25 years on - how Princess Diana's story echoes in the experiences of Meghan and Harry

August 12, 2022 9:27 am

Oscar-nominated film-maker Ed Perkins uses archival footage to revisit the story of Princess Diana 25 years on.[Source: NZ Herald]

Princess Diana is the subject of a new documentary that revisits the story of the Royal so infamously hounded by the media.

Using only existing footage for The Princess, director Ed Perkins pieces together a powerful montage showing the uncomfortable relationship between the media, the public and this storied family.

Speaking to the Front Page podcast, Perkins says the point here was not to just lay the blame at the foot of the media – but to show how we are all complicit in this messy ecosystem.

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“Over decades, almost subconsciously, most of us have turned her story into a national sitcom or soap opera for our own entertainment,” says Perkins.

“I’m trying, in this film, to get at that complex relationship. It’s not about throwing out blame. It’s about being honest about our own role and our own complicity and offering up a big question: we want the fairytale, but at what cost?”

Perkins says the conversation is nuanced and complicated and demands a level of introspection from all those observing.

“If I’m pointing the finger at anyone, it’s first and foremost, at me as a consumer of media today,” says Perkins.

“Diana was not perfect. She was flawed and fallible, like all of us. And she had an interdependent relationship with the press. That is undeniable … But I also think we need to be honest with ourselves and our role in the story.

“In some ways, the Diana story can be seen as an origin story, if you will, for the things playing out today. This applies to stories happening within the Royal family, but also more widely in celebrity culture and the way that we still continue to turn these stories into entertainment. I just think there’s a price to pay for that.”

The most obvious recent Royal example of this would be in the countless column inches and online stories dedicated to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex Harry and Meghan.

As if they were the modern-day Montagues and Capulets, the narratives are fiercely divided between those who support one side or the other.

And like Diana, they too have an interdependent relationship with the media sometimes being treated simply as subjects of salacious stories and other times engaging with the likes of Oprah Winfrey for a blockbuster interview.

“[Harry] has himself spoken about the fear of history repeating,” says Perkins.

“Turning these stories into a form of entertainment for public consumption comes at a cost and it comes with risk. And I think Diana’s story shows that that cost is extraordinarily high. And we all have a responsibility just to be honest about that.”

During the production process for his film, Perkins says he couldn’t help but see the similarities between the two narratives separated by a quarter of a century.

“When we started making this film at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, it was around the time that Harry and Meghan were leaving the UK and moving to the US. It really struck all of us that were making the film, that there was a similarity in that this seemed to be the only thing most people in the UK wanted to talk about for days and weeks.

“It caused enormous rifts. People took very strong and polarised positions. They took sides. There were huge arguments in the press, on TV and within families. And it reminded me very much of a similar discussion that was happening all throughout Diana’s adult life.”

Asked whether he thought the Royal family had learned everything from the tragedy of Diana’s death, Perkins pauses for a moment before recalling an interview in which the Princess of Wales said she hopes the Royal family would walk more hand in hand with the public rather than be so distant.

Looking at the recent Jubilee celebrations, which included a giant concert in front of Buckingham Palace, Perkins says there does seem to be a conscious effort to bridge that gap at a time when the relevance of the Royal family is being questioned.

“I don’t know if that’s a direct consequence of the impact that Diana had on the Royal family, but it all seems to touch on the thing Diana was talking about. And people at the heart of the Royal family now, in particular William, who has more influence the older he gets, is a product of that upbringing.”

Perkins says that Diana placed emphasis on exposing William to as many people as possible, taking him to charities and hospices when he was young.

“I think it’s inevitable that some of those qualities are in both Harry and William and therefore, particularly in the case of William, will impact the way the Monarchy moves forward.”

The Princess is in cinemas now.