Politics & Policy

Desperate Di

NBC runs their own housewife for sweeps.

It was, as they say, déjà vu all over again. Princess Diana on primetime NBC during sweeps month, giggling, rolling her eyes, fluffing her hair, and giving it, in spades, to the British royal family.

Yes, she ’s ba-a-ack, “to tell us, once again, what we already know: that Charles, prince of Wales, is “odd, very odd.” That they had only met 13 times before their wedding spectacular. And that their sex life was, shall we say, devoid of central heating. “It was there and then it fizzled out.” And even at the best of times only “Once every three weeks about….” And why was that? “It followed a pattern. He used to see his lady once every three weeks before we got married.”

In case there is anyone on the planet who doesn’t know who “the lady” in question was–and is–she’s Camilla Parker Bowles, Charles’s longtime girlfriend, a buxom, toothy, hard-smoking, hard-drinking, horseback-riding, now-divorced aristocrat. Not a bit like the perfectly groomed and toned, always politically correct Diana. And when Diana suggested that maybe Camilla being around might not be so great for what most of the world’s media was then picturing as a fairy-tale marriage, “He said, ‘I refuse to be the only prince of Wales who never had a mistress.’”

What a louse! Thank you, Diana, for telling us about that juicy little interchange. Thank you, as they just might say in group therapy, for sharing.

But who was Diana telling all these intimate details of her private life? Her psychiatrist whose professional ethics would assure that what she said would never be revealed? Her most discreet best friend? Not exactly.

She was spilling it to Peter Settelen, a guy she had met only once before. In 1992 Diana, her marriage over, was trying to create a new public role for herself as a spokeswoman for the causes that interested her, and so wanted to improve her public speaking. Her fitness trainer recommended Settelen, an ex-actor, who ,when he couldn’t get parts, started a business as a voice coach.

Settelen , after meeting the princess, who he describes as a frightened women, shell-shocked by her bad marriage, decided he would do Henry Higgins one better. He wouldn’t just help Diana improve her speaking style, he would help her change her life. He told Ann Curry of NBC’s Dateline that at their first meeting he handed this pop psychology line to the princess. “Look, I want to bring a camera…and we will do your story…and then you can watch. Because it does show you who you are…and you then see it, it reaffirms, ‘Yes, that is me, it’s okay to be me.’”

And she fell for it. The best-known woman in the world was prepared to tell her most intimate secrets to a virtual stranger. One might say: Odd, very odd.

Settelen made 20 tapes that disappeared after Diana’s death but were discovered four years ago in the loft of her former butler Paul Burrell, another of Diana’s well-chosen intimates who cashed in on their relationship. The voice coach fought a bitter legal battle with Diana’s family for the return of the tapes. They were finally handed back to him in September.

Even though NBC won’t say what they paid for the portion of the videotapes they showed on Monday (more of the tapes will be shown next week) it is reported they have anted up more than a million dollars for Diana to tell us once again that she never felt loved, and that Queen Elizabeth, “the Top Lady,” was no help when she went to her for advice about her failing marriage. According to Diana, spewing out another zinger, even his mother said: “Charles is hopeless.” Next week we’ll hear about Diana ’s bodyguard lover who was “the greatest fella I’ve ever had,” and her belief he was “bumped off.”

Oh, Diana! For the media, even seven years after her death, she is the gift that won’t stop giving. Even without these tapes–they have not been shown in England–the British tabloids manage to cobble together a Diana headline almost daily, whether it’s reminiscence, a denial, or a new scandal. Currently the tabloids are debating whether or not she once had an abortion.

In her way, Diana, more than anyone else, helped create today’s photo-intense, emotion-focused media, worldwide. There were always pictures of her available, endless pictures of her in wonderful clothes. More photogenic than really beautiful, she even looked good, with her eyes heavily made up, on Settelen’s amateur video.

The media recognized she was always a great, ever-changing , increasingly juicy story. Diana played many roles for the public, especially for women who were so fascinated by her. She was, at first, the old-fashioned virginal bride, then the adoring mother, followed by the wronged wife, the little girl looking for love, the contemporary divorcee trying to reinvent herself, and, finally, the tragic victim of a senseless accident.

Just like the narrator on ABC’s Desperate Housewives she is now back from the grave to tell the truth. Come to think of it, Diana was the original Desperate Housewife. And I’m sure NBC is hoping for the same kind of ratings.

Myrna BlythMyrna Blyth is senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media. She is the former editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal. She was the founding editor and ...


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