected Daily Telegraph columnist Lord Deeds during the last year of Diana's life, "that she lost a husband and a position and is looking for a serious role. She remains in my mind, extremely important because she is a very big influence in the life of Prince William, about whom she thinks a great deal, of whom she's very proud, and of whom she wants to make something very worthwhile. She wants to set an example to her sons--her older son in particular--which may produce a more sympathetic person. I think compassion is what she's trying to bring to her son's life." Diana did not, she made clear before and behind the scenes, wish William and Harry raised in the same frigid and authoritarian tradition that had bled so much of the humanity from their father's family. Several hundred years ago, civil war might have attended her style, let alone her late substance.

One striking example of Diana's empathy was evident that September when she attended the funeral of a student she had met at the Brompton Hospital--Twenty-seven year old named Yannis Kaliviotis, who had suffered from cystic fibrosis and was brought home to Greece for burial. Diana traveled with her friend Suzy Kassem (also a hospital visitor) to the island of Evia, where she was deeply moved by the devotion of the boy's family, for they would not allow the international press access to the church, nor would they permit photographs of them with there famous visitor.

She was grateful for what she learned about true religious dedication, Diana told Hillary Rodham Clinton at a White House breakfast that same month, within days of the Greek sojourn. Diana had agreed to attend a fund-raiser for breast cancer research, and she would not let exhaustion and a patch of the blues prevent her. "From where I sit," Diana said in her remarks at the dinner that evening, "I sense that the real fight against breast cancer has just begun. That is why I was so happy to accept this invitation from Kay (Graham) to share this evening with you." She then read a short verse that had special meaning for her--and, she said she believed, it might have equal meaning for everyone who comes to a fork in the road of life:

Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand in stone:
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in your own.

To find something like her equivalent in the English Royal Family, we have to go back to another Princess of Wales--Alexandria, who later became Queen when her husband was King Edward VII, from 1901 to 1910. "Alix," as she was affectionately called (the "Di" of her day), was a Danish princess who was brought to England to marry Queen Victoria's son. Beautiful and stately despite deafness and lameness, she was entirely devoted to her children and attended the wounded of the world right up to her death in 1925--an event that brought historic numbers of mourners to the streets of London when she was buried on a bitterly cold autumn day. It was Alexandra who brought the Royal Family into the twentieth century.

Diana revived the effort. But because she took advantage of all the modern means and exploited her beauty and fame to do so, the Royal Family deeply resented her, for Diana revealed to the Windsors and their courtiers their hopeless incompetence in dealing with the world and their spiritual inadequacy in communicating either example or a living tradition. To put the matter briefly, she bridged the wide gaps of a system more estranged from ordinary people than any institution since the court of Louis XVI.

But for all her good works, stern criticism was close at hand--as it happened, from no less a person than the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had married her to the prince fifteen years earlier. Lord Runcie's authorized biography, published that same September, indicated that the primate of England knew the marriage had been arranged, but that he believed she would fare well with some encouragement. By the early 1990s, according to the Archbishop, Charles had all but given up his faith in the Church of England and its doctrines--a singularly inauspicious development, Runcie believed, in light of the fact that Diana was so ignorant of religion and yet was trying to learn a thing or two. She was, felt the Archbishop, an actress and a schemer. This assessment, as he might have predicted, did nothing to warm Diana's relations with Christian clergymen.

On her return to London from Washington before the month's end, Diana may have been amused when the newspapers reported a kind of Royal Family summit at Balmoral in September. A committee (committee!)--consisting of the Queen, Prince Philip, their four children and various court officials--gathered to examine the future of the monarchy. This they did by planning public engagements for the next two years; arguing about a streamlining of the Changing of the Guard ceremony; and considering the pace at which Charles might introduce Camilla into royal social circles. If this accounting accurately reflects the Windsor's agenda, it serves to illuminate how out of touch the family is with the concerns and needs of their subjects and with the country's ongoing love affair with the beautiful and popular Diana.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Diana the Last Year 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hello. Overall I thought that this book was pretty good, but not one that I would recommend too many people to read. It was about Princess Diana and her life. She did some amazing things like holding babies that had bad diseases and no one else would touch. She also met Mother Teresa in New York City. She would hold many fundraisers for certain things such as breast cancer. In 1996, Diana was divorced to Prince Charles. The royal family didn't like her because she was very outgoing and open to the "common" people. They thought that she was exploiding her beauty and fame. Diana said a few days before she died that her one real goal in life was to help all those in need. I gave this book 3 stars because it was almost like any other biography that you would read. It skipped around lots and kind of confused me in some parts. There were some good parts that talked about what she did on her own time, but thats about all that I really enjoyed. I suggest that somebody who may really love reading biographies to read this because it is very informal, but because I am not much of a biography reader, I didn't like it as much as I really thought that I would. Thanks.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Same old stories -- nothing new here. Not just about the last year but more about her whole life -- common knowledge.