The Commodification of Princess Diana

Today marks the 25th Anniversary of the Death of the late Diana, Princess of Wales! The Earl’s daughter who became the Princess of Wales and one of the most iconic (and tragic) women of the last century, we covered her Top 20 Jewels to mark the 20th Anniversary of her Death in 2017, a few of her other jewels for the 60th Anniversary of her Birth last year, and today, we are commenting on a very poignant issue: The Commodification of Princess Diana!

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The Jewels of Diana, Princess of Wales60 Facts

There is no doubt that from the moment the young Lady Diana Spencer’s relationship was revealed in the press and she had photographers at her door in London to the fatal car crash in Paris, the late Princess was hounded by the press and photographers but there is also no denying the Princess’ own role in that media manipulation, and later how the media has commodified her vulnerability and victimhood.

Lady Diana was a very sheltered 20-year old when she became the Princess of Wales, who immediately became a figure on the world’s stage, getting all the headlines and media attention whenever she stepped out of the door. As the years went on and her marriage began to fail, the Princess used her fashion and charity appearances to create a media narrative around herself, culminating in the infamous Panorama interview in 1995, in which she made public intimate details about her marriage and separation. It has now been revealed that she was deceitfully coerced into giving that interview, following which she became paranoid, ruining her relationships with members of the Royal Family and also giving up her security detail, thus making her the victim of paparazzi attacks and gross invasions of privacy in the last year of her life, though it cannot be denied that the paparazzi were sometimes called by the Princess herself.

While her death was caused by the drunk driver and lack of a seatbelt, as well as the lack of security which she had voluntarily renounced, the Princess’ car crash was the direct result of being chased by the paparazzi cameras through Paris. The media and journalists were the target of public ire in the days directly after her death, when the outpouring of public grief led to a mass hysteria, and quite quickly the media exonerated themselves by shifting the narrative from them onto the lack of public grief from the Queen and Royal Family, who were at Balmoral supporting the late Princess’ devastated sons.

The commodification of Princess Diana’s memory began immediately after her death, when newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair termed her the ‘People’s Princess’, which has now been criticised as a bold and opportunistic phrase:

We know how difficult things were for her from time to time. I am sure we can only guess that. But people everywhere, not just here in Britain, kept faith with Princess Diana. They liked her, they loved her, they regarded her as one of the people. She was the People’s Princess and that is how she will stay, how she will remain in our hearts and our memories for ever.

Blair also later claimed credit for convincing the Queen to return to London, to be publicly seen grieving in the mass outpour of hysteria, a move that many have since credited with marking a key point of transition within the system of the monarchy.

The Princess’ brother, Earl Spencer, took charge over his sister’s legacy, though he had been vilified for reportedly refused to offer her a home on the Althorp Estate (numerous newspapers have had to apologise for that claim). Starting with his eulogy at the funeral, in which he said:

It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this – a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.

The Princess is buried on the Althorp Estate, and though the exact spot remains publicly unknown, a small Island with a temple has become a tourist attraction.  For years, several family Spencer Heirlooms travelled around the world in an exhibition on the late Princess, and in the years since, Althorp has become synonymous with the late Princess, in a way it wasn’t when she was alive. Earl Spencer has also been on the forefront to protect Princess Diana’s memory, leading the calls for the inquiry into the Panorama Interview, while also ruling out conspiracy theories about her death.

Among those who have made careers talking about the late Princess are her former Butler, Paul Burell, Chef Darren McGrady, and former bodyguard, Ken Wharfe, who pop out of the woodwork to give their comments at any mention of her life and legacy, offering their unsolicited opinions and feeling as people who briefly worked for her. They are also the individuals who substantiate all and any claims made in films and documentaries.

While films about the Princess began to be made soon after her wedding, it wasn’t until after the publication of the Andrew Morton book and the airing of the Panorama Interview, coupled with the outpouring of grief and public interest after her death that the Princess began to be a frequent topic of film and television, with a particular focus on the break-up of her marriage, as well as aspects like her eating disorder, the Prince’ relationship with the now Duchess of Cornwall, and the last years of the Princess’ life, when her mental health was in a fragile state. These films from the 1990s to the early 2010s were quite inaccurate portrayals but did not have much of a cultural impact like subsequent portrayals.

For the 20th Anniversary of her Death in 2017, Prince William and Prince Harry commissioned two documentaries: ‘Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy‘ and ‘Diana, 7 Days’, which they intended to draw a line under the circumstances of her life and death, and preserve her legacy, but since then there has been a resurgence in her story with the release of ‘The Crown‘, ‘Diana: The Musical‘, and ‘Spencer‘ in the past few years. The films, coupled with the drama surrounding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, has served to resurrect the victimisation of Princess Diana, will all and sundry offering their opinions and pre-conceived opinions of the Royal Family through the crux of the late Princess Diana. There is a notable parallel which I see in the similar commodification of the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who often reappears in relatively frequent reiterations on our screens.


After the publication of the Dyson Investigation last year, which examined Martin Bashir’s actions that manipulated the Princess into giving the Panorama Interview which had a significant impact on the rest of her life and her legacy, there were calls by the Duke of Cambridge and Earl Spencer that the interview should never be aired again. However, there are certain segments of the media and social media that have twisted their wishes into ‘silencing’ the words of the late Princess, thus dismissing the physiological manipulation of the Princess so they can continue to profit off of her victimhood by justifying her actions. At some point, you have to think who is profiting? and the answer is almost always the media!

While ‘The Crown‘ has, to a degree, offered a slightly more balanced take of the entire saga, though it by far has had the biggest impact, ‘Diana: The Musical‘ and ‘Spencer‘ have been blatant in their commercialisation of the victimhood of the late Princess, showing her as a fragile and unstable individual though exaggeration of her personal life, while stripping away her many accomplishments and the dignity of her legacy. This resurgence in interest has led many people to comment on her life without any depth of research nor understanding, repeating tired tropes and defamatory accusations in an effort to gain more followers. This mischaracterisation leads to undue parallels between the Princess with her sons and daughters-in-law, which the press and figures on social media are keen to exploit. Similarly trends have developed, with people not just copying the style of the late Princess but also particular outfits, usually the ‘revenge dress’, in an effort to emulate a woman who was a victim of many factions in that situation, in an sense glamourising her victimhood.

25 years since the death of possibly the most iconic woman of our era (I was not yet born, but my mother, in her teens, remembers the all encompassing grief that took hold even on the other side of the world), the late Diana, Princess of Wales remains a popular figure in the public imagination. She has been repeatedly depicted on screen, making a cultural commodity out of her vulnerability and victimisation against the express wishes of her family. It is high time to recognise and honour the legacy of the Princess for her accomplishments in charity work and influencing minds towards change for important causes and not the trials of her personal life nor the vulnerability of her person, which popular culture is intent on commodifying for the foreseeable future.

The Jewels of Diana, Princess of Wales60 Facts


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