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Remembering Diana

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With a touch, she could make a child feel loved, a pensioner feel young, or a head of state feel sexy. With a glance, she could convey elegance, high spirits, or a loneliness not salved by privilege and wealth. Diana, the Princess of Wales, the undereducated, upper-crust girl with streetwise media instincts, had an extraordinary ability to communicate, and words had little to do with it. Rather, she was blessed with a charismatic physical expressiveness rare in celebrities; God knows it’s altogether absent in her in-laws. And she developed the skill to use it beautifully, so beautifully that millions of Di watchers around the world who had absolutely nothing in common with her rarefied, sadly short existence continue to leak tears, and want to look at something to remember her by.

That expressiveness was Diana’s strength, her trump card in the struggle to find a place for herself, first in the thorny mazes of the Windsors’ formal enterprise, later in the world of society and charities and men who didn’t lavish more love on their plants than on their women. Diana was a cool blond who gave off heat. And that was why the public could never get enough of her. She projected the kind of emotional range even the least royal humans among us could relate to: desire, insecurity, pleasure, anger, despair, hope. And so, by taking up an issue — whether as lightweight as the promotion of British fashion, as heavy-duty as the banning of land mines, or as natural as the hug-and-kiss affection of a mother for her children — she cast a glow.

No wonder cameras followed, and why, as strangers mourn her loss, it is in visual documents that Diana’s spirit is best captured.

The famous still photos are, of course, yours for the clipping from countless magazines and newspapers. But for glimpses of Diana in movement, a home archivist will also want to dig up footage of that spectacular July 29, 1981, royal wedding, with both stars dazzling in their world-stage roles. You’ll want to tape the hour-long A&E Biography profile of the princess, which is being broadcast Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. EDT. For a particularly well-made overview of the strange, singular, historic family into which Diana married, I’d invest in The Windsors: A Royal Family, a four-hour documentary that aired on PBS in 1994. And, for a stunning piece of theater that captures the princess in all her sadness and media savvy, you can do no better than study clips from the sensational 1995 BBC Panorama interview with Martin Bashir. (The BBC is also packaging an hour-long docu being called Diana: The People’s Princess, likely to go on sale in a few weeks; check its website [http://www.bbcnc.org.uk] for more info.)

As for books about Diana, take your pick: There have been more than 60 of them published in the last dozen or so years. The only must-have, to my mind, is Diana: Her True Story, the revealing 1992 book by sympathetic journalist Andrew Morton, produced with the subject’s canny cooperation. (You might want to wait for the updated commemorative reissue being planned by Simon & Schuster.) For diversion in these sad times, meanwhile, you can’t do better than Di and I, a warm, comic 1994 fantasy by the consistently witty novelist and scriptwriter Peter Lefcourt that plunks the princess down in a Holiday Inn outside of L.A.

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