Is there room for Diana-mania in the 21st century? So much has been written and said already about Diana, the Princess of Wales. After several movies, books, documentaries and thousands of tabloid scoops through the 1980s and 1990s, you would think there would be a Diana-fatigue by now. Is anything new even possible? Apparently, yes. She has now gotten a millennial makeover and has gained a huge following among Gen Z and the distinctly millennial – largely because of the Netflix series The Crown, starring Emma Corrin.
There are several Instagram accounts dedicated to her, shirts with her visage and popular quotes. In fact, in 2016, Diana was voted as the most iconic woman of all time. More than 23 years after her death, the obsession surrounding the tragic royal figure continues on.
The Crown, created by a self-confessed former anti-monarchist, pulls no punches. And voila, another generation of Diana-lovers and Charles-haters are born in the social media era. Her struggles with an eating disorder, the debilitating anxiety of a failing marriage, the pressures of perfection, and dealing with a judgemental mother-in-law at home and predatory paparazzi outside – are all too relatable. The Diana story hasn’t aged at all. There is nothing time-specific about her life, it turns out.
Open Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — Diana lives in the social media age again. As does the obsession with her.
Diana was the original ‘Gone Girl’
The Netflix series is not really a point of inception in this enduring legacy of Diana. In a sense, the princess never really left popular imagination, always hovering at the edges. Several movies, books and even documentaries by her sons have ensured that Diana continues to be a recognisable face in media.
But Adam White, the culture reporter for The Independent, touched upon why Diana may have a renewed significance for today’s generation when he noted how millennials are drawn to Diana’s “proto-Gone Girl” image.
Gillian Flynn’s best-selling book Gone Girl is a rather defining piece of literature from the past decade. It marked a categorical shift in how toxic relationships, and the role of women in them, are viewed. Within this frame, it is easy to understand Diana’s appeal. She was stuck in a stifling and very public relationship for the longest time. But the big takeaway for ‘audiences’ is that she managed to get out of it (getting a divorce in the British royal family is no easy feat), and was very vocal about her struggles within the royal family.
Everyone loves a good story about striving against all odds and emerging victorious, and Diana offered one. “She was the wronged woman who flourished, outsmarting the powerful figures who thought they knew better, and looking incredible while doing so,” writes White.
Diana also continues to be an ideal icon for a somewhat superficial strain of liberal feminism. Her infamous interview with the BBC in 1995, in which she revealed that her husband Prince Charles had a long-term affair with his now-wife Camilla Parker-Bowles, and also admitted her own affair with a military officer, was seen as an act of rebellion. And it is perhaps this rebellious nature that most resonates with millennials and Gen Z.
“More outspoken in the workplace, and more independent, millennial women are comfortable with the corporate feminism of late capitalism. Through our social media feeds, Diana has become a symbol of this fresh confidence, a #girlboss of our own making,” writes Eleanor Peake. We get it, and we especially get the ‘Revenge Dress’.
A fashion legacy
Diana’s most enduring legacy, however, has been her sense of fashion. Many still follow her as a style icon, and magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair often carry articles on recreating her style.
Her street style has been particularly evocative. One of her outfits — an oversized Harvard University sweatshirt paired with cycling shorts — definitely preempted the baggy chic style that has become quite characteristic in the past few years. In 2019, supermodel Hailey Bieber also did a photoshoot inspired by the princess’ casual street style. Here was a royal you still can copy.
Diana’s fashion choices created some lasting trends as well. Several people say that she actually invented the concept of the ‘revenge dress’. In 1994, she stepped out in an amazing black off-shoulder dress, the same night Prince Charles revealed for the first time that he had cheated on his wife in a TV interview. Talk about stealing the limelight.
However, perhaps what really draws people to Diana, generation after generation, is the lost potential. If Diana were around today, it would be quite easy to imagine her acing the Instagram game, heading fashionable charities, being woke and spreading awareness about today’s mental health epidemic, being friends with the latest ‘it’ celebrities, and also forcing British people to stay home and wear masks during Covid (since no one has really managed that). She probably would have been a staunch supporter of Meghan Markle during the latter’s ordeal with British tabloid and the Royal family, having a lot of experience in the area. One Twitter user joked that if she were alive, she would have been one of the few lucky celebrities to have received goodies from Beyonce’s latest collaboration with Adidas — images of which have been flooding Instagram.
If Princess Diana was still alive I think Beyoncé would’ve sent her the Ivy Park collection
— OnlyZans🇯🇲 (@OnlyZans) November 16, 2020
It’s also interesting that it was in 2020 that such a resurgence of the Diana obsession took place. Journalists and hosts of the podcast ‘You’re Wrong About’, Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall, in a five-episode series on the life, marriage, and death of Princess Diana, talked about how in 2020 people are constantly looking for things that are inconsequential in the larger scheme of things, since this year has been about nothing but serious consequences.
And there is nothing like indulging in some 30-year-old royal gossip about a charismatic real-life princess and conspiracy theories as a coping mechanism against our pandemic-induced anxiety.
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