Diana Spencer lived only 36 years, with just 17 of them in the public eye.
But her intriguing, ironic story -- the girl whose dream of marrying a prince became a nightmare, the dazzling princess with endless luxury but little happiness -- made the public interest white-hot, the scrutiny microscopic and endless.
Even her death in a Paris tunnel 10 years ago next month did little to reduce the fascination with Diana's transformation from naive youth to global superstar.
In her new book, "The Diana Chronicles," writer and editor Tina Brown devotes 482 pages to a critical retelling of Diana's story and another 34 pages of tiny type to footnotes outlining her thorough research, ranging from dozens of interviews -- some reported here for the first time -- to letters and diaries, as well as every book ever written on the princess.
The shocking revelations of the troubled inner world behind Diana's fairy tale began while she was still alive. The bombshell was the publication of Andrew Morton's "Diana: Her True Story" in 1992, on its face unauthorized but actually written with Diana's assistance. This unprecedented tell-all by a royal and the revelations of her desperate attempts to cope with an indifferent husband's fixation on his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, shook the monarchy to its core. But who was this young, inexperienced, undereducated girl who won the hearts of the people with her golden beauty and kept them when the public realized she was just grist in the royal family's dynasty-breeding mill?
Brown met Diana in July 1997, shortly before her death, and writes:
...Celebrity itself had transformed Diana's appearance. . . . The tall, soft-cheeked English rose I first met at the American embassy in 1981, when she was a new bride, had become as phosphorescent as a cartoon. Striding in three-inch heels . . . she towered like Barbarella. Her Chanel suit was a sharp, animated green, her tan as flawless as if it had been airbrushed on. The gently flushed skin of her face wasn't just peachy; it was softer than a child's velveteen rabbit.
It's too bad that Brown met her biography subject only twice. While Brown certainly had her hands full with her meteoric rise from Britain's Tatler magazine to top spots overhauling first Vanity Fair and later The New Yorker, she might have been a good companion for the young Diana, whose prince turned out to be a remote, tradition-bound fogey.
Although gifted with an incisive emotional intelligence with an edge formed when her mother left the family and her father remarried, Diana was poorly educated. All Diana was prepared for was to marry well, but for that she was perfectly groomed.
In thundering proof that one must be careful what one wishes for, Diana set her sights on the Prince of Wales, the most eligible bachelor in Britain.
With the Queen Mother's approval because Diana had, as they say, "a history but no past," Diana cozied up to Charles by pretending to enjoy country life. She even won the approval of Parker Bowles, who considered her dopey and malleable. But after the exuberant wedding, Diana found herself bored to tears by the walking, hunting, riding and polo-watching she had forced herself to bear before marriage.
The entire family's annual vacations at Balmoral in Scotland were weeks of enforced tedium for the princess. She retreated into bulimia.
Body abuse was second nature for the women in Diana's life -- like writing thank-you letters. Bulimia in a way is the polite girls' hunger strike. First you please your host by eating with gusto, then you purge your sin by sneaking off and throwing up.
Diana was soon pregnant, and the couple began to clash. Brown writes of "an almighty row" in which a window, a mirror and an antique chair were damaged, and a second battle in which Diana, trying to stop Charles from going hunting, fell down some stairs. Brown writes, "Eleven years later, she told Andrew Morton that she threw herself down a staircase afterward in a suicide attempt, but this was just material from her internal postmarital rewrite desk. The last thing she would have ever done was hurt her unborn child."
In desperation, Diana also slashed her skin, although her choice of a lemon slicer prompted "a relation to the prince" to quip, "How do you kill yourself with a lemon slicer? Do you peel yourself to death?" "Very funny," writes Brown. "Except it wasn't."
In their public appearances, Brown writes, Charles found himself uncharacteristically out of the spotlight. Rather than enjoy his charismatic wife's success, he was jealous.
Diana's strengths did not act as a foil to his. Instead, they served to spotlight his shortcomings. It was as if for the first time in his life the Prince's own lack of naturalness, spontaneity, and feelings were suddenly laid bare.
As the years ground on, Diana began to find consolation in the arms of others, as Charles had. Brown counts three affairs while she was married and living with the prince, three more during their separation.
Her first lover, Brown writes, was probably Barry Mannakee, her bodyguard from 1985 until he was rapidly moved in 1986 after the two were "allegedly discovered in a compromising position." He later died when a teenage driver turned her car in front of his motorcycle.
The key affair, though, is that with James Hewitt, Diana's riding instructor. The red-haired Hewitt happens to look almost exactly like her second son, Harry. Brown writes that although Hewitt initially said they began their relationship in 1986, two years after Harry's birth, speculation rages that Harry was Hewitt's child. Brown writes, "In photographs taken at his eighteenth birthday in 2002, Harry does uncannily resemble Diana's lover at the same age -- 'like peas in a pod,' says the veteran royal reporter Harry Arnold." Later, Hewitt says their affair began before Harry's birth, and a witness supports that. Then, Brown writes, "Whatever is the truth, there is no question either that Charles adores his brave, reckless, roistering second son, and vice versa."
Charles and Diana were divorced on July 15, 1996. The wedding gifts were thrown on a bonfire; Diana used a hammer to smash her Prince of Wales china. She pared her staff, restricted her charities to the six she cared most about, and edited her social list to remove sycophants. She devoted herself to meeting and comforting the old and young, the sick and the poor, charming the world with her incandescent, genuine concern.
In 1995, she fell in love with a 36-year-old Pakistani heart surgeon, Dr. Hasnat Khan, whom she called "the One." But Khan was uneasy with public scrutiny. After he faded from the scene, with Diana at loose ends and her sons at Balmoral with the royal family, she accepted an invitation from Mohamed Al Fayed to vacation on his yacht. Al Fayed, keen to ingratiate himself with royalty, summoned his son Dodi -- at the time engaged to a model -- to join Diana.
Dodi, whom Brown calls an "Egyptian lounge lizard," filled the void in her emotional and romantic life.
On the night of Aug. 31, the couple senselessly ricocheted around Paris with the frenzied paparazzi in pursuit.
Brown writes that Diana, who believed the Al Fayed billions could offer protection, "... died because four men in Al Fayed's empire weren't looking after her: Dodi, whose plans were as chaotic as he was; Al Fayed, who approved his son's cockamamie notion of using the Ritz's acting head of security, Henri Paul, to drive them instead of a qualified chauffeur; Henri Paul himself, who was found to be concealing a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit, and bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones, who for whatever reason did not ensure that his vulnerable charge was buckled into a seat belt."
Only Rees-Jones, who did fasten his seat belt, survived the grinding crash.
Ten years later, Diana's rival has married the prince. Her sons, now young men, sponsored a concert last weekend in her memory that united her love of music and dance with her devotion to charity. But what remains fresh for many is the memory of the day she died, when all of Britain and much of the world united in grief.
>Some Princess Diana Web sites to peruse
The British Royal Family's official Web site mentions both the Concert for Diana and the Memorial Service planned for Aug. 31 to mark the 10-year anniversary of her death. It also provides a link to the inquest into the crash that took her life, her biography, the Queen's message on her death, and information about her funeral.
This fan-operated site offers photo galleries, polls, forums, an international condolence book, a photo of the day, a biography, games related to Diana and links to many documents.
www.CNN.com/SPECIALS/199 8/0 8/diana/
This CNN site explores Diana's life and death in depth. It offers a biography, information about the crash that claimed her life, a tour of her family home, photos, photo essays, stories about her life, and links to CNN stories, as well as a poll and message boards.
The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund was established after her death with memorial contributions to assist organizations and causes she supported.
The Diana Chronicles
542 pages, $27.50