Princess Diana: Has the pop culture obsession gone too far?

We have long known that Princess Diana’s life was not the fairy tale she was originally conceived in – but like a fairy tale, her story has been told and retold countless times.

And when a story has been told over and over again, there are inevitably discrepancies: reversed details, lumped characters, blurred lines. But deep down, the bones of the story will remain the same.

Even 25 years after her death, popular culture has an unquenchable thirst to understand Princess Diana. But how many times can a story be re-examined, re-tweaked and reframed before the truth disappears beneath its narratives?

Last year alone saw the release of Pablo Larrain’s critically acclaimed biopic, spencer, the much maligned Diana: the musicala six-part CNN docuseries and now (another) new documentary, Princess.

From the moment Diana Spencer burst onto the world stage as the potential next Queen of England, we’ve told stories about her, ranging from royalist propaganda to wild speculation to unapologetic voyeurism. She has been portrayed as an establishment challenger, doomed heroine, rebel, fashion icon and the ultimate tragic beauty, lost too soon.

There are the seemingly endless made-for-television movies (Charles and Diana: Unfortunately Forever, Diana: her true story and Diana and me among many others). There are the countless authorized and unauthorized biographies and fictions inspired by Diana like Monica Ali’s 2007 novel, A story never told. She took the stage in the 2016 play Diana’s Tapes and at Mike Bartlett King Charles III. She was Peter Morgan’s invisible subject The Queen. She was parodied on Rupaul’s Drag Race and became a posthumous Gen Z icon, her fashion celebrated on TikTok and Instagram. She’s been portrayed by some of Hollywood’s biggest actresses: Naomi Watts, Emma Corrin, Kristen Stewart and – soon – Elizabeth Debicki.

Emma Corrin as Princess Diana in The crown


Helen D. Jessen