Coming from almost anyone else, the words would have been unremarkable. But when Diana, Princess of Wales, lectured a London conference in May about the dangers of alcohol and drug addiction, she was breaking new ground. The willowy, blond princess called for compassion and help for addicts, and reminded her audience that “alcohol and drugs do not respect age, sex, class or occupation.” For a woman whose worldwide celebrity has been built on little more than beauty and charm, it was a major pronouncement—and it won her rave reviews. London’s Daily Express called Diana’s speech a “powerful, poised and polished performance,” and added, “It proves once and for all that she is more than just a
pretty face to adorn a magazine cover.”
As she approaches the eighth anniversary of her wedding to Prince Charles on July 29, Diana, 28, is finally beginning to add substance to her role as the Royal Family’s most glamorous member. Until just a few months ago, public interest in the princess was largely confined to her taste in clothes, her two young sons—William and Harry—and endless speculation about the state of her marriage to the heir to the British throne. She displayed no talent for speaking in public, and her advisers made sure that she was rarely called on to do so—and then only to stammer out a few uncontroversial words. But since last fall, the princess has gradually widened her activities. She made a successful solo visit to New York City in
February and has delivered two substantial speeches on the dangers of addiction, divorce and prostitution. Said Nigel Evans, deputy editor of Britain’s monthly Majesty magazine: “It’s a sign of maturity—a sign that she is growing into her role.”
Addiction: Neither of the two speeches— one last October to the children’s aid charity Bamardo’s, the other in May to an addiction foundation called Turning Point—was controversial. But for the first time, say veteran royal-watchers, Diana drew attention because of what she said as well as for simply who she is. In October, she voiced concern over the dangers posed to children by homelessness and prostitution, and two months ago—after coaching in speech techniques by the actor and director Sir Richard Attenborough—she spoke of the problem of addiction and how it can strike any family. “Very often it is in the home that the climate for addiction is created,” she said. Some observers saw in her speech coded references to problems in her own aristocratic family: her parents divorced when she was 7, and her 25-year-old brother, Viscount Althorp, has admitted to experimenting with drugs. Said Bob Houston, editor of Royalty Monthly, another British publication: “She has been tremendously privileged, but her early experience is far broader than that of the Royal Family. She is bringing a fresh perspective to social problems.”
Diana’s new, more assured manner has not come easily. She was thrust into the glare of publicity by her engagement to Charles when she was only 19 and was married just a few weeks after her 20th birthday. She did not share her husband’s taste for rural life and his interest in social issues, and experts on the Royal Family said that their relationship quickly cooled—from fairy-tale romance to a mere arrangement. Royal-watchers generally agreed that the princess had been neither emotionally nor intellectually prepared for her new life. As well, many members of the British media portrayed her as pouty and spoiled, and, for a time, it looked as though she might be eclipsed in popularity by her sister-in-law, the former Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.
Favor: It did not turn out that way. Instead, the duchess ran into months of bad publicity while the self-appointed arbiters of the British tabloid press rehabilitated the princess. They noted with favor that Diana had become one of the hardest working members of the Royal Family. Last year, Diana carried out 248 official engagements, compared with only 153 official events attended by the Duchess of York. And most critics stopped implying that because Charles and Diana frequently spend long periods apart, their marriage was in trouble. Noted Evans: “The marriage has settled down, and both Charles and Diana are actually out there saying things, so there is less need to focus on their relationship.” For the princess, the changes have brought a measure of new respect—and, as well, a more confident royal presence.
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