• The Queen and Diana go head to head in a new BBC documentary. (SBS)Source: SBS
A new documentary dives deep into the gulf between two powerful women.
Evan Valletta

30 Aug 2017 - 2:30 PM  UPDATED 5 Feb 2020 - 10:28 AM

If you’ve longed for a comprehensive look at why Queen Elizabeth II and the late Princess Diana were constantly butting bejeweled heads, look no further than Diana vs Elizabeth. This historic rift has been tabloid fodder for decades, but rarely have both parties been granted the attention to detail that they deserve... until now.


Before the feud

Contrary to popular belief, Lizzie wasn’t always staunchly anti-Diana. In fact, one could argue that if it weren’t for the Queen’s desire to see her son wed to an appropriate lass, then the Charles and Di thing may never have happened.

Yes as her son passed the age of 30, Elizabeth was growing concerned Charles would never meet the right woman. That concern was quashed by her then-lady-in-waiting Lady Ruth Fermoy, who happened to be grandmother to a young Diana Spencer.


The perfect daughter-in-law?

Elizabeth saw the ultimate match for her distracted son in the third child of a prominent aristocrat – a 19-year-old ingenue who could easily be shaped in the royal image. When Diana visited Charles for a week and the pair got to know each other, the Queen was perhaps even more charmed by Di than Charles was.

Similarly, in 1981, while England was plagued by anti-conservative social unrest, the Queen saw the crucial distraction in a royal wedding. Watched by 750 million people around the world, the ceremony sparked new public interest in what was perceived as a stale monarchy. Diana had come into the Queen’s life at the perfect time. Or so she thought.


A clash of perspectives?

Pretty soon after the wedding, though, both the Queen's and Diana’s ideals as to what becoming princess meant would crumble and fall to the ground. Young Diana realised she hadn’t just entered a union bound by unconditional love, but one of apparent convenience and show. And after Diana repeatedly went running to the Queen to express her dismay, Elizabeth learned the new princess had no idea that she was playing a role.

What’s fascinating is what Diana said to the Queen, and how the Queen reacted.


How did the Queen handle Diana-mania?

Prior to Diana, beauty and pizzazz weren’t things generally associated with the royal family. Instead, the monarchy was bound by stuffiness and process – both readily apparent in the way Queen Elizabeth had robotically waved to the public since she took the throne at the age of 25.

So when the world clamored to be part of Diana-palooza, the Queen and her circle were thrown for a loop. Any time Elizabeth attempted to rein in her daughter-in-law and show her the royal ways, Diana would end up stealing the limelight.

Was Diana growing increasingly popular by mere virtue of existence or was something more sinister afoot?


Was Diana trying to throw the royal family into disarray?

As Diana reached a level of popularity not seen since The Beatles, the more her motivations became blurred. Was she reacting to her allegedly loveless marriage and shattered ideals by knowingly manipulating the media? Was this her way of defying the Queen’s expectations? Or was Diana merely bored and chasing an unaddressed desire to be seen as a cover girl?

With every new hairstyle and lavish outfit worn by Diana, the Queen grew increasingly confused as to her daughter-in-law’s intentions.


Controversial causes and Hollywood heartthrobs

The Queen wanted nothing more than for Diana to fulfil her royal duties, and that’s what ended up happening... in a sense. The royal family has always been heavily involved in charitable endeavours, and Diana followed suit, though in a way no royal had ever done before – by making a point of advocating causes that, at the time, were largely taboo, like AIDS research.

Likewise, Diana attended international functions with her cheating husband, including an extravagant party held by Ronald Reagan at The White House. When the president asked Diana which celebrity she’d like to meet more than any other, she opted for Saturday Night Fever’s John Travolta, and stole all attention when she danced with the famous movie star.

Was Diana helping or hindering the royal image? Did she have any idea how her choices were affecting her queen? Did she care?


All these questions and more will be answered when Diana vs Elizabeth airs on Wednesday 5 February at 8:30pm on SBS.

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