Though, perhaps I am being unfair. Diana Spencer had been pretty adamant she was going to marry Prince Charles from an early age, long before such a match was actually within the realms of possibility.
When asked why, she declared bluntly that he was the only man in the world who could never divorce her. Famous last words, as they say. But her remark reveals this was a girl who already knew that a symbolic prince in the guise of some upper-class Hooray Henry would not lead to living happily ever after. She was already clear-eyed enough to want a much better guarantee than that. In 1981, as she and her actual prince stood at the altar, it was still unthinkable that, however miserable the royal couple became, their marriage might end in divorce.
Giving the lie to fairytale romance is not the only reason why I am so fascinated – along with millions of others – with the character and story of Princess Diana. Another reason is directly to do with her name.
According to Royal protocol, as she was a commoner, she ought to have been called The Princess Charles (I am looking at you Princess Michael of Kent) but even as «shy Di» (as she was christened by the press during her courtship), the force of her charm and personality was such that no-one thought of her as anything but Diana from day one.
There were clues in all of this for anyone who cared to look, but I was as guilty as everyone else of under-estimating the pretty young thing who seemed so utterly conventional in the early days of her worldwide fame.
This uneducated … fragile, intellectually banal teen went on to turn the tables on one of the longest lasting institutions in the world.
I was fashionably scathing about Diana when she first burst onto the scene, agreeing with comedian Pamela Stephenson’s caricature of a tongue-tied, blushing, moron in the satirical sketch show of the time Not the Nine O’Clock News. Diana was very skilful at disarming us, with her downcast eyes and endearing acknowledgement of being as «thick as a plank».
How wrong we all were. Not least, of course, her older, sceptical husband («whatever love means») and the stitched-up family she married into who all thought she could be moulded into a perfect, compliant spouse, like so much pretty play-dough.
On the contrary, this uneducated, psychologically fragile, intellectually banal teenager went on to turn the tables on one of the longest lasting institutions in the world – the monarchy. Far from them changing her, she re-shaped them in her own image and her influence, her much-lauded empathy, compassion and undoubted PR genius continues to shape the modern Windsors more than two decades after her untimely and tragic death.
For me, she is the human embodiment of the journey her entire gender has been on for.
For me, she is the human embodiment of the journey her entire gender has been on for – not just her short life time – but for centuries. Patronised, scorned, mocked and fatally under-estimated, women are also re-shaping the world in their own image.
We have all been Diana, valued for our appearance, our decorative qualities, our reproductive potential, desperate to be loved and admired, then learning – albeit painfully – how to use these shallow things in a deeper way – to strengthen and empower ourselves.
We cried so hard for her when she was killed because she meant a great deal more to us than just a pretty princess. We only weep like that over a loss that reveals something profound about ourselves.
Jane Caro is a novelist, author, columnist and award winning advertising writer. She appears regularly on Weekend Sunrise, Channel 9 Mornings and Gruen Planet.