Princess Diana: A guide -- The ultimate guide to our grand obsession, the fractured fairy-tale heroine known as Princess Diana

How do you like your Diana, Princess of Wales? Beautiful, bulimic, suicidally miserable in a loveless marriage to a loutish prince? Try Diana: Her True Story by Andrew Morton, No. 1 on Publishers Weekly‘s June 29 best-seller list. Prefer an archly catty view of the princess as beautiful, strong-willed, exasperating in a loveless marriage to a reasonable guy? Go with Diana in Private: The Princess Nobody Knows by Lady Colin Campbell, now No. 5 on the same list. Then again, you may want to cut right to the suds about the royal couple’s Close Personal Friends — allegedly Camilla Parker-Bowles for him, supposedly Maj. James Hewitt for her — in which case Nicholas Davies’ just-published Diana: A Princess and Her Troubled Marriage is your cup of tea.

Point is, there are three hot new books on the market about Diana. And as far as millions of American readers who have never once curtsied to nobody are concerned, there’s room for three more. Six more. Pile them on! Bring on the videos and magazines and the coffee-table photo collections of the world’s most photographed woman! Right now there’s a four-hour NBC made-for-TV mini- series in the works for next May based on the Morton book. Right now there are photos of the Princess — looking thin, looking sad, looking radiant, looking maternal — in magazines and newspapers all across the country. Why stop? Diana is a modern woman with an ancient title, trapped in an unpleasant marriage with historic repercussions. The modern part feels all-American (she could be a shopaholic friend); the traditional part is exotically British (she may yet become a queen). What’s the true story? Your choice: Here’s how Morton, Campbell, and Davies each tells it. (Bet you’ll look at the pictures first.)

Growing Up Di
She was born Diana Frances Spencer on July 1, 1961, the third girl of a family longing for a boy. (Eventually, a son, Charles, was born.) Her parents split up when she was six. Scholarship was not her strong suit. ”A voice inside her told her that she would be separate from the herd,” says Morton. Sniffs Campbell, ”It quickly became apparent, however, that the Hon. Diana Spencer, though quick on the uptake, would never shine academically.” She won the Pets Corner Cup at school for ”her loving care of her pet hamster,” reports Davies.

Blessed Bethrothal
Charles had many girlfriends before Diana, including her older sister, Sarah. But once he decided he had jolly well be wed, he chose the shy 18-year-old Lady Di. Shy? ”She was all lovey-dovey and gamine, but thereafter she let him chase her. Again, those superb instincts of hers were spot on,” winks Campbell. ”In truth, the Prince was taken aback by the speed and certainty with which Diana accepted his proposal,” confides Davies. And Morton reads her mind: ”While a small voice inside her head told her that she would never become queen but would have a tough life she found herself accepting his offer and telling him repeatedly how much she loved him.”

The Royal Wedding
It was a fairy tale. Zillions of viewers watched worldwide. It was a nightmare and that Camilla woman was still in the picture. ”The relationship between Prince Charles and Camilla continues to this day and could still be the catalyst which changes the course of British royal history,” warns Morton. The wedding dress was a ”stunning fiasco,” pronounces Campbell. ”Everyone agreed that the…dress was a sensation,” corrects Davies.

Pregnant Princess
She wasn’t supposed to get pregnant during the first three years, but she did. Well, that’s one story someone told Campbell. ”She did it on purpose,” this source confided, ”to avoid the pressure they were heaping upon her about her official duties.” Davies adds, ”She naively believed that after the birth of their children, Charles would see that family life was more important than his ‘job.’ She was wrong.” Three months pregnant and miserable, she threw herself down a flight of stairs, Morton alleges.

Bulimic and Wretched
She fought with Charles. She got thin — rail thin. ”In reality, the Princess was suffering both from bulimia and a severe case of postnatal depression” after William’s birth in 1982, diagnoses Morton. ”As her quota of ‘glitz’ increased, she began to top magazine polls as the woman other women wanted most to look like,” misdiagnoses Davies. ”She was back to watching everything she ate until she could stand the restriction no more, at which point she would raid the refrigerator and indulge herself to her heart’s content,” Campbell oversimplifies.

Crisis Situation
Maybe it’s the continuing presence of Camilla. Maybe it’s the evident absence of a real marriage. Whatever it is, Di’s life now seems a mess. ”Sad though it is that Diana had to find meaning through suffering, no one can deny that she has been a force for good,” praises Campbell, faintly. ”Is this state of affairs simply a reflection of the changing face of society or does it place a severe question mark about the way the royal family relate to outsiders?” wonders Morton. ”Now they are a couple divided by their friends,” concludes Davies.

The Men in Her Life
At any rate, she’s still got the children. ”Every night at six o’clock the boys sit down and write thank-you notes or letters to friends and family,” approves Morton. ”Now Diana is seen queuing at McDonald’s for burgers and chips with her sons,” Davies notes. ”For all the conflicts within the family, Diana is a dedicated and loving mother whose sons adore her,” concedes even Campbell.

Facing the Future
With Diana’s popularity ratings at an all-time high, the future may yet belong to Di. ”She has usurped Prince Charles’ position as the darling of the nation. She knows it and revels in it,” Davies gloats. ”She has more modest ambitions; to spend a weekend in Paris, take a course in psychology, learn the piano to concert grade and to start painting again,” gushes Morton. ”Here is a perfectly ordinary human being, with no outstanding talents, who has been able to transform herself into the most outstanding success story of the twentieth century,” Campbell marvels. Alas, not one of them says anything about Happily Ever After.

You’ve Seen the Wedding, Now Rent the Tape
”There’s a core audience of people who simply cannot get enough of Di,” says senior editor Hope Dellon, explaining the popularity of the Lady Colin Campbell book she acquired for St. Martin’s Press. That’s probably the same core who set their alarms for 4 a.m. on July 29, 1981, to watch the wedding of Charles and Di — and are likely to buy the HBO Home Video highlight tape of the same Glorious Event.

There are two more accounts of the romance such Di-hards will probably be able to buy on video soon, if the Di boom holds up. They are made-for-TV dramas of the courtship, both of which aired in September of 1982. ABC offered Charles & Diana: A Royal Love Story with a Masterpiece Theatre-ish cast including David Robb as Charles, Caroline Bliss as Lady Diana Spencer, Margaret Tyzack as Queen Elizabeth, and Upstairs, Downstairs regular David Langton as Earl Mountbatten. Not to be outdone, CBS weighed in a few days later with The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana, starring Christopher Baines as Charles and Catherine Oxenberg (in her debut) as Di. Nice casting details: Stewart Granger as Prince Philip and Olivia de Havilland as the Queen Mum.