“I want to be the queen of people’s hearts,” Princess Diana said in a televised interview just two years before her life was tragically ended in a Paris car crash while being pursued by paparazzi.
And that she clearly still is, 20 years after the shocking accident that rocked the world and led to a massive outpouring of grief at the death of the young royal who forever changed the face and the culture of the British monarchy.
At least half a dozen television specials tied to the 20th anniversary of Diana Spencer’s death on Aug. 31, 1997, will air in the next few days. Other networks, including HBO, ABC, CBS and the National Geographic Channel, have already aired specials.
Diana Spencer was just 19 years old when she was catapulted onto the world stage with the announcement of her engagement to Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne. Their fairytale wedding in 1981 was a global television event. Millions rejoiced with the royal couple as they produced two heirs, William and Harry, mostly unaware of the deep rifts within the marriage until it officially imploded more than a decade later. Well before their divorce, which was finalized in 1996, Diana had immeasurably eclipsed Charles in popularity and became a major force in philanthropy and caring for the ill and infirm, including people with AIDS and leprosy. As one of the most chronicled women in the world, she was still finding her place in it when her life abruptly ended at the age of 36.
Here is a look at some of the upcoming programming:
“Diana and the Paparazzi” (Smithsonian Channel, Sunday, Aug. 27, 5 and 9 p.m. PT)
From the very beginning, when she was dating Prince Charles, Diana was constantly hounded by paparazzi, cataloging her every move and fueling the public and media obsession with her. But eventually, she learned to use the limelight to her own advantage, promoting the charitable and humanitarian causes she cared passionately about. The documentary shows how the incessant coverage changed her life and factored into her death.
“Diana never seemed like she was putting on a show. There was an authenticity and accessibility to her that I think made her enormously appealing, even after she’d become perhaps the world’s first mega-celebrity,” said Charles Poe, SVP of production for Smithsonian Channel. “There’s no question she started out hopelessly naïve and ended up with a very sophisticated understanding of how to use the media, even if she could never fully control it. People think the paparazzi stalked her to death, and that may be partly true, but she also knew how to tap the power of the press to promote causes she believed in and to punish her husband — for example, the famous ‘kiss that missed.’”
“Diana: The Day We Said Goodbye” (Smithsonian Channel, Sunday, Aug. 27, 6 and 10 p.m. PT)
Diana’s state funeral a week after her death, viewed by more than 2 billion people worldwide, can only be compared to that of slain president John F. Kennedy. Narrated by Kate Winslet, the program features the reminiscences of guardsmen, reporters, pallbearers and other mourners, some speaking publicly about the day for the first time.
“What surprised me most about ‘The Day We Said Goodbye’ is how much pressure people felt to live up to this woman the whole world had fallen in love with. We think of Britain as a place with a stiff upper lip, a keep-calm-and-carry-on vibe,” said Smithsonian Channel’s Poe. “Diana’s loss cracked that facade on every level of society, all the way up to the Queen, who resisted initially but ended up having to bow to the ‘People’s Princess.’”
The special also reveals how one of the funeral’s iconic moments, Elton John singing “Goodbye England’s Rose,” almost didn’t happen because Westminster Abbey officials objected to the lyrics of the original song it’s based upon, “Candle in the Wind.”
“Diana — Her Story” (streaming on PBS.org and PBS app)
This hour-long documentary encapsulates the notable moments in Diana’s life as viewed through the larger historical backdrop of what was going on in Great Britain. including economic hardship and street rioting in 1981, the Falklands War in 1982 and Queen Elizabeth’s “annus horribilis” in 1992, the year of Diana’s announced separation from Prince Charles. It features insightful interviews with confidants of the princess, including her adult ballet teacher, her key bodyguard, a trusted longtime male friend and her private secretary.
The nuanced portrait of Diana that emerges is one of a woman who overcame her personal traumas, which included bulimia and depression, and transformed herself into becoming nearly more powerful — and ultimately more popular — than the monarchy itself.
“CNN Special Report: Chasing Diana” (CNN, Sunday, Aug. 27, 6 and 9 p.m. PT)
No advance information was available at presstime, except this listing blurb: Twenty years ago, Princess Diana was killed in a tragic accident in Paris; it is a story told by those closest to her; revealing intimate details of the last days of Diana’s life, as well as the moments that made the princess.
“Princess Diana: Tragedy or Treason?” (TLC, Friday, Sept. 1, 6 p.m. PT)
Biographer Andrew Morton, whose book “Diana: Her True Story” was a massive blockbuster when it was released in 1992, reflects on her life, death and enduring legacy from his vantage point as one of the people she trusted most. (Her involvement in his book was kept secret, and it was rereleased after her death with additional material as “Diana: Her True Story — In Her Own Words.”)
A title card says, “The program contains dramatizations and actor voice portrayals of moments in the life of Princess Diana.” The special looks at the many conspiracy theories surrounding her death, which have been debunked through multiple investigations — although people still hold fast to their ideas of what really happened. According to Morton, that’s because of how she was treated by the royal family when she was alive.
“Diana, 7 Days” (NBC, Friday, Sept. 1, 8 p.m. PT)
The two-hour program, produced by the BBC, documents the week following Diana’s tragic death and includes interviews with her sons, Princes William and Harry, who were 15 and 12 years old at the time. The two royals discuss their first reactions upon hearing the horrible news and the extraordinary outpouring of public grief. They talk about greeting huge crowds of her admirers and their memories of the funeral as well as their recollections of the happy times they enjoyed with her.
“Part of the reason why Harry and I want to do this is because we feel we owe it to her,” Prince William says in the special. “I think an element of it is feeling like we let her down when we were younger. We couldn’t protect her. We feel we at least owe her 20 years on to stand up for her name and remind everybody of the character and person that she was. Do our duties as sons in protecting her.”