There’s nothing quite as intriguing – or compelling - as the saga of a legendary feud.
Bette Davis vs Joan Crawford… The Queen Mother vs Wallis, Duchess of Windsor… Taylor Swift vs Katy Perry…
But Princess Diana might well have been the greatest grudge holder of them all. The late Princess of Wales proved she could carry on several feuds at once, with many continuing until her death.
In her final chapter, Diana’s list of enemies included her ex Prince Charles and his lover Camilla, former in-laws the Queen and Prince Philip, and a smorgasbord of members of the Royal household. She had also fallen out with her mother Frances, her brother Charles, former bestie Sarah Ferguson, as well as with Elton John but reconciled with him only weeks before her death on August 31, 1997, at age 36.
But Diana reserved her most virulent hatred for her stepmother, Raine, the Countess Spencer, as detailed in the SBS documentary Princess Diana’s Wicked Stepmother. Theirs was a relationship of cruel intentions, conflicted from the time Raine married Diana’s father John, the Earl Spencer, in 1976 when Diana was 15. Raine was painted as the wicked stepmother and called ‘the most hated person in Diana’s life’. Diana gave her the nickname, ‘Acid Raine’.
They pair insisted they had nothing in common and willingly took opposites sides of the emotional boxing ring. It was a fight that went on for endless rounds over the years and included, allegedly, Diana pushing Raine down the stairs and throwing the widow’s clothes out of the house in garbage bags just weeks after the death of John in 1992.
Four years later, just a year before Diana’s tragic death, everything changed. The long, bitter feud that had consumed Diana for years managed to right itself with a tender reconciliation. Forgiveness finally crept into the no holds barred relationship, at long last.
At a time when Diana seemed to be fighting wars of every front and as her estrangement with the Royal Family grew in intensity, it seems so too did her closeness to her stepmother. Reconciliation was said to have overtaken the two formidable characters and they agreed to forgive the worst of the past, as Diana finally acknowledged the love and bond between her late father and Raine. It was a nod that changed all the rules.
In place of the years of bitter fury, a new union quickly grew that saw them become each other’s most trusted confidantes. Raine played mother figure as Diana’s relationship with her own mother became impossibly estranged. Diana was soon paying unannounced visits to Raine with the pair spotted lunching and shopping together.
“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself,” German novelist Hermann Hesse wrote in Demian. “What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.” As loathe as Diana and Raine would have once wanted to admit, they were more alike than they ever realised.
Both were women who had fought the system to find their own place, using their unconventional personalities and unique sense of style to make them impossible to ignore. They were also determined to create a better life than their circumstances, no matter what it took. And at a time when Diana needed a loyal friend more than ever, the person who had been an unrelenting and worthy adversary for years proved to offer the loyalty she craved.
As Catherine Zeta Jones, playing screen legend Olivia de Havilland, uttered at one point of the Davis-Crawford mini-series Feud, “Feuds are never about hate. Feuds are about pain.” It seems possible that in that final year of her life, Diana discovered the power of forgiveness and even if it was with just one adversary, found her way out of the pain that had dogged her since that first day she met her stepmother.
Perhaps Raine wasn’t so wicked after all.
A lesson in forgiveness, Princess Diana’s Wicked Stepmother airs Monday 17 September at 7.30pm on SBS. After it airs, you can stream it at SBS On Demand: